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Ford vs Ferrari – the highly anticipated Hollywood production – is set to premiere this weekend and while the reviews are overwhelmingly positive, one part that is certainly to be left out of the final cut is the relationship that Essex magnet wire played in the success of the Ford team.
The history of the two companies are interwoven as Essex was founded through a purchase of wire and cable assets from the Ford Motor Company. In fact, the original production facility for Essex was inside the Ford plant in Highland Park, Michigan with an emphasis on producing wire harnesses for the Model A. Ford spent more than $60 million in capital investment for the production despite it being in the midst of the Great Depression. The relationship grew over time and at the time of the Ford investment into racing, the company remained the largest customer of Essex.
In 1965 the two took more of a formal partnership with Essex being part of the race team, providing the magnet wire for the company as well as sponsoring multiple cars. The first member to join the Essex team was Skip Scott. He trained with Ken Miles (played by Christian Bale in the movie) at Shelby American, named for legendary carmaker Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon). In its initial year racing the Essex team finished fourth in the US Road Racing Circuit driving a Shelby Cobra 427, model CSX3009. It was the first year that the Cobra moved to a big block engine, which had a reputation for shooting two feet of flames out of the hood scoop, earning the car the nickname “Ollie the Dragon.”
In 1966, the year of the famed Le Mans race portrayed in the film, the Essex team moved onto the International Grand Prix circuit with the GT40. It essentially parked Ollie for the season and shifted the complete attention to defeating Ferrari on the highest level.
While racing on the circuit, the Essex team had two cars in the field of the Le Mans race – though the film will not show that. One Essex car finished 15 hours of Le Mans with 212 completed laps, good for No. 24, driven by Peter Revson and Skip Scott. The other car was driven by Jochen Neerpash and Jacky Ickx, completing 11 hours of the race with 154 laps, good for a No. 27 finish of the 56 cars that made the start.
The backstory is well known: Ford wanted to win races. Ford had a real problem with how European teams mocked the efforts of his company. Ford tried to buy Ferrari but was rebuffed as Enzo Ferrari took too long to decide and then asked for more money.
What isn’t as well known is how closely Ford and Essex worked together to better the product.
Then Essex President Paul O’Malley said that the company “took the challenge and turned it into a winner for both Essex and Ford.”
As the Ford team poured money into testing and improvements – which will be shown in the film – much of what is depicted is wind resistance and making the car more lightweight, what isn’t shown is the innovation of power that the Essex team brought to the team.
Ultimately, the success of the 1966 Le Mans season was a winner for both brands.
Ford was able to increase its sales – which was always an alternative motivation for the brand, as the Chevrolet Corvette was winning races and. boosting sales figures for the rival company.
It was also part of boosting the profile of Essex, which grew to $355 million in sales, 44 plants, and 16,000 employees by the end of the racing partnership.
Today, Essex continues to service the automobile industry as electrification has made its magnet wire even more part of the future through traction motors while not leaving its past work with internal combustion engine vehicles in the rearview.
Innovation remains central to its growth with the recently opening of the MagForceX® Innovation Center, and that creation of EnduroTemp™ 260+, continues to push the limits of magnet wire applications.