In May, 1902, Henry Ford and Tom Cooper, along with several assistants, began building two race cars. These cars were later named as 999 (painted yellow) and Arrow (painted red). Originally, the two cars could be differentiated by their intake manifolds. The 999 had right-angle bends in the runners, while the bends in the Arrow’s manifold were more gentle and curving, which made this car the faster of the two. However, parts and paint were swapped between the two so often that precisely which car was which became obscured.
Ford Motor Company was launched by Henry Ford on June 16, 1903. The first car offered for sale was the Model A. It was described as the most perfect machine on the market and so simple that a boy of 15 can run it. The 1903 Ford Model A had a two-cylinder engine displacing 100 cubic inches and producing 8 horsepower. It could reach 30 mph on smooth roads, which were quite rare at the time. The Ford Model A had a wheelbase of 72 inches and the car weighted about 1,250 pounds.
When Henry Ford began building “Sweepstakes” race car in 1901, he had a specific purpose in mind: publicity and recognition. Racing proved the worth of a builder’s engineering talent by demonstrating the speed and reliability of the product. In the Sweepstakes race car the engine was mounted in the middle of the car on the left-hand side, under the seat. It had two cylinders, horizontally opposed, with the crankshaft aligned transversely across the chassis. The cast-steel connecting rods reflected steam-power technology, with brass crank bearings as separate pieces bolted to the ends of the rods. The block and pistons were cast iron and with a seven-inch bore and seven-inch stroke, the total displacement was 539 cubic inches.
In late 1900, Henry Ford’s fortunes were at a low ebb. His first venture in auto manufacturing, the Detroit Automobile Company, was going out of business after producing 19 or 20 vehicles in a year of operation. The cars had not sold well and Ford wanted to develop a better one, but his stockholders decided to dissolve the company. The car 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.
The Ford V8 flathead can take a lion’s share of credit for the revival of U.S. road racing after the Great Depression, primarily because Ford V8 cars were relatively lightweight, maneuverable as well as powerful … and also inexpensive. On August 26, 1933, Fred Frame won the Elgin, Ill., road race in a Ford V8 “stock car.” The event was the first Elgin race run since 1920, and the last ever run. Ford V8 cars swept the top seven finishing positions. Six months later, on Feb. 24, 1934, Stubby Stubblefield won the Gilmore Gold Cup road race at Mines Field — an airport circuit in Long Beach, Calif. Of the 26 cars entered, 22 were Ford V8s, and Ford cars finished first through 10th.