The original Ford Mustang was a tour de force in the 1964 Tour de France
By the time the 1965 Mustang debuted in April 1964, Ford’s Total Performance program was going full throttle, with successes across the racing spectrum and on both sides of the Atlantic. The Falcon, on which the Mustang was based, had already taken second place overall in the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally; there would be no playing it safe for Mustang’s racing debut.
And so, just a few months into its sales bonanza, the Mustang was thrown to the lions. Its first race would be the 1964 Tour de France Automobile, a 10-day, 4000-mile motorsport spectacle.
It took home a win.
Tour de what?
The Mustang’s victory was big news in the racing world, and a harbinger of its track successes to come. Full appreciation of the feat probably requires a closer look at a race lesser known to Americans than the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
First run in 1899, four years before the bicycle race of the same name, the Tour de France was indeed a “tour” of the country, with stops to compete at its major race tracks, plus hill climbs and sprints in between. Results from all stages were tallied to determine winners.
This was a difficult race, with a very high attrition rate. Of 117 cars that started the 1964 TdF, only 36 finished. The grid, comprised mainly of European models, looked like something in a “Speed Racer” cartoon, ranging from two-cylinder Panhards to V-12 Ferraris, with a sea of small sedans, coupes, and roadsters filling in the rest. Cars were grouped into GT and Touring classes, each subcategorized by engine size, down to 1.0-liter and under.
The Mustangs were built for the Touring 3.0-liter+ class, which factory-backed Jaguar sedans had won from 1959–63. Ford had proficient race partners to handle the job. Alan Mann Racing of Surrey, England, had become a factory team after its impressive win with British Ford Cortinas in the 1963 Marlboro 12-Hour race in Maryland, beating the factory Falcons. AMR would then run the rally Falcons.
The Mustangs were among the few American cars in the 1964 TdF, the others being another Mustang entered by Ford of France, a trio of Shelby Daytona coupes in the GT class, and a giant 1963 Ford Galaxie 427. Mechanical problems took out all three Daytonas.
From assembly line to racetrack
To build its TdF team, Ford plucked four red Mustangs from inventory and shipped them to AMR for race prep. Three would race, while one would serve as a parts car. As early models, the Mustangs had the 260-cubic-inch V-8; the 289 was not due until the fall. For the TdF, the 260s were pulled and replaced with high-performance 289s built by Ford’s NASCAR builder, Holman & Moody, and packing close to 300 horsepower.
Henry Mann confirmed the work that his father’s firm had done to prep the Mustangs for the TdF, which included installing a Galaxie rear axle and front springs, an oil pan guard, auxiliary fuel tank, tweaked suspension, Girling front disc brakes, and rally seats.
“The wheel arches were also flared,” he says, “which gave the cars quite a distinctive look.”
Alan Mann died in 2012, and today Henry and his brother, Tom, run a revived version of AMR that builds cars for historic racing. (Trivia: AMR built the whimsical cars for the 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.)
The 1964 TdF began on the Reims Grand Prix circuit, a five-mile course built on narrow public roads comprising two long straights, three fast sweeping curves, and a few ultra-tight turns. Here, the Mustangs swept 1-2-3 in the Touring class, repeating that deed at the next stage on the Rouen-Les-Essarts circuit. The Mustangs went on to win 13 of the TdF’s 17 speed stages, delivering Ford a 1-2 victory in Touring, and eighth and ninth overall, with British drivers Andrew Cowan and Peter Procter piloting the winning car. The effort came close to a 1-2-3 sweep.
“They did indeed finish 1-2-3, ending a long period of Jaguar dominance,” Henry Mann confirms. “The third car, number 82, driven by Bo Ljungfeldt, accepted a push start when the electrics died at Pau, and was disqualified for accepting outside assistance.”
The Mustang’s eighth place overall is also notable for the caliber of the GT-class cars ahead of it: Ferrari 250 GTOs took first and second, a quartet of Porsche 904 Carrera GTSs placed third through sixth, and seventh went to an Alfa Romeo Giulia TZ. Every one of those was a purpose-built endurance racer.
The disqualified Mustang, known by its license registration, DPK5B, is today the sole remaining TdF Mustang, and AMR is restoring it for eventual sale. It had continued its racing career, Henry Mann confirms, campaigning with different owners and wining some races at in the late 1960s at the Zandvoort circuit in the Netherlands. The winning car, DPK7B, also continued to race in Europe but was wrecked and is believed to have met its ultimate demise in a metal shredder in the late 1970s.