Why Ford’s CEO races a GT40

31st January 2022
Ethan Jupp

The Goodwood Revival is a place that bends reality. To all appearances, it’s a portal that goes back seven decades to a time of racing and revels. So meeting up with Ford CEO Jim Farley for a chat here doesn’t, at least at first, yield shop talk of how he plans to steer one of the world’s biggest carmakers into the new electrified era. It starts with talk of racing his Ford GT40 and how he uses historic motorsport to unwind from the highly-strung life at the top of the automotive corporate world. Don’t worry, we get there, with hints and teases at everything from a Fiesta RS, to a new Supervan, to how he wants the Mustang to live forever…

For a man with billions of dollars and the stock values of the Blue Oval riding on his shoulders, he’s as relaxed and chilled-out as they come, even down to his handshake. Someone at the top, with nothing to prove, only a job to do.


We get through the introductions and sit down in the Revival’s Rolex Driver’s Club. He shouts to his wife, who’s queuing for a drink: “Hey! Lia! I’m just doing an interview! We’ll get lunch after!”

E: We’re not here really to exclusively speak to Jim Farley, Ford CEO. We also want to hear from Jim Farley, racer and enthusiast. Let’s not get straight into the corporate spiel…

JF: “Sounds good to me… You’ve got the wrong guy if you just want that.”


On historic racing

E: So, what’s it been like racing your GT40 at Goodwood? How long have you been racing?

JF: “It was a bit hectic actually. Because on the first flying lap, some people had an accident in front. I suddenly discovered liquid down so I spun. We went out again and I think I got three or four laps at good speed, so mid-pack.

“I really didn’t have much money when I first started. I bought a Cobra about 25 years ago from a gentleman who was dying. I loved it because it was a Ken Miles Cobra that got crashed at Road America. I said I want to buy it, he said, ‘I want you to have it but If you get it, you have to promise me you race it’. I’d never raced, never had any money. But I had training, I restored the car and I raced it, to live up to his ask."

“I raced the Cobra in America for ten years, very successfully. I loved the Cobra, but I wanted something safer. The GT40 was the dream Ford and you could put a full cage in it. That’s when I put my eye out for one. I had to sell everything to buy one, everything I own. I had to do a lot of negotiation with my wife.”

E: And now you’ve got the bug. What importance does racing hold for you now?

JF: “It was totally indirect but I think I’m addicted now. With my position, the racing is now more important. It’s a way for me to completely detach from all the problems, anything with work. For those 20 minutes in the car, it’s all gone. You can’t think about anything else but the driving.”

E: That’s some escapism… Does it lend any perspective when it comes to the day job?

JF: “It keeps me grounded as a person and makes me a better leader. In racing, just as in business, you want to be nice and pleasant to everyone. Your team is more important than you. Everyone is important in racing and you’ll never be successful if you’re a jerk. 

“On the track itself, competing, I have to make choices about aggression. It also teaches me to moderate my aggressiveness in business. Never lose your cool. Nothing good is gonna happen when you’re racing a car if you lose your cool.”


On keeping cars passionate

E: Does that V8 howling away behind you make you think about what you want to instil in the cars of the future, someway somehow?

JF: “I think the most important thing is that cars are not refrigerators. They’re passion projects. It helps me think about how do I restore and preserve the passion in our vehicles. As we’re designing these electrified digital products, I don’t want them to be generic and unmemorable. They can’t be ugly little cars. I don’t think Ford should make just any cars. Ford should make Mustangs, Broncos, Ranger Raptors. I don’t want generic A-B products, like Toyota where I came from. 

“I love Apple but these Apple phones, they’re very much ‘Prius’ products. The apps and the content are important but it’s not a passion product. Motorcars can’t go the same way. Personal transportation is a very emotive thing.”

E: A car is a very expensive thing. You get quite emotional before signing on the dotted line and spending that much money, one way or the other…

JF: “Exactly. Like a home, like a watch, very emotive things. Escort Mexico, RS, Mustang, Fiesta ST – I’m glad we make the Fiesta, just so we can make an RS or ST version.”


On the future of the Mustang

E: All of the greatest Fords have that in common. That they’re aspirational but also attainable, especially the Mustang. What does its future hold?

JF: “I think our decision to go to Mach E was very controversial from the traditional coupe customers but I have to say… the internal combustion Mustang was saved by that car, in terms of emissions requirements for the fleet. The best thing that happened to the V8 Mustang is the Mach E.

E: So the Mach E is a loophole car?!

JF: “Sort of… It allows us to make a passion product that’s affordable, where others – Mercedes, BMW, Camaro in the US – are shrinking volume and going upmarket so much. Because emissions don’t allow these cars at high volume.

“I wanted the best electric car with Mustang on it and I knew my team would make it handle right, drive right and have that Detroit swagger… but it means the coupe can continue. We’ll have a really exciting execution with different variations for the next generation…”

E: Will that be a swan song for the Mustang? 

JF: “The Mustang is the number one sportscar in the world and will be so as long as I’m here…”

He pauses, chuckling to himself.

JF: “When we moved Mustang to Europe, there were three years where we outsold the 911 in Germany. When I got where I am, we said we need to be there, in Europe. We made a conscious design change, to make it more like a European sports coupe. We made many changes to globalise. So no, we’re not backing off Mustang any time soon.”


On returning to Le Mans

E: As an enthusiast, that’s reassuring to hear. So racing that GT40, does the thought ever creep, that Ford should be back, doing this again at the top level?

JF: “I see what you’re asking… Yes. The answer is yes… but… The GT40 put Ford on the map for its reputation. It had the desired effect – to get Ford serious about performance. But the GT itself was a forbidden fruit vehicle. We never sold it. I don’t like that. If you can’t use the top tier of racing to solve a problem at the road level and if the customers don’t see themselves in that car, you shouldn’t do it, in my opinion.

“I guess what I’m saying is, would we like to go back to Le Mans? Yes. Would we do it at the prototype level? I don’t think that’s our style. We’re not a company trying to prove something. For some, it’s their backbone. I don’t think we need that for Transit."

E: Well, there was the Supervan…

JF: “We had the Supervan…” he smirks, looks away for a moment and then back.

“We’re working on an excellent idea now. I’d love to race an electric Supervan up Pikes Peak. That’d be pretty cool. No market research would tell you to do that…”


On the cars he has

E: We like the sound of that. Okay, final question, what’s in your own personal collection of cars?

JF: “As I’ve gotten later in life, I’m fortunate enough to have a few cool cars. My most important car is my Lancia Aurelia, that’s a very important car. I have Mickey Thompson’s Cobra and a Lola 298 Le Mans racer. I’ve got a 2021 850PS (625kW) GT500 and a 10,000rpm GT350R Mustang. There’s a new Ford GT, in the same colours as and alongside my racer and a 1973 Bronco as my daily.

“My wife has a 1988 BMW 325 convertible and a Porsche 993 1998 – the last year of the air-cooled Porsches. I love bikes too. I’ve got a 1939 knucklehead Harley that I built myself – a bobber, like the ones here. I also have a 1969 CB750, the first four-cylinder bike that really put the British out of business.

“I’d change a few things. I’ve been looking around here and thinking – I’m in a car rut with one space left. I went by the Minis and I think it’s time for us to own a Mini. It’s definitely time. A Cooper S I think.”

Many things are said of the men and women in control at the top of the motoring corporate ladder. On the evidence above, though, you can’t deny Ford’s CEO is a car guy first and foremost. The Blue Oval by our count is in safe hands.

Photography by Joe Harding and Nick Dungan.

  • Jim Farley

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