Ford’s New Division President Is a True-blue Mustang Man
James Farley may just be a perfect fit for Ford: He’s a passionate gearhead who built his first Mustang at age 14.
James “Jim” Farley is not really what you’d expect from an automotive executive. But he’s definitely what you want. In April, Farley was appointed President, New Businesses, Technology and Strategy at Ford. In other words, he will be looking the future of Blue Oval, and setting its course. And we can only hope that his passion for Mustang will indeed make him biased towards the progress of the Pony car.
In an interview with the Detroit Free Press, Farley spoke about his first Mustang build, his background, and where the auto industry is headed. And it is clear that his background will indeed help shape the future at Ford.
When Farley was 14, he got a summer job working on cars at a garage in California. He rebuilt car engines, and sorted old parts. He took his wages and bought a black 1966 Mustang for $500. It was in rough shape and had a blown motor, but Farley rebuilt it and restored it by hand.
“Kinda like a Johnny Cash song,” Farley adds. “After work was done, I worked on my engine and I built it one part at a time.”
The work paid off and his Mustang took him across the country a few years later. In grad school, Farley started working summers for the great racer Phil Hill at his shop in Santa Monica.
“We took cars that were pieces and created masterpieces,” says Farley. “These were vehicles from the 1920s and 1930s. They were owned by the shah of Iran and the maharishis of India. Phil Hill was the first American to win the Formula One championship. He loved opera, he spoke fluent Italian and he was a car whisperer. And I was dirt poor putting myself through grad school.”
It was an education that shaped his vision. “When I meet with my designers now, I think of people like Phil Hill. They can’t even express why they think something looks beautiful but they can create it. You have to let people like that do their job. You can’t overthink it,” Farley said.
When he’s not in the boardroom, Farley can be found in a Pony car, or on the track. The amateur racer loves driving his classic GT40.
“Properly tuned, my 1965 GT40 goes over 200 miles per hour,” he says. “When I get out of the car after a long hard race, you feel so calm and relaxed. It’s my yoga.”
Both his career and his personal life have had some serious ups and downs. When he was working at Toyota, his cousin, comedian Chris Farley passed away.
“When I was younger, I was so happy for Chris. We were all happy for Chris in our big, large Irish family. At reunions, Chris was always the star. A lot of other people found that out through Saturday Night Live,’” he said.
But now, at Ford he is on a positive track. It’s clear that Farley is a man who appreciates why we love cars like Mustangs, and while he must ensure that Ford adapts and evolves with changing times, he isn’t going to abandon everything that makes Pony cars icons.
“I’m really focused on making change that matters and change is difficult,” Farley says. “But for me, it’s why I get up in the morning.”
Photos: Detroit Free Press