Henry Ford was a pioneer in the automobile industry. At 40 years old, he launched the Ford Motor Co., which would become one of the biggest automobile companies in the world.
Ford Motor Co. opened its door in Detroit, Michigan in 1903 with just 12 people on staff, including Henry and his son Edsel. Since then, the automaker has gone through many ups and downs throughout its 115-year history. Over the years, Ford has introduced numerous innovations to its production line and created a series of iconic vehicles, including the Mustang. You might be surprised at the series of events that led Ford to where it is today!
The Model A Was Billed as the "Perfect Machine"
Pictured above is Henry Ford's first car, which he built in Dearborn, Michigan, in 1896. The vehicle was a gasoline-powered buggy that had an 8 HP engine. Ford called the vehicle a Model A, and it was billed as “the most perfect machine on the market, which even a 15-year-old boy is able to drive”.
Over the next several years, Ford named its models using the letters of the Latin alphabet (from A to S). The process involved a lot of experimentation, and many of them were never intended to be mass produced or sold to the general public.
Ford's Assembly Line Was Inspired by a Visit to a Slaughterhouse
On October 7, 1913, Ford Motor Co.'s Highland Park plant in Michigan officially launched the first moving assembly line in the world. The photo above shows how the bodies of the vehicles were drawn down a wooden ramp and then lowered onto the chassis. Ford was the first business to mass produce vehicles.
Henry Ford's production line was cost effective and enabled the average person or family to buy a vehicle. Ford also changed the way factories functioned and how they were organized, making him a revolutionary in the automotive industry. His ideas forever changed automobile production. Ford was inspired to build his own assembly line after visiting slaughterhouses.
The Model T Was One of the World's Most Popular Vehicles
The photo above depicts Ford employees building a Model-T engine at a factory assembly line circa 1914. Ford launched the Model T (also known as the Tin Lizzie) in 1908, and it was one of the world's most popular vehicles. The Model T initially sold for $850. The vehicle was dubbed the "Car of the 20th Century" in 2000.
After producing more than 15 million Model Ts, Ford halted production on the model in 1927. During the first year of production, 10,660 units were sold to consumers. It is one of the top 10 vehicles to have sold more than 15 million units.
The Peanuts Made Their First Live Animation Appearance In a Ford Commercial
Illustrator Charles M. Schulz created the comic strip Peanuts in 1950. Peanuts reached the height of its popularity in the '60s and was featured in over 2,600 newspapers. An estimated 355 million readers in 75 countries were fans of Peanuts, so it's no surprise that Henry Ford wanted in on the action.
In 1963, Ford helped boost the popularity of Charlie Brown and his cohorts by launching a commercial featuring the gang. It was the first time Charlie Brown and his friends were shown in live animation. That same year, a tiny special called A Charlie Brown Christmas aired on TV.
Ford Changed Lives by Offering $5 Daily Wages & a Shorter Work Time
The photo above shows workers completing upholstery on the seats of Model T Fords in 1915. On January 5, 1914, the company made history by offering employees $5 a day for an eight-hour workday — double the then-current market salary. The previous rate was $2.34 for nine hours.
While Ford only had 3,000 jobs available at its plant in Highland Park, 15,000 job seekers applied for the in-demand positions. The higher salary combined with a shorter work day and profit sharing was a win-win. The action cut employee turnover and helped the middle class grow. Henry Ford reportedly wanted his workers to have a "life" and not just make a living.
Ford Had Thomas Edison's Final Breath Bottled Up On His Deathbed
Prior to launching his automobile business, Henry Ford worked for Thomas Edison at the Edison Illuminating Co. in Detroit as a chief engineer. The inventor and businessman was Ford's mentor and friend. While working for his pal, Ford became interested in gas-powered vehicles and envisioned a horseless carriage.
The photo above shows the pair posing together in 1921. When Edison died in 1931, his son, Charles, was by his bedside. The story goes that Charles, following Ford's instructions, captured his father's final breath in a test tube and closed it up with a cork. Ford wanted to keep it as a memento in tribute to his best friend.
Ford Motor Co. Also Built Airplanes
Above is an automobile parked next to a Ford Tri-Motor Airplane. Ford Motor Co. got in the business of building airplanes during World War I. Henry Ford had many reasons for branching off in this direction. First, he loved working with anything that was mechanical. But he also wanted to do his part by supporting the United States during the conflict.
At one point, the United States Centennial of Flight Commission identified the automaker as a pioneer in aviation. Unfortunately, Ford's airplane business wasn't very profitable. He was forced to shut it down in 1933.
Bonnie & Clyde Were Famously Killed In a Stolen 1934 Ford DeLuxe Fordor
Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were killed on May 23, 1934. The pair was ambushed by several police officers while traveling on a country road in Bienville Parish, Louisiana. They were driving a 1934 Ford DeLuxe Fordor. They stole the car from Ruth and Jesse Warren of Topeka, Kansas, and one month later they were shot to death.
It's believed the officers shot 130 rounds of ammunition at the couple, and each one was killed by dozens of gun shot wounds. The bullet-ridden vehicle has been displayed in several locations and is currently at the Whiskey Pete’s casino in Primm, Nevada.
The Much-Hyped Edsel Was a Huge Failure
Pictured above are the three sons of Edsel Ford during the national press induction of the infamous Edsel: William Clay Ford (Vice-President in Charge of Product Planning and Styling), Benson Ford (Vice-President and Chairman of Dealer Policy Board) and Henry Ford II (President of the Ford Motor Company).
The Edsel, produced from 1958 to 1960, was a flop. Ford invested a lot of money in the model, promoting it as the car of the future. However, consumers thought it was ugly, too costly, and over hyped. The American public had no interest in the vehicle, and few were sold. Ford lost over $250 million on the project.
At One Point Ford Used One Ton of Manure To Power Its Factories Each Week
Henry Ford was a bit ahead of his time when it came to being eco-friendly. Ford Motor Co. factories in the United States and England initially used both animal and human waste to power their facilities (it sounds gross, but it was a useful practice). Ford reportedly burned an estimated 2,000 pounds of manure each week.
The downside, of course, was the smell. However, the green practice was innovative during a period when few people worried about mankind's effects on the environment. Ford discontinued the practice in 1939 when cheaper fuel alternatives became more readily available.
One of the Company's Concept Vehicles Was an Atomic-Powered Car
In 1957, Ford came up with a concept car dubbed the Nucleon. It was an atomic-powered vehicle and meant to represent the car of the future. Designers envisioned a package with consumers choosing the horsepower they preferred. The rear of the car was meant to contain the atomic core, which could be periodically recharged, eliminating the need for service stations.
The Nucleon was to be powered by a steam engine and uranium fission, which is similar to what is used in nuclear submarines. Ford made a scale model of the vehicle, which is currently on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
Ford Placed a Mustang on Top of the Empire State Building in 1965
Pictured above is a 1965 Ford Mustang. The fastback was made in addition to two other models, the hardtop and the convertible. Ford first introduced the Mustang on April 17, 1964, at the New York World's Fair. The following year, the company put one of its prototypes on top of the Empire State Building.
The company disassembled the vehicle by breaking it down into four pieces. Workers moved the Mustang in resident elevators to the top of the building. They reassembled it there and photographed it with a helicopter. The Mustang was then reassembled inside the building before it was taken apart and removed from the landmark site five months later.
Jim Morrison Owned a 1967 Shelby GT 500 That Has Since Disappeared
Jim Morrison, the famous singer of the Doors, reportedly only owned one car in his lifetime — a night mist blue 1967 Shelby GT 500. Morrison's friend, Babe Hill, dubbed the car “The Blue Lady." The car has been missing since 1969. No one knows what happened to it.
The Mustang is one of the most popular American cars of all time. Over 1 million units were sold in its first two years of production. It's one of a handful of models that have been in continuous production since its inception. One of the most expensive Mustangs ever sold was a 1967 Shelby GT Super Snake for $1.3 million.
Clyde Barrow Used a Ford as a Getaway Car & Wrote Henry a Letter About How Much He Loved It
Bonnie and Clyde were criminals during the Great Depression. Their getaway vehicle was a 1934 Ford (a 221 cubic-inch Flathead 21-stud V-8 to be specific). Clyde actually wrote Henry Ford a letter about how much he liked it:
"While I still have got breath in my lungs I will tell you what a dandy car you make. I have drove Fords exclusively when I could get away with one. For sustained speed and freedom from trouble the Ford has got every other car skinned, and even if my business hasen’t been strickly legal it don’t hurt anything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V8."
Ford Made Up a Common Catchphrase We Still Use Today
There's a common phrase you may hear now and again. If a person says something costs "an arm and a leg," he or she means that it is very expensive. Well, Ford is reportedly responsible for coming up with the saying. The automaker was known for being generous and carefree with his money, basically saying he'd rather give up cash than his body parts.
The actual quote Ford used was, “Money is like an arm or leg — use it or lose it.” When the automaker died, he donated the majority of his wealth to the Ford Foundation and left his family in charge of controlling the company.
Ford Introduced a Two-Seat Convertible Thunderbird to Compete With Corvette
Ford produced the Thunderbird in 1955 in order to compete with the Chevrolet Corvette. The two-seat, V8 convertible was stylish and comfortable. A few years later the company controversially added four seats to the vehicles and created what became known as the personal luxury car.
Personal luxury cars focused more heavily on driving comfort and convenience instead of the handling and high-speed performance of sports cars. Ford made the Thunderbird from 1955 to 1997 and from 2002 to 2005 (with 11 different models). NASCAR driver Bobby Allison won 13 races in the late '70s and 1980 seasons with a Thunderbird, despite it being boxy and not appearing aerodynamic.
The Pinto Had Some Serious Issues With Fire In Rear-End Collisions
Pictured above is a Pinto that Ford Motor Co. lent to a newspaper for consumer testing. As you can see, the vehicle caught fire as a result of faulty wiring while a photographer was shooting the car for an automobile supplement. Ford produced the subcompact vehicle from 1971 to 1980.
The vehicle courted controversy due to its fuel tank design. Several rear-end collisions resulted in ruptured fuel tanks and deadly fires. Fatal crashes involving Pintos resulted in two lawsuits against the automaker. In 1978, Ford recalled 1.5 million Pintos and Mercury Bobcats, making it the biggest recall in automotive history at the time.
The Fancy Woodgrain-Trimmed Country Squire Station Wagon Was a Popular Model
Pictured above is a 1978 Country Squire Station Wagon. Ford produced these vehicles for a whopping 41 years — from 1950 to 1991. Regarded as a premium model, the Country Squire's signature design was its woodgrain body trim. The station wagon was extremely popular among Ford consumers.
The production run of the Country Squire was only outlasted by the Mustang (55 years in production and still going strong) and the Thunderbird (46 years). Early adopters had the option of installing an AM/FM cassette stereo (rock on!) as well as a two-way CB radio. Another option was a magnetic checkers board near the side-facing rear seats.
In 2018 Ford Decided to Focus on Trucks & Drop Its Line of Passenger Cars
Ford, which is known for its passenger cars including the Mustang, Thunderbird, Taurus, Focus, and Fusion, made a monumental decision in 2018. It announced that it will no longer produce passenger cars in North America for the following four years (excluding the Mustang).
The automaker made the decision as a result of decreased demand for passenger cars and a lack of profits. In comparison, one of its flagship vehicles, the F-150 pickup truck, has been the bestselling vehicle in the United States since 1982 (the first generation was 1948). According to Auto Week, Ford sold more than 450,000 of its F-series line (one every 35 seconds) from January through June 2018.
Ford Has Owned Stakes In Aston Martin, Mercedes & Other Luxury Brands
Ford was a visionary. As an engineer and ambitious businessman, he made a lot of decisions he hoped would make his company grow and expand all over the globe. In the mid-'60s he attempted to buy the Ferrari brand but failed. That did not deter him from following his dreams.
The Ford Motor Co. has since owned stakes in the following businesses: Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mazda, Mercury, and Aston Martin. These days, Ford also sells vehicles under the Lincoln brand. Meanwhile, members of the Ford family have the majority voting power in the company but minority ownership.
1901 – The Duel
After the Detroit Automobile Company closed Henry Ford was in need of investors to continue his automotive ambitions. In order to raise his profile, attract financing and to prove that his cars could be a commercial success, he decided to enter a race promoted by the Detroit Automobile Club.
The race took place on a one-mile dirt oval horse racing track. After mechanical issues plagued the field of cars, the race started with only Henry Ford and Alexander Winston taking the start. Henry Ford would win the race, the only one he would ever enter and collect a $1000 prize.
1902 – The Beast
The 999 was one of two identical race cars created by Henry Ford and Tom Cooper. The cars had no suspension, no differential and a crude pivoting metal bar for steering mated to a 100-horsepower inline four-cylinder engine that displaced 18.9 liters.
The car won the Manufacturer's Challenge Cup, driven by Barney Oldfield while setting the course record at the very same track Henry Ford had won at the previous year. The car would go on to win many times over its career, and, with Henry Ford behind the wheel, would set a new land speed record of 91.37 mph on an ice-covered lake in January of 1904.
1904 – Ford Canada Opens
Ford's first international plant was built in 1904 in Windsor, Ontario Canada. The facility sat directly across the Detroit River from the original Ford assembly plant. Ford Canada was established as a completely separate organization, not a subsidiary of Ford Motor Company, to sell cars in Canada and also throughout the British Empire.
The company used patent rights to produce Ford vehicles. In September of 1904, a Ford Model C was the first car to roll out of the factory and was the very first car produced in Canada.
1907 – Ford's Famous Logo
The Ford logo, with its distinctive script, was first created by Childe Harold Wills, the company's first chief engineer/designer. Wills used his grandfather’s stencil set for the font, which is patterned after the type of writing taught in schools during the late 1800s.
Wills worked on and helped with the 999 race car, but was most influential on the Model T. He designed the transmission on the Model T and the detachable cylinder head of the engine. He would leave Ford in 1919 to start his own automobile company, Wills Sainte Claire.
1909 – Ford of Britain Founded
Unlike Ford of Canada, Ford of Britain is a subsidiary of Ford Motor Company. Ford had been selling cars in the U.K. since 1903 but needed a legitimate production facility to expand in Great Britain. Ford Motor Company Limited was established in 1909 and the first Ford dealership opened in 1910.
In 1911, Ford opened the Trafford Park assembly plant to build Model T's for the foreign market. Six-thousand cars were built in 1913, and the Model T became Britain’s top-selling car. The following year, the moving assembly line was integrated into the factory and Ford of Britain could produce 21 cars per hour.
1917 – River Rouge Complex
In 1917 Ford Motor Company began construction of the Ford River Rouge Complex. When it was finally completed in 1928, it was the largest factory in the world. The Complex itself is 1.5 miles wide and one mile long with 93 buildings and 16 million square feet of factory floor space.
The factory had its own ship docks and more than 100 miles of railroad tracks run inside the buildings. It also had its own power plant and steel mill, meaning that it could take all the raw materials and turn them into vehicles within a single factory. Before the Great Depression, the River Rouge Complex employed 100,000 people.
1917 – The First Ford Truck
The Ford Model TT was the first truck made by the Ford Motor Company. Based on the Model T car, it shared the same engine but was equipped with a heavier frame and rear axle to be able to cope with the work that the Model TT was expected to perform.
The Model TT proved to be very durable, but was slow, even by the standards of 1917. With the standard gearing, the truck was capable of 15 mph, and with the optional special gearing, 22 mph was the recommended top speed.
1918 – World War I
In 1918, the United States, along with its allies were engaged in the horrific war raging in Europe. At the time, it was called the "Great War" but we know it now as WWI. As a means to support the war effort, the Ford River Rouge Complex began to manufacture the Eagle-Class patrol boat, a 110-foot long ship designed to chase down submarines.
In total, 42 of these ships were built at the Ford plant, along with 38,000 Model T military cars, ambulances and trucks, 7,000 Fordson Tractors, two types of armored tanks, and 4,000 Liberty airplane engines.
1922 – Ford Purchases Lincoln
In 1917, Henry Leland and his son Wilfred founded the Lincoln Motor Company. Leland is also famous for founding Cadillac and establishing the personal luxury automobile segment. It's somewhat ironic that two of the most famous luxury automobile brands in the United States were founded by the same person, with the same goal of building luxury automobiles, ended up as direct competitors for over 100 years.
Ford Motor Company bought the Lincoln Motor Company in February of 1922 for $8 million. The purchase allowed Ford to compete directly against Cadillac, Duesenberg, Packard and Pierce-Arrow for a share of the luxury automobile market.
1925 – The 15 Millionth Model T
In 1927, Ford Motor Company celebrated an incredible milestone, the construction of the fifteen-millionth Model T. The actual car was built as a touring model; four-door with a retractable top and seating for five people. Its design and construction is very similar to the very first Model T of 1908 and is powered by the same four-cylinder engine with two forward and one reverse gear.
On May 26, 1927, the car rolled off the assembly line driven by Edsel Ford, Henry Ford's son, with Henry riding shotgun. The car currently lives at the Henry Ford Museum.
1928 – Ford Founds "Fordlandia"
In the 1920s, the Ford Motor Company was searching for a strategy to avoid the British monopoly over the supply of rubber. Rubber products are used for everything from tires to door seals to suspension bushings and numerous other components. Ford negotiated with the Brazilian government for 2.5 million acres of land, to grow, harvest and export rubber, in the State of Para in northern Brazil.
Ford would be exempt from Brazilian taxes in exchange for 9% of the profits. The project was abandoned and relocated in 1934 after a number of problems and revolts. In 1945, synthetic rubber reduced the demand for natural rubber and the area was sold back to the Brazilian government.
1932 – The Flathead V8
Even though the Ford Flathead V8 was not the first production V8 motor available in a car, it is perhaps the most famous and helped start the "hot-rod" community jumpstarted America's love affair with the engine.
Developed first in 1932, the Type 221 V8 displaced 3.6-liters, was good for 65-horsepower and was first fitted to the 1932 Model 18 car. Production ran from 1932 to 1953, in the U.S. The final version, the Type 337 V8, produced 154-horsepower when fitted to Lincoln’s cars. Even today, the flathead V8 remains popular with hot-rodders for its durability and ability to produce big horsepower.
1938 – Ford Creates The Mercury Brand
In 1938, Edsel Ford founded the Mercury Motor Company as an entry-level premium brand that slotted between the luxury cars of Lincoln and the basic cars of Ford. The Mercury brand is named after the Roman god, Mercury.
The first car Mercury produced was the 1939 Mercury 8 Sedan. Powered by the Type 239 flathead V8 with 95-horsepower, the 8 cost $916 new. The new brand and line of cars proved popular and Mercury sold over 65,000 vehicles in their first year. The Mercury brand was discontinued in 2011 after poor sales and a brand identity crisis.
1941 – Ford Builds Jeeps
The original Jeep, named after "GP" or “general purpose,” was initially designed by the Bantam company for the U.S. Army. At the start of WWII, it was believed that Bantam was too small to be able to build enough Jeeps for the military, who had requested 350 per day, and the design was supplied to Willys and Ford.
Bantam designed the original, Willys-Overland modified and improved the design and Ford was chosen as an additional supplier/producer. Ford is actually credited with designing the familiar “Jeep Face.” By the end of WWII, Ford had produced just over 282,000 Jeeps for military use.
1942 – Retooling For War
During World War II, most of the American manufacturing was allocated to produced equipment, munitions, and supplies for the war effort. In February of 1942, Ford stopped all civilian car manufacturing and began producing a staggering amount of military equipment.
Ford Motor Company, at all facilities, produced over 86,000 complete airplanes, 57,000 airplane engines, and 4,000 military gliders. Its factories made Jeeps, bombs, grenades, four-wheel-drive trucks, airplane engine superchargers, and generators. The giant Willow Run Factory in Michigan produced B-24 Liberator bombers on an assembly line that was 1-mile long. At full production, the factory could produce one airplane per hour.
1942 – Lindbergh and Rosie
In 1940, the U.S. Government asked Ford Motors to build B-24 bombers for the war effort. In response, Ford built a massive factory with over 2.5 million square feet of floor space. During that time, famous aviator Charles Lindbergh served as a consultant at the plant calling it, "The Grand Canyon of the mechanized world."
Also at the Willow Run facility was young female riveter named Rose Will Monroe. After actor Walter Pidgeon had discovered Mrs. Monroe at the Willow Run Plant she was chosen to appear in promotional films for war bond sales. The role made her a household name during WWII.
1948 – The Ford F-Series Pickup Truck
The Ford F-Series pickup truck was the first truck that Ford designed specifically for truck use that didn't share a chassis with their cars. The first generation, built from 1948 to 1952 was available in eight different chassis’ from F-1 to F-8. The F-1 truck was a light duty half-ton pickup truck and the F-8 was a three-ton "Big Job" commercial truck.
Engines and power depended on the chassis and the popular F-1 pickup was available with either a straight-six engine or the Type 239 Flathead V8. All of the trucks, regardless of chassis, were equipped with three, four or five-speed manual transmissions.
1954 – Ford Begins Crash Testing
In 1954, Ford started to prioritize the safety of their cars. Being concerned about how the cars and the occupants managed a vehicle crash, Ford began to conduct safety tests with their vehicles. Ford's cars were crashed into each other to analyze their safety and learn about how they could be made safer.
These tests, along with countless others from other vehicle manufacturers, would lead to dramatic improvements in vehicle safety and the survivability of car crashes. Three-point safety belts, crumple zones, airbags, and side-impact protection are all innovations that came about through crash testing automobiles.
1956 – Ford Motor Company Goes Public
On January 17, 1956, the Ford Motor Company went public. It was the largest initial public offering (IPO) in American history up to that time. In 1956, the Ford Motor Company was the third largest company in the U.S., behind GM and Standard Oil Company.
The IPO of 22% of the Ford Motor Company was so big that over 200 banks and firms were included and involved. Ford offered 10.2 million Class A shares at an IPO price of $63. By the end of the first day of trading, the price per share had risen to $69.50, which meant the company could be valued at $3.2 billion.
1957 – Ford Introduces The Edsel Brand
In 1957 the Ford Motor Company introduced a new brand, Edsel. Named after Edsel B. Ford, the son of founder Henry Ford, the company was expected to increase Ford's market share in order to compete with General Motors and Chrysler.
Unfortunately, the cars never sold particularly well and the public perception was that the cars were over-hyped and overpriced. Controversial design, reliability issues and the start of an economic recession in 1957 all contributed to the downfall of the brand. Production was ceased in 1960 and the company closed as well. In total, 116,000 vehicles were produced, which was less than half of what the company needed to break-even.
1963 – Ford Attempts to Buy Ferrari
In January of 1963, Henry Ford II and Lee Iacocca planned to buy the Ferrari Company. They had wanted to get involved with international GT racing and figured that the best way to do that was to purchase a well-established, experienced company.
After much negotiating, a deal was struck between Ford and Ferrari for the sale of the company. However, at the last minute, Ferrari pulled out of the deal. Much has been written and speculated about the deal, the negotiations and the reasons, but the net result was Ford Motors left empty handed and formed Ford Advanced Vehicles in England to build a GT car, the GT40, that could beat Ferrari at Le Mans.
1964 – The Iconic Ford Mustang
Introduced on April 17, 1964, the Mustang is perhaps Ford's most famous car, next to the Model T. Initially built on the same platform as the compact Ford Falcon, the Mustang was an instant hit and created the "pony car" class of American muscle cars.
Known for being affordable, sporty and infinitely customizable, the Mustang changed the game when it came to American muscle cars. Ford sold 559,500 Mustangs in 1965 and in total, over ten million as of 2019. One of the biggest draws of the Mustang has always been its customizability and the upgrades that are available from the factory.
1964 – Ford GT40 Debuts At Le Mans
A year after a failed attempt to buy Ferrari, Ford Motor Company brought their "Ferrari Fighter", the GT40, to Le Mans. The car's name comes from Grand Touring(GT) and the 40 derives from the height of the car, 40-inches tall.
Powered by a 289 cubic inch V8, the same as used in the Mustang, the GT40 could surpass 200 mph at Le Mans. Teething issues with the new car, instability and reliability problems took their toll during the 1964 Le Mans race and none of the three cars that entered finished, giving Ferrari another overall Le Mans win.
1965 – Ford And The Race To The Moon
In 1961, Ford Motor Company purchased electronics manufacturer PHILCO, creating PHILCO-Ford. The company provided Ford with car and truck radio receivers and produced computer systems, televisions, washing machines and a large array of other consumer electronics. In the 1960s, NASA contracted with PHILCO-Ford to build the tracking systems for the Project Mercury space missions.
PHILCO-Ford was also responsible for design, manufacture, and installation of "Mission Control" at NASA's space center in Houston, Texas. The control consoles were used for the Gemini, Apollo moon missions, Skylab and the Space Shuttle missions until 1998. They are preserved for their historical significance at NASA today.
1966 – Ford Wins At Le Mans
After two heart-breaking years of a motorsports program designed to beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Ford finally delivered in 1966 with the MKII GT40. Ford stacked the field in the race by entering eight cars. Three from Shelby American, three from Holman Moody and two from UK based Alan Mann Racing, a development partner in the program. Additionally, five privateer teams entered MKI GT40s, giving Ford thirteen cars in the race.
The MKII GT40 was powered by the larger 427 cubic inch V8 producing 485-horsepower. Ford won the race finishing 1-2-3 with the number 2 car winning overall. This was to be the first of four consecutive Le Mans victories.
1978 – The Incredible Exploding Pinto
The Ford Pinto, a name that will live in infamy for all of eternity, was a compact car designed to counter the gaining popularity of imported compact cars from Volkswagen, Toyota and Datsun. It debuted in 1971 and was produced until 1980.
The poor design of the fuel system resulted in several incidents in which the the fuel tank could rupture in a rear-end crash and catch fire or explode. Several high-profile incidents resulted in lawsuits, criminal prosecutions and one of the largest automotive recalls in history. The publicity and costs nearly ruined Ford's reputation as a car manufacturer.
1985 – The Ford Taurus Changes The Industry
Introduced in 1985 as a 1986 model, the Ford Taurus changed the game for American made sedans. Its rounded shape differed significantly from the competition, earning it the "jelly bean" design nickname, and started an era of increased attention to quality at Ford.
The aerodynamic design made the Taurus more fuel efficient and ultimately led to a design revolution in American car making. Both General Motors and Chrysler quickly developed aerodynamic cars to capitalize on the Taurus' success. In the first year of production, Ford sold over 200,000 Taurus’ and the car was named the 1986 Motor Trend Car of the Year.
1987 – Ford Buys Aston-Martin Lagonda
In September of 1987, Ford Motor Company announced the purchase of famed British automaker Aston-Martin. The purchase of the company likely saved Aston-Martin from bankruptcy and added a high-end luxury sports car company to Ford's portfolio. Ford set about modernizing the way that Aston-Martins were produced, opening a new factory in 1994.
Previous to Ford’s ownership, Aston-Martins were largely built by hand, including the bodywork. This added expense and reduced the number of cars that could be produced. Ford owned Aston-Martin until 2007 when it sold the company to a group led by British motorsports and advanced engineering company, Prodrive.
1989 – Ford Buys Jaguar
At the end of 1989, Ford Motors began buying up shares of Jaguar and was fully integrated into Ford's business by 1999. Ford’s purchase of Jaguar, along with Aston Martin was lumped into the Premier Automotive Group, which was intended to provide Ford with upscale luxury vehicles while the brands received modernization and production help from Ford.
Under Ford’s ownership, Jaguar never made a profit, as the models that were introduced, such as the S-Type and X-Type, were lackluster and thinly disguised Ford sedans with a Jaguar badge. Ford ultimately sold Jaguar to Tata Motors in 2008.
1990 – Ford Explorer
The Ford Explorer was the SUV that was built to battle the Chevrolet Blazer and the Jeep Cherokee. Introduced in 1990 for the 1991 model year, the Explorer was available as a two-door or four-door and equipped with the German-made Cologne V6. Amazingly, the Explorer holds the distinction of being the very first four-door SUV produced by Ford.
The Explorer is perhaps best known for the Firestone Tire controversy of the late 1990s. Under-inflated tires, as recommended by Ford, likely led to tire tread separation and a large number of accidents. Firestone was forced to recall 23 million tires after 823 injuries and 271 deaths.
2003 – Ford Celebrates 100th Anniversary
The Ford Motor Company celebrated its 100th Anniversary in 2003. Despite Ford producing vehicles all the way back to 1896, the Ford Motor Company, as we know it today, was founded in 1903.
In its long history, the company has contributed to revolutionizing car ownership, modernizing the assembly line, advancing factory worker quality of life, helped in two American war efforts and created some of the most influential and iconic vehicles in the history of the automobile. Today, Ford stands as one of the great automobile manufacturers the world has ever seen.