A breath of French air

Built in the States, prepped in the UK, then caned round France by a Swede, this Alan Mann Mustang is a unique survivor

In 1964, when the late Mike Twite picked up this very Alan Mann Mustang to write about it for Motor Sport, he expected that to be a final voyage before the car was deliberately destroyed. By order of the Queen. In those days of crippling import taxes, cars temporarily imported for competition escaped duty – until they were re-exported. If sold here, though, someone had to pay a ton of duty or else the car was sliced in half, with Her Majesty’s Customs looking on.

Well, it didn’t happen. Instead, after MS had a day out with it, it went on to a healthy competition career before being parked for years, then rescued by someone who knew (or suspected) what it was. Which is why it’s sitting gleaming at Goodwood today, looking as it did before the 1964 Tour de France Automobile, due to the efforts of Henry Mann and his team at Alan Mann Racing. It’s not a ferocious Ford that battles in the Members’ Meeting with a gazillion horsepower; it’s not even raceable under today’s rules. But it is just as it left the workshop 53 years back, ready for its French holiday. And once again Motor Sport is invited to climb aboard.

It’s one of five Mustangs Alan Mann prepared that year, a model then so new, so secret that spy shots appeared in the UK racing press. We see the Mustang today as a brawny rubber-burner, yet at launch there were disappointed voices: it’s just a Falcon in a pretty little shell, some thought. The Capri of its day. Indeed, the vanilla version had a lumbering 101bhp and three-speed manual. But there were options, and what options – all the way to 300-plus bhp and even an experimental independent rear suspension set-up intended to supplant the cart-spring axle, which even then was ageing technology. History shows that despite the doubters the attractive – and remarkably cheap – Mustang would become a sales phenomenon, sparking the Sixties ponycar boom. And one of the things that drove its huge sales among young and aspiring Americans – and overseas – would be success on track.

In the height of its ‘Total Performance’ competition frenzy, with Falcons, Galaxies and GT40s already in its armoury, the Mustang as tweaked by Shelby would go on to win home races and championships by the cartload. Meanwhile Ford noted the Mann team’s successes with Cortinas and other Fords and took the English outfit on as its contracted European team for 1964, charged with developing the new compact sports car into a rally and race winner across the Atlantic. Two Mann-prepared cars went on the gruelling Spa-Sophia-Liège rally, unsuccessfully, and a further three lined up for the Tour de France, the road-race that sprinted between French racetracks and ignored normal traffic. Including the scarlet beauty here, with rapid Swede Bo Lungfjeldt at the wheel and Fergus Sagar on maps.

Lungfjeldt must have been grinning: already that year he had stunned the rally world by putting up fastest time on every stage of the Monte Carlo Rally in a Falcon. Only handicapping knocked him back to second. Now he had all that running gear in a lighter, wieldier car: the same Holman Moody 4.7-litre Hi-Po V8, limited-slip diff, Girling front brake calipers, hefty Galaxie springs and dampers. Even the cockpit looked similar, with the rally modifications of Restall bucket seat, extra instruments, and switches for fuel pumps and spotlights. It was in essence the same car: it just stopped a few inches sooner in all directions. In Motor Sport, Twite even wrote “The Mustang is uncannily like the Galaxie to drive.” Oh, and there was one other rally mod, as Twite learned: “We discovered, when we forgetfully asked a station attendant to ‘fill her up,’ that the two tanks hold 30 gallons between them!”

But Bo never made the results; after battery trouble he needed a push start and was thus disqualified, though he had been quickest on several stages. In compensation, team-mates Peter Procter and Andrew Cowan tweaked Jaguar’s tail by stealing the Touring Car class from the previously dominant 3.8 Mk2s, backed up by Peter Harper and David Pollard in another Mann Mustang.

FORD FLEW the class winner straight back home for promotions, while the second-placer turned into Roy Pierpoint’s race car and won the 1965 BSCC. Our car, though, came back to Britain and, avoiding the Exciseman’s axes, switched from rally to race and red to blue when bought by F English Ltd, Colonel Ronnie Hoare’s Ford dealership, for Mike Salmon to race. Later he remembered it being very unreliable…

“Salmon raced it first, in blue livery,” says Henry. “Then Dutch racer Rob Slotemaker had it, painted it red again and did a lot of events, winning national titles, with wilder and wilder modification to keep it competitive. After that Le Mans race director Alain Goupie bought it and kept it for some years. In about 2000 Eric Charles, the chap who asked us to restore it, saw it in a garage in Le Mans and managed to do a deal, and it went to a specialist in France who began a slow and not particularly good job on it. While doing the research Eric realised it might be a TdF car, and flew me over to authenticate it. I had notes and drawings from Brian Lewis and the other mechanics who prepared them and I crawled all over it and was satisfied it seemed to be that car, although over its years racing a lot had been replaced – body panels, rear suspension. But it had the right shell, most panels, the front suspension. So it was mostly the car from 1964.” But not the engine. That’s not such a knockback – when asked about the car a few years back Salmon remembered a replacement V8 being fitted in his time, so the one H&M installed was in any case long gone. It now packs a date-correct 289.

At this point Henry thought his connection with the car was done, until out of the blue he received a call – would he collect the car and do a full restoration? Not half. Based at Fairoaks Airport in Surrey, the team restores and prepares many cars, mainly 1960s Fords connected with the equipe, and this was a particularly special machine. “The Pierpoint car was destroyed in a smash and the Tour winner has disappeared, so this is the only one of the three extant,” Henry tells us.

The strip-down revealed more evidence of its past. “We took it to bare metal using strippers,” Henry says, “so we could see the colours emerging as we went deeper – Slotemaker’s red, Salmon’s blue, then the original Ford red. To fit the Galaxie springs the front wishbones had had to be modified, and the chap who did that in 1964 came down, confirmed they were the correct wishbones, the ones he had altered, and explained a lot of other details.”

Henry’s brief was to remove the assorted mods it had gained over the years racing and return the car to exactly the form it left the shop for France, so while the engine was being prepared by a V8 specialist, the Mann crew had some unusual fittings to find. “A Mustang is a pretty simple car to restore,” says Henry, “but what was tricky was finding the correct instruments and clocks. The Smiths-Jaeger eight-day clock on the transmission tunnel came from a 1950s bomber, another dial from an obscure NASCAR, and it took months of trawling.”

“Luckily because these were the first Mustangs imported my dad took a lot of pictures of testing, the engine bays, the interiors as they went through the development process, and we have the preparation notes, so it wasn’t too hard to replicate. Dad also kept a good archive including quotes for customers who wanted a similar spec, so we have his listings of all the parts and settings.”

AFTER A YEAR of work the Mustang rolled out, resplendent in bright red, and went for its shakedown at Goodwood. Maybe due to those thorough notes Alan Mann kept, the car felt right straight away.

“The engine is exactly the same spec as in period – maybe 295hp, a lot less than they put out with modern internals,” Henry says. “It feels nice, quite compliant, but not very quick by modern standards.”

Of course, he’s talking about the velvety-smooth surface of a race track. On the road things can be different, as Twite noted in MS: “The Mustang has a rather Jekyll and Hyde character on the road, being exhilarating on smooth straight roads and rather trying on bumpy, twisting roads. On rougher roads the tyres transmit much of the feel of the road’s surface to the steering wheel, and it becomes something of an effort to hold the car on line.”

Maybe that was due to the car’s Goodyear race tyres, “which are fine for flogging down the Mulsanne straight at 150mph but not much fun for negotiating some of the horrors that pass for roads in rural England”.

His summary, though, was optimistic: “The rally Mustang is a very different cup of tea from the standard product, for the former is a taut racing car and the latter is typical of American cars with floppy suspension, low-geared steering and suspect brakes. Somewhere between the two lies a very attractive road car, and when Ford has sorted out its findings, American drivers are going to be offered a very acceptable road car. When that happens we shall be able to requote the old phrase ‘Racing improves the breed’.”

Well, Alan Mann undoubtedly refined this pony’s bloodline, and while like all historic racers the developments you could add to it today could turn it into a ballistic missile, it’s too important historically.

Although the owner planned to use it for demos it in fact ended up in Bonhams’ Revival sale. But as Henry points out, “It’s not raceable as it has a full interior and no roll cage. You’d have to destroy it to make a racer from it.”

Let’s hope no one makes that choice.