Lakeland’s Own Vintage Ford
Photography by Jordan Randall
It is 1999 and Ford Heacock climbs the stairs of the Terrace Hotel because the refurbishment project hasn’t yet reached the elevators.
He’s the owner of Heacock Insurance, a vintage motorsports racing enthusiast, and at this moment serving as chairmen of the Downtown Lakeland Partnership – an organization tasked with bringing the heart of the city to life. The group has just broken from their meeting to assess the refurbishment’s progress. At the top he catches the view over Lake Mirror Promenade, the long-neglected park itself in the middle of a revitalization project. Imagining its completion he thinks: this would be a great place for a car show.
Less than a year earlier, Ford had been in San Bernardino, Calif. to experience the final Route 66 Rendezvous car cruise in the city’s downtown. It was a vintage car lover’s dream — and it made an indelible impression on him. Now, at the top of the Terrace Hotel, the Lake Mirror Classic vision was born.
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His great-grandfather brought the family to Sebring in 1922 and helped Ford Sr. establish Heacock Insurance. As Ford explains, “Sebring residents dealt with traveling insurance salesmen in those days; if you had a claim it was a two-day wagon trip to Tampa!”
Ford Sr. soon had a flourishing business and was a city council member. When the City of Sebring contracted to host an international sports car race in 1950, Ford Sr. was appointed to chair the newly created Sebring Race Committee. It was a major undertaking which involved converting the decommissioned Hendricks Field, a WWII aircraft training base, into a racing circuit for the world’s top sports cars.
“I had ‘behind-the-ropes’ access to the cars, drivers, and the entire race operation,” Ford says. “As a teenager, I memorized everything about the race each year.”
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Although the teenaged Ford’s notion of becoming a champion driver was diverted by a racing accident, it didn’t kill his passion for the sport. In the mid-1970s he volunteered with the race promoter, organizing a six-lap demonstration race called the Kendall Vintage Grand Prix. He founded the Southeast Vintage Race Association, renaming it the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) when it grew to be national. It’s the largest and longest-standing organization of its kind. The SVRA’s companion newsletter also grew into a national magazine which still exists today. Through it he developed the rich contacts that built the vintage car insurance arm of Heacock Insurance and laid the foundation of the first Lake Mirror Classic in 1999.
Ford had no plans for a second Lake Mirror Classic. But in the fall of 2000, his phone rang with overwhelming interest so he knew he had to resurrect it in 2001. He was at the helm of the event – and Heacock Insurance – through 2016. Mid-Florida Credit Union presented it for the next three. It hasn’t been held since but there’s great news for vintage car enthusiasts – the Lake Mirror Classic takes place again this year, (see page 28) courtesy of Robert D’Angelo, from October 15-17.
Ford has seen and raced a wide variety of vintage race cars – and even acquired a few of them. He was kind enough to show us and tell us about a few of his favorites that will be on display at the Lake Mirror Classic.
Porsche 356 (1960)
A word from Ford—
“I bought this car from a retired Air Force general in Savannah. It started life as a regular 356 Super 90 but he had it converted to a race car in the early 80s with a new fuel cell and roll cage modified for the vintage racing circuit. It has been raced around the country and is just a wonderful car to drive – it’s my active vintage racer. It seems all I have to do is check the tires and put gas in it – doesn’t require much maintenance at all.
Because the heat in the car can become so extreme during a race, I wear a cool suit when I drive it. In the car there’s a cooler of ice and a pump that pushes water through the suit.”
Engine: 4 cylinder 1600cc air cooled
Transmission: 4 speed
Original drum brakes changed to disc brakes for safety
e race operation,” Ford says. “As a teenager, I memorized everything about the race each year.”
Austin Healey (1964)
A word from Ford—
I recognized this car as a Sebring Sprite when it appeared on www.bringatrailer.com five years ago. Austin Healey built Sprites specifically for the 12 Hours of Sebring. It’s truly one-of-a-kind as is its connection to the race: a handbuilt factory prototype driven by Donna Mae Mims, the first female driver to win a nationals sports car championship. It’s unrestored, completely original with less than 1,100 miles. It has magnesium wheels which become brittle with age so I take them off to drive it but put them back on for shows.
Engine: 4 cylinder 1100cc
Transmission: 4-speed manual transmission
XSP” experimental race engine
Horsepower: 110 hp
Hood windscreen bug deflector
– Illuminated number for timing and scoring judges
– Two low lights: one on left is a long range light beam for Sebring’s long straightaways and the one on the right is low to illuminate the curves as Sebring has more right turns than left
A word from Ford—
I had already gone to bed when a message came to my phone; this car was at auction at Sotheby’s in Arizona. I assumed it had already sold but sent the link along to another friend who I thought would be interested. Immediately I got a message back: Call me. I got out of bed, walked into the living room, and for some reason put the phone on speaker. My friend was able to participate in the auction and, with my approval, he started bidding for me!
The conversation had awoken my wife. She came out and asked, “What in the world are you doing?!” Then my last bid won the auction.
This car was built in 1961 for an Italian nobleman named Theodoli – a member of an ancient Italian family who immigrated to the US. He was in the advertising business and had Alitalia and Ferrari as clients. Because of his connections, he entered the Sunbeam with Ferrari and it became the only British race car to ever bear the Ferrari badge.
Engine: 4 cylinder 1600
Transmission: 4 speed
Horsepower: 115 hp
– Ferrari added a larger seat and fuel tank
– Finished the race in 1962 and 1963