For gearheads everywhere, CarTech books are practically required reading. With titles to interest all automotive marques, the publisher has a book for you. We recently caught up with Editor Wes Eisenschenk to discuss Charlie Henry’s new book Kar-Kraft: Race Cars, Prototypes and Muscle Cars of Ford’s Specialty Vehicle Program due for release in June.
Blue oval fans will remember “the story of Kar-Kraft, as did many others in the automotive industry, began with an axe to grind. In 1963, Ford was seriously interested in purchasing Ferrari,” Wes explained. “Ferrari was a legendary brand with considerable success in racing, and Ford saw the acquisition as a great way to be instantly successful in the racing arena.”
“When Enzo Ferrari realized that Ford would not give him complete control of the racing program, he backed out of the deal late in the process,” he added. “Ford had spent millions in vetting and audits, which then set in motion a vengeful response against Ferrari. The result was the unthinkable: Ford beat Ferrari at Le Mans.”
How did you get involved in this book effort?
“I was displaying books in Cincinnati. Charlie was thumbing through one of the Ford books and we began chatting about Ford muscle cars in general. It was at that time that he mentioned he was a former employee at Kar-Kraft.”
Who were some of the main forces behind the book?
“A few years (ago) I was hired as an Editor at CarTech Books, and if you’ve ever read a CarTech title you know they take pride in being focused. It seemed an opportune place to pitch the book idea. To answer your question, I was the driving force behind looking for an author candidate to write the book. Charlie used his vast array of contacts to bring the book to fruition.”
Kar Kraft is now an iconic name in Fords racing history. How did a small, independent, and unknown race shop become Ford’s go-to company?
“It all revolved around bringing the GT40 program stateside. For whatever reasons, Ford wanted to contract a company in order to handle their racing programs. If you look back at this period Ford and Chrysler were both outsourcing parts of their racing programs to third-party builders.”
You mention Ford’s Kar Kraft prototypes, which are well discussed. What did you discover that surprised you or may not be so well known?
“The variety of their projects. Ford and Kar-Kraft were looking to ‘Boss’ their vehicles. We have photos of Boss 302 and 429 Mavericks along with a 351 Shelby-powered Boss Bronco. Other oddities like the Mid-ship Mustang and the canceled Rumble Seat XR7 Cougar show you that they were heavily involved in prototyping as well as converting vehicles as well.”
The end of a GT40 Mk II. Painful to look at but, hopefully, usable information was gathered. The explosion of coolant makes it hard to see all the action. The hood panel is flying off toward the upper right. The front wheels are several inches off the ground. No test summaries are available. (Photo Credit: Randy Hernandez Collection)
Was there any story or history that didn’t find its way into the book that you could share?
“Bunkie Knudsen had a Boss 429 as one of his personal cars. There are photos floating around that claim to be of Bunkie’s Boss 9, but we didn’t use them because there’s just a lack of verification to confirm it being his car. Some things like that we left out of the book as we didn’t want to speculate.”
“There are exceptions to this though, as some amazing sketches of a Dune Buggy arrived late into the project, and it has a striking resemblance to a vehicle that Bill Stroppe created, known as “Pony.” We have no hard evidence connecting the two, but present the info to possibly help connect some dots if and when Pony ever comes out of hiding.”
If you had the opportunity to go back in time to those days at Kar Kraft, when would you go and why? Any car you would want to be a part of?
“You couldn’t have asked a tougher question! Let’s take the Rumble Seat Cougar project for example. I would love to know why the project was cancelled, and what other cars possibly were slated for conversion or prototype work. One of the inventory sheets we have in the book gives the reader a snapshot as to what was all at K-K circa May 1969.
There are 43 vehicles on the list ranging from GT40s to Mach 2s to Boss 9s to four-wheel-drive Mustangs. And this is just a singular snapshot! When we asked our 10 former Kar-Kraft employees about the Rumble Seat Cougar, none of them could recall the car or it being slated for conversion. So what else went in and out of the doors at Kar-Kraft? We’ll never know unless more documents are unearthed.”
The Kar-Kraft lot holds Shelby Mustangs and Boss 429s ready for shipping. Seven transporters are in the middle of over 500 cars. The assembly line started (at the top of the photo) where the cars entered the large ,black-roofed building. The line ran the length of that building and the long, narrow structure. Completed cars exited through the two large garage doors. The two smaller doors were at the final inspection area.
If you could pick any three cars to fill your garage, which three would you pick?
If I could fill my garage with three dream cars they would be all from my book Lost Muscle Cars. The first would be one of the two Ranchero’s that received the Twister Special package. Both were 429 SCJ cars with automatic.
Second would be the missing ’70 Hurst Nova giveaway car. And 3rd would be the 64 Lightweight Savoy known as “Aggravation” that I spent over a decade tracking ownership info on. We finally found the original owner from 1964 who campaigned the car as the “Flying Wedge. I’ll add a Kar-Kraft car in there too, the 1969 Boss 429 Cougar prototype!”
Are you working on anything now?
“I have books contracted with authors on Hubert Platt, Streamline Aluminum Trailer Restoration and the 2001 Daytona 500.”
Ford Muscle fans will want to pick up their own copy of Kar-Kraft: Race Cars, Prototypes and Muscle Cars of Ford’s Specialty Vehicle Program available for pre-order now on Amazon.