1963 Sebring 12-Hour Grand Prix of Endurance – The Second Battle in the Ford-Ferrari War
By Louis Galanos | Photos as credited
In mid-March of 1963 the small community of Sebring, Florida was getting ready for the annual onslaught of cars and racing fans for the 12th running of the Sebring 12-Hour Grand Prix of Endurance.
Much to the chagrin of race founder and promoter, Alec Ulmann, the local businesses were already planning to jack up their prices for what had become a much-despised annual tradition of price gouging of race fans. No amount of past public criticism of this practice, by newspapers and such notable visitors as British driving ace, Stirling Moss, could dissuade the locals from this practice.
For the international members of the automotive press in attendance that year the race held little significance other than it would be the first race run under FIA’s new Manufacturer’s Championship rules. For American sports car fans making the annual trek to Sebring the significance of the ’63 race was that there would be a large contingent of American cars at Sebring to challenge the supremacy of the European cars. Fans of American sports car racing were hoping that this could be “their year.”
Only in later years did some automotive historians designate 1963 as the first year of what many today refer to as The Ford – Ferrari War which lasted from 1963 to 1967.
The first salvo in that war was fired at Daytona five weeks earlier with the running of only the second Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) sanctioned international endurance race at the Daytona Speedway. Like the inaugural event in 1962 it was a three-hour race called the Daytona Continental.
Former Le Mans winner (’59) and Sports Illustrated Driver of the Year (’56-’57), Texan Carroll Shelby, had three of his new 4.7-liter (289 c.i.) Ford-Powered AC Cobras entered at Daytona with one of them finishing in 4th place at the hands of Dave MacDonald. Coming in first and second were two 3-liter Ferrari 250 GTO’s driven by Pedro Rodriguez and Roger Penske.
However, coming in third was one of the ten Chevrolet Corvette Sting Rays entered and this one was driven by Dick Thompson. Having a Chevy-powered sports car beating a Ford-powered sports car did not sit well with Henry Ford, II who wanted a car that could beat the much loved and successful two-seat Corvette of General Motors and possibly beat the legendary Ferrari GT cars. As a result Ford would provide financial support for Carroll Shelby’s Cobra racing efforts from 1962 to 1965 and then support for Shelby American’s GT40 racing efforts from 1964 to 1967.
At Sebring in 1963 the war got a little hotter with six Ford-powered Cobras on the grid with four from Shelby’s stables and one from Ford’s performance specialist, Holman Moody. There was also a basically stock Cobra entered by George Reed. The four Shelby cars were equipped with the latest high performance 350-hp 289’s provided by Ford plus 4-speed close-ratio transmissions and wide magnesium wheels. Also at Sebring was a crew of 23 support personnel whose sole job was to guarantee a Ford victory in the GT class. Ford’s “deep pockets” were evident in this attempt to win at Sebring.
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