Ford Cisitalia 808

The History

The Ford Cisitalia 808 Joint Venture

The Ford / Cisitalia 808 convertible and coupe were the offspring of a joint venture between giant Ford Motor Company and the small Italian car manufacturer Cisitalia. The objective was to produce Ford’s first sports car in Italy. The intention was to sell the cars in large numbers both in the US and Europe.

The reliability and availability of spare parts for the Ford 6-cylinder (3.7 litres) engine was to be wed with Italian styling.

Ford / Cisitalia 808 project was fully financed by Ford Motor Company.

Ford / Cisitalia 808 - Ford's first Sports Car

The 808’s were Ford’s first sports cars. Built 1951 – 1953 they preceded the Thunderbirds by two years. The first Thunderbird was unveiled to the public in 1953. No series of Ford sports cars with the clear intent for fabrication in large numbers were produced by Ford prior to the 808 concept cars.

Henry Ford II and his 808 Project

Henry Ford II was familiar with Cisitalia as he owned and often drove a Cisitalia 202 roadster.

Henry Ford II was hands on with the Ford/Cisitalia 808 project, he negotiated and followed the project personally. He undertook several trips to the Cisitalia carrozzeria in Italy.

Henry had in mind to build Ford’s first sports cars at his Ford Dearborn Michigan plant. He was forewarned by his chief of production that to bring the assembly line to a halt in order to build a few hundred sports cars was financially prohibitive. Instead, Henry Ford II undertook cross Atlantic joint production – Ford shipped off – the assembly line Mercury chassis including engines to Italy. Cisitalia was to re body the cars and add speed components to the engines.

Ford Family Saga

The Ford / Cisitalia 808 development held personal meaning for Henry Ford II.

Henry’s father, Edsel Ford, had a dream to build a limited series of sports cars at Ford. His father, Henry Ford I wanted to build only utilitarian cars that farmers in Iowa would buy, Henry sternly refused.

It is said that on his deathbed Edsel told his son Henry Ford II to fulfill his dream. The development of the Ford / Cisitalia 808 project is the realization of that dream. Continuing the saga, Henry Ford II gave the 808 roadster to his son in law Peter Sullivan II who used it as daily driver.

808 concept Car Production

Documentation evidences the construction of a total of three one-of 808 concept cars built in Italy. One roadster was styled by Giovanni Michelotti and was constructed at Carrozzeria Vignale. One coupe was styled by Aldo Brovarone then working at Cisitalia and was also built at Vignale. An additional coupe followed was constructed at Ghia.

Peter Sullivan who oversaw the development of the cars for Ford stated that the Ghia coupe was destroyed at Ford due to structural problems. In addition, a Cisitalia 808XF car was constructed on a Cisitalia built X frame chassis rather than a Ford chassis as the other cars. The XF held a Mercury V8 engine.

Cisitalia's Desperate Last Effort

Before the Ford joint venture effort, Cisitalia having spent substantial money on the development of a Formula One car was virtually bankrupt. To Cisitalia the Ford financed 808 project was a last-ditch effort to save their company.

The reality that the 808 project did not go on to large scale production effectively ended Cisitalia as a viable company.