Go Like Hell

A. J. Baime, Mariner Books, Boston, 2009

Review  |  Go Like Hell tells the story of one of the greatest corporate grudge matches ever. A death match between the modern corporate world with its layers of bureaucracy and cash reserves and an old world group of engineers and artisans headed by a man who learned his trade before the first world war. Ford vs. Ferrari. Each company headed by a man who wielded absolute power; Henry “The Duce” Ford ll and “Comendatore” Enzo Ferrari.

This is one of the great stories in racing. Beloved by the fans of Ford, and American racing in general, much rued by the Tifosi. Here is a quick rundown: In the early Sixties Ford wanted to get into international endurance racing and develop a prestige brand. Ford was caught in a bind. They had signed a compact with General Motors and Chrysler stating that they would not go racing in the United States. So the option was international racing. 

They decided the shortest route was to buy an existing company with all their experience. At the time the cars to beat were Ferrari. In 1963 it was quietly put about that a certain boutique Italian auto maker might be for sale. Ford’s golden boy Lee Iaccoca jumped at the chance to acquire the prestige and name of Ferrari for Ford. A marketing master stroke. 

So Henry Ford ll decided that he would make an offer. On April, 10 1963 the phone rang at Ferrari and a man with the improbable name of Filmer Paradise, the head of Ford Italy as it turned out,  told the listener that he would like to meet with Ferrari. One thing led to another and Ferrari stated that the company was for sale as long as he retained control of the racing team. And they’re off to the races. 

Ford sends the corporate boys over to Modena asking questions, wanting to see the books, demanding things from the Italians. None of which goes over well. But the boys from Dearborn don’t know that. Ferrari stalls and drags things out. He elaborately entertains Fords main negotiator Don Frey. In the end he concocts an offense, throws a big snit and cancels the deal. Very shortly after Ferrari signs a deal selling the company to FIAT. Afterwards Enzo makes several nasty comments to the Italian press, the point of which are to insult Ford. 

There is an alloy of steal in his veins from his grandfather, and he is pissed off.

It turns out that the whole thing was a ruse by Ferrari to get a better deal out of FIAT. 

Now Henry Ford II, son of Henry the original Henry’s only son Edsel, is not a man to be fooled with, used or mocked. There is an alloy of steal in his veins from his grandfather, and he is pissed off. The word comes from on high. Crush Ferrari on the only field that matters to them, the 24 hours of LeMans. Therein lies the tale my friend, therein. 

You might think that I have told you the story, but no dear reader, this is just the background against which the real story spins out. Baime hangs the book on the story of the men who paid for, designed, built and raced the cars. The engineers, race car builders and drivers and managers, and owners, of both companies. He puts the story in context, from an engineering stand point and in its time. 

This story was well known in the sixties and many of the people involved household names world wide. But time passes and memories fade. With time comes some perspective, and an opportunity fora whole new audience. Baime made good use of first person sources and the book is carefully footnoted. “Go Like Hell” is a work of what I would call pop history. It is also very entertaining read. Because the characters are compelling and the story entertaining.  Check it out. –M.B.