Friday September 19, 2003
One of the most celebrated cars in automotive history is coming to Australia - the car which Henry Ford drove to victory in an important motor race in 1901 which reversed his flagging fortunes of the time and enabled him to go on and build Ford Motor Company.
Henry Ford's most significant legacy to mankind was not so much the automobile, but the production methodologies he refined to reduce the production time of a Model T Ford from 17 hours to 90 minutes. It was his moving assembly-line system which enabled him to produce enough automobiles to best meet market demand and create the global Ford Motor Company, but his production methodology has been the blueprint for all manufacturing from that point forward.
But Ford's fortunes swung on the result of one motor race in which he drove his very first race car - "Sweepstakes."
Built in 1901, the young inventor aim when he began building Sweepstakes was to create publicity and recognition to kick-start a career that looked in danger of stalling.
His first venture in auto manufacturing, the Detroit Automobile Company, was going out of business. The cars had not sold well and Ford wanted to develop a better one, but his stockholders decided to dissolve the company.
The car that Ford wanted to build would be mass-produced, uncomplicated, reliable, and sold at a price most people could afford. That was a revolutionary idea in 1901, when the automobile was still a novelty, and much too expensive for all but the very wealthy.
Henry Ford wanted to be the one to succeed in producing the mass-market car he envisioned, but that would require significant financial investment. Racing Sweepstakes would provide a high-profile way to promote his name and reputation in order to prove to potential backers that he had good, sound ideas, and that his automobiles could be a commercial success.
Sweepstakes carried Henry Ford to victory in the first and only race he ever drove the race against Alexander Winton on October 10, 1901, in Grosse Pointe, Michigan.
Ford was clearly the underdog. Winton's sales manager had even persuaded race organisers to pick the cut glass punch bowl trophy because he wanted something that would look good in Winton's home.
The win changed everything for Ford - the $1000 in prize money and offers of financial support from several people watching the race on the day led to the establishment of the Ford Motor Company in June 1903.
Ford went on to prove his belief in low-cost production with the Model T.
Sweepstakes was eventually stored at the Henry Ford Museum and, over time, all but forgotten. With no papers to verify it as the original Sweepstakes, museum personnel came to believe it was a replica built by Henry Ford in the '30s.
Recently steps were taken to verify the car's authenticity and restoration undertaken of the original Sweepstakes in preparation for the Ford Racing 100th Anniversary celebrations.
The car will be on show at the Bathurst 1000 endurance race from October 11-12, the Sydney International Motor Show from October 17-19, and Ford Discovery Centre in Geelong from October 23-27.
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