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DETROIT-Henry Ford II wanted to fire J. Walter Thompson USA after a 1978 audit turned up financial irregularities in the agency's dealings with Ford Motor Co., according to taped interviews just released.

Mr. Ford agreed to three interviews with historian David L. Lewis from 1980-85, with the provision that they not be released until at least five years after his death. Mr. Ford died in 1987.

Automotive News, a sister publication of Advertising Age, reviewed transcripts of the tapes from archives at Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Mich.

One section is related to the flap that occurred when an audit turned up accounting irregularities in JWT's Ford account billing.

Mr. Ford, then chairman of Ford, left the decision on whether to fire the agency in the hands of Ford's North American Operations unit. JWT reimbursed Ford a sum said at the time to be in the high six figures, and changed the account's management team. Today, the Ford-JWT relationship appears to be strong.

Officials at JWT declined to comment about the tapes.

Following are excerpts from a 1982 interview.

Mr. Lewis asked Mr. Ford if he was satisfied with Ford advertising through the years.

Mr. Ford: I'm very unhappy with JWT. Hell, they stole a million dollars from us and we didn't even fire them. We got the proof and they admitted it. So how the hell can I be happy? I took it all the way up the whole damned ladder and they wouldn't fire JWT.

So I said, "You've got to work with them. I'm not going to order you to fire them."

But I'd have fired them out of here the very bloody next day.

Mr. Lewis: Why didn't others in management go along?

Mr. Ford: People build up relationships. They go to ball games together, or they go to fish, or to hunt or do some goddamned thing, and so on. We've retained J. Walter Thompson since '43, and it has a lot of dealer accounts.

I guess because of the long drawn-out relationship nobody wanted to face the horrendous job of trying to find a new agency that didn't have another automotive account.

Secondly, our people didn't want to face up to breaking up the relationship. I'm very unhappy with J. Walter Thompson.

Mr. Lewis: So there are times you don't carry the day?

Mr. Ford: Many times, many times. You can't carry the day unless you want to issue an edict, and that doesn't sit too well over the long pull.

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