DETROIT — Edsel Ford II spent decades at Ford Motor Co. accepting assignments in far-flung corners of the family business, learning unfamiliar facets of a car company it was once expected he might eventually lead.
But at age 72, the great-grandson of company founder Henry Ford has finally found a role he isn’t fully ready to embrace: retirement.
Ford may have stepped down in May from a 33-year stint on the automaker’s board of directors because of age restrictions, but he remains as engaged as ever with the company that has defined so much of his life.
Days after leaving the board, he attended the opening of a new Lincoln store in Texas owned by a longtime dealer friend. The “Godfather of Ford Racing,” as he is known in motorsports circles, was in touch with driver Helio Castroneves just hours after he won the Indianapolis 500 later that month. And he intends to continue attending races, dealer conferences and other automotive events once they pick up after the coronavirus pandemic subsides.
“I don’t think I’m calling it a career, frankly,” he told Automotive News last month in a rare sit-down interview at his private garage in suburban Detroit. “I don’t really feel I’m leaving. It’s just different.”
Ford never quite ascended to the highest ranks of the company once run by his father, Henry Ford II, choosing instead to focus on philanthropic work and other roles outside the industry, in addition to his board seat. But whether it was his 24-year run as a company employee or three-plus decades as a board member, Ford often bore witness to history, interacting with some of the industry’s most memorable products and personalities.
He was there in 1966, alongside Hank the Deuce, when Ford famously upset Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He was back, 50 years later, hoisting the championship trophy alongside his cousin Executive Chairman Bill Ford when Ford won again in 2016.
He was once roused from slumber at 4 a.m. while staying at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel when racers including Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham came knocking to celebrate Ford Motor Co.’s NASCAR manufacturers’ championship — and welcomed them in to celebrate. Jackie Stewart, the legendary racer, was an usher in his wedding, and gave him a once-in-a-lifetime thrill when, at Stewart’s 80th birthday party in 2019, he sat Ford at a lunch table with Queen Elizabeth II.
Framed photographs recall many of those memories on the office walls outside his private garage. Inside, nearly a dozen cars — including a 1970 Bronco, 2003 Thunderbird and 2007 Aston Martin DB9 — stand among colorful posters, personalized trophies and autographed racing memorabilia.
“It’s such an important part of my DNA,” Ford said. “I love the car industry. It’s been great to me. I feel like I’ve been a good steward of it.”