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How Does a Car Become Legendary?

The question arose as I quite some time ago read the headline: “In just one month, more than 6,500 buyers have signed up for the legendary Ford GT”. Followed by the rather cryptic addition: “At the same time, nearly 200,000 have configured their dream version of the legendary car online”. That is “legendary” in two consecutive sentences. And it was all about a brand new car, namely the new Ford GT.

This makes it nothing less than nonsense of legendary proportions. Because legends are something that (at least in recent times) are being created in action and out of a fantastic event. In the (very) olden days, a legend could also just happen to be concerning a holy person – which is something completely different, of course.

In this context, the difference doesn’t matter: Back at the introduction, the new Ford GT was neither sacred nor had it achieved anything great. It was just new.

THIS is what a legend looks like. But back when this photo in 1964, it was pf course still only in the making.

The name, on the other hand, was old, and that was perhaps what confused the text writers within Ford Motor Company. The first Ford GT was introduced in 1964 and it later became truly legendary with no less than four Le Mans victories in a row. Read its story here.

But note that even this mighty car was not legendary when it arrived – it was also just new.

So how does a car become legendary? By accomplishing big feats. As we have pointed out before at ViaRETRO, motorsports related ones are some of the best in this sense. Yet, I don’t want to rule out that there are other ways: The Citroën DS was used in motorsport too, but its legendary status has mostly to do with the design. The Lamborghini Countach – well, is it a legend at all? No, not quite. Here we think of the big and unambiguous legends – created at Le Mans, Rallye Monte Carlo, Nürburgring, Mille Miglia – that sort of legend, where the name and the story stands above all else for years and years to come.

The only thing is, that most modern cars and especially supercars are increasingly being deprived of the opportunities they had in the old days. You don’t often drive races with cars that have anything to do with a road car, do you? And even if you do, it’s barely enough anymore. The McLaren F1 won Le Mans in 1995 with what was pretty much a race version of a road car. But is the F1 a legend today? Hmm, maybe – but that might also be because it was a truly great road car. Or it might even have something to do with the devaluation of the word legend itself.

The great hope for Ford at the time was that the new GT actually was put to use in motorsports: In ran at Le Mans 2016, and Ford’s vast PR machine drummed high and proud that it marked fifty years since the GT40’s first victory at Le Mans. The new car even won as well. But Ford spoke little about the fact that the new GT – unlike its predecessor – was not running for the general classification in the race (Porsche took the overall victory), but ran alongside other GT-based production cars in a lower category.

Not many legends were born out of that, and I think the GT will have a hard time establishing itself as one. Go for the original instead and you very much have the very definition of a legendary car.


2 Responses

  1. Tony Wawryk

    It’s a good question, Claus. I wonder if you could base it on a few different criteria? Motorsport exploits – especially successful ones – are a sure way to achieve legendary status over time. Besides your chosen (original) Ford GT, the Porsche 917, the Lancia Stratos, Jaguar D-Type and, in my view, the Alpine A110 are among others that qualify on those grounds.
    I think you could also include cars from manufacturers that existed for only a short time or were built in very small numbers eg Pegaso.
    How about groundbreaking cars, cars that created a whole new sector, or set new technical standards and were successful to boot – the Audi Ur-Quattro would be one for me (and it was also a major motorsport success), the Citroen Traction Avant, maybe the original Mustang as the first pony car.
    Finally for this train of thought, legendarily bad or unsuccessful cars – justifiably or otherwise – maybe the Edsel? Having said that, the Austin Maestro was legendarily bad…perhaps that’s a stretch ;)
    Curious to see what others think!

  2. Anders Bilidt

    It is indeed a very interesting question, and one which is probably as difficult to answer with a precise definition as that other question: “What makes a classic car?”. I suspect you will have as many variations in the answer as you will have enthusiasts attempting to put words to it.

    But that said, I entirely agree with you Claus. Clearly, a brand new car – any brand new car – can’t possibly be a legend from birth. It needs to first somehow write itself into the history books through accomplishing something out of the ordinary. That may very well be through motorsport – such as it was for the original Ford GT of the sixties. But it may also be through design, through exceptional engineering and/or technical evolution, or perhaps through either very low production numbers or even exceptionally high production numbers. But regardless what the reason, the car will need to prove that it stands above its counterparts in one way or another.

    As for the new Ford GT… naaaah, I think I’ll give that one a pass, thank you very much…


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