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40 years since Ford won LeMans with the 427 (and Chris Craft began installing them)

June 12 2006 at 11:43 PM
Paul  (no login)

In 1963, 1964, and 1965 FoMoCo won 101 NASCAR races with their big block racing motors, against nine (9) by GM. The 427 was an awesome weapon on the tracks. It was lightweight, powerful, and reliable.

NASCAR wasn't the only place where Henry Ford II, "The Duce", intended to assert the power of American manufacturing. He wanted to embarass Enzo Ferrari and the 427 did the job two years in a row at LeMans (and then it was outlawed from further competition).

Dearborn developed a dyno that would run the engine and transmission to simulate the LeMans race course, and they ran test mules for the full 24 hours. You could hear the motor down-shift, accelerate, and run full throttle during the test periods. It must have been awesome, and it must have cost a fortune too.

Chassis no. 1046, the Amon/McLaren 1966 Le Mans winner

Chassis no. 1046, the Amon/McLaren 1966 Le Mans winner

In 1966 it was Shelby versus Holman Moody, and those two teams wanted to beat each other worse than they wanted to beat Ferrari. Another team was fielded by Alan Mann, of UK. The teams finished in a 1, 2, 3 sweep as the big American NASCAR motor, detuned to 499 hp, ran the course without hardly breaking into a sweat.

Then in 1967 The Duce wasn't going to take any chances that Ferrari would catch up, and developed an "all new" car, the MK-4, improved in every way, but using the same big block 427. It ran 15-MPH faster than the car that won the year before.

Dan Gurney said, "if you took off in first gear and ran it up to 6200 rpm, it would be going 90-mph". That year Ford went to dominate again, but they almost took themselves out. With 4 Fords running at the front of the race, Mario Andretti had brake problems and came into the pits. The crew installed new brakes and the faulty installation caused Mario to crash the car. Two following Fords also crashed trying to avoid Andretti. That left only the car driven by Gurney and AJ Foyt.

Not commonly known, but true, Ferrari then tried to make the last Ford break, in order for them to win. Their factory driver ran the Ferrari up behind Gurney, and flashed the headlights for four laps. The Ferrari never tried to pass. The tactic was working on Gurney, and he got so mad he actually pulled the car off the track and sat there "oh, for about 10 seconds". "The Ferrari pulled off behind me and we just sat there staring at each other". Finally the Ferrari got back on the course and took off, Gurney followed, drove cautiously to protect the last Ford on the track. That's the last time he saw the Ferrari, and the rest is history.

That win saw something the French had not seen before, didn't seem to understand, or appreciate. Dan Gurney stood there with a magnum of champagne and instead of taking a polite swig and posing for the cameras, he shook the bottle and sprayed everyone including The Duce and his new wife, the press, the officials, and all the expensive cameras. Those uncivilized American upstarts, ha.

It is very interesting and historically significant that Chris Craft during the height of the Ford racing program, began installing the 427 engine in their Chris Craft Commanders. My 1966 boat is one of the very first to accept 427 power. At FXA 38 3004 R, you won't find too many out there that preceded mine, since 1966 was the first year Chris Craft used the 427 in the Commander. Previous years used the big Lincoln, a good motor, but not in the same league as the then fully developed king of NASCAR and LeMans.

When you hear someone say "they don't build them like they used to", they're right! It's been 40 years since Ford won LeMans, and many of us are still running the motor that won in our boats. Of course, we're running iron heads and intakes, they ran aluminum. Our compression and cam profiles are much less radical, and I don't think you would find a Carter AFB on the LeMans car, ha ha. The blocks are essentially the same. It's a brilliant design, and one heck of a boat motor!

In 1966 I was still in high school, and now I'm proud to own a piece of history, a Chris Craft Commander milestone marine design with two of those big dogs! My Grandfather would be proud, after all, he's the one who owned the small town Ford dealership where I got to get a peek at all those new cars during the late 50's and all through the 1960s.

Here's one of the nicest marine 427 engines I've seen, belonging to Tim Toth, and it's an "original" never having been overhauled. The automotive racing versions look good, but I think the marine versions look pretty darn good too, 80-pound cast iron lowrise intakes and all!


FXA 38 3004 R
1966 38 Commander Express
Original 427 power

This message has been edited by FEfinaticP on Jun 13, 2006 12:17 PM

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