John Holman’s story is a true example of the American dream. From the kid who got his start by sweeping floors and later went on to become CEO, Holman climbed the ladder into motorsports history. Raised in California, Holman moved to North Carolina in 1956, when the Ford team was looking for a manager. Arguably, his timing could have been both the cause of his success as well as his fall.
Shop Walkthrough and the Shop’s Future
Holman and Moody, located in a small business park in South Charlotte, features more vintage racing equipment than you might expect. There are ten GT-40 chassis – more than any other place in the world – and it is easy to miss the two strapped vertically to the structural beam in the middle of the shop. They are all thrown in a pile amongst complete engines and worn out camshafts. Holman and Moody’s scrapyard of parts is worth more than most of our garage kept cars.
“Vintage is rapidly become the biggest form of motorsports,” said Lee Holman, John’s son and current owner of Holman and Moody.
There was only one Mark II roadster in the world – it won Sebring in 1966, then it was destroyed. However, like a heavenly reincarnation, a Mark II chassis – their latest project – sits beneath a halo of work lights.
A large number of their chassis are new-originals that came from Ford in the early 1990’s. Ford produced them on the original equipment before dismantling the jigs, etc., and at one time Holman and Moody had over fifteen.
The FIA, the Federation of International Motorsports (or Federation of International de l’Automobile), recognizes Holman and Moody’s rebuilt new-originals as original cars.
According to Lee, this recognition is something that others (such as Shelby) cannot claim. In order to be recognized by the FIA, a shop needs to have all of the original equipment, and Holman and Moody does.
Their serial numbers do not pick up where they left off (in whatever year the car was produced) – that is a different program all together. Lee decided to avoid that route, “There were some replicas in it…. and we just wanted to avoid it.”
The shop also has some ultra-rare 427ci SOHC motors that were originally built for NASCAR and helped to create the funny car. Those are pulling around $50,000 on the market now.
“We were selling those for $1,000 at one time, just to get rid of them,” stated Lee.
Day to day business is slow, however the shop does take in some large projects – enough to keep it busy. One of their current projects involves taking a new 1968 fastback body (from England) and fitting it on a high dollar street rod chassis, with an independent rear suspension and NASCAR style exhaust ports built into frame rails.
While the shop has a few large projects, the empire that John Holman built is not what it once was.
John Holman started as a tool and die maker on the bottom rung of the ladder. He worked as a mechanic on the Mexican road race, worked on racing boats, took on projects for Zora Arkus-Duntov racing (considered to be the ‘Legend behind the Corvette’), and was working on Bill Vuckovich’s crew when Vuckovich was killed at the Indy 500 in 1955. After Holman’s move to the South, he worked for DePaolo Engineering as Ford’s NASCAR Team Manager.
According to Lee, shortly after his father moved to North Carolina in 1956, Chrysler convinced Ford to step out of racing, telling them that they could no longer compete with DePaolo Engineering. The Ford factories all signed a pack in 1957, agreeing not to race that year.
Holman asked one of the team’s driver’s, Ralph Moody, to help him buy Ford’s racing program, which at the time consisted of four warehouses full of Ford racing equipment. (Note: The thought of seeing four warehouses filled with Ford racing equipment in the late 1950’s makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck.)
They won their first race in 1957, and found that they could make a nice profit if they also opened up a racing factory, selling parts to their competition.
Ford returned to NASCAR the next year, and eventually became Holman and Moody’s best customer. It was the be the beginning of one of the most winning relationships in motorsports history.
Some drag and street guys might not care about the history of NASCAR or the history of Homan and Moody, but all of us have benefited from the advances that they made within the industry. For example, they are acclaimed for having made and implemented the first full roll cage.
“For years the drawings of our roll cages and chassis were in the NASCAR rule book as an example of, ‘this is what your car is supposed to look like,” said Lee.
Full floating rear end, window net, fast filling gas can, bullet point on the end of a wheel stud, two-piece steering shaft, padded steering wheel and the shoulder harness – these items make up a condensed list of the advances that Holman and Moody made in the motorsports world.
Everything was smooth sailing for Ford, until the next chapter of motorsports history. They hatched a plan that ultimately fell through, but you can’t help but wonder how this plan would have changed the face of the automotive industry as we know it, had it come to fruition.
Enter the “Ferrari Killer”
According to Lee, Ferrari was passionate about racing, but it started to take a toll financially. “He only sold street cars merely to fund his racing,” Lee stated.
Ferrari was often in need of money, and during one of Ferrari’s slow periods, Henry Ford II looked into buying the company. They entered into negotiations, and it seemed as if they had come to an agreement. This would have been the beginning of a new era. However, things turned sour while discussing Indianapolis speedway. For unknown reasons, Ferrari had hard feelings about the track and refused to allow his cars race there.
“Ford said, ‘Screw that, If I’m going to own you, I’m going to own all of you, including racing,'” said Lee. Ferrari, obsessed with his racing ventures, refused to hand over control and the deal fell through. As a result, “Henry said they were going to beat them at their own game,” stated Lee.
While Holman and Moody has been credited with creating the GT-40, this is not entirely accurate. It would be better to say that they helped make the GT-40 what it is today. They stepped in towards the end of 1965 to help Ford and Shelby figure out how to run the car successfully. Above is a picture of the Mark I, as it was prior to Holman and Moody becoming involved. The car was fitted with wings and fins, making it look like an odd sea mammal. Ford struggled with the car until Holman and Moody stepped in, creating the Mark II.
After Holman and Moody redesigned the GT-40 with the Mark II, the car became the “Ferrari Killer” (as it is known today), finishing first, second, third at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The 427ci fitted Mark II not only won at the Le Mans in ’66, but also finished first, second, and third at Daytona and Sebring in the same year.
The GT-40 Mark II made Holman and Moody a household name. Their involvement with NASCAR continued to grow while they worked on the GT-40, winning the Sprint Cup in 1968 and 1969. However, as NASCAR’s focus changed and teams began to do almost everything in-house, Holman and Moody changed its direction.
“Little by little, the race teams got bigger and bigger. Now there wouldn’t be space in the system for Holman and Moody,” said Lee.
Holman and Moody no longer fit into either NASCAR’s or Ford’s worlds. Forty years ago, people might expect to see one of the most winning marriages in motorsports history live longer than the small block V8. So, what happened? When Ford terminated their contract with Holman and Moody, the shop took a massive hit. “It pretty much killed my father. He had personal commitments with Henry [Ford II],” said Lee.
Look for the next installment in this series on Holman and Moody, where we will cover the period following the termination of their contract with Ford, as well as Ford’s racing history, including the introduction of the first funny car and the Mustang.