Say what you like about Texas deal maker Gerald J. Ford, but don't doubt his moxie. This year's $1.1 billion purchase of First Nationwide Bank from Ford Motor Co. means he's responsible for the biggest thrift takeover in history. It may also be the gutsiest.

When he and his partner Ronald O. Perelman created First Gibraltar Bank in 1988 from thrifts purchased from the federal government, the deal made headlines for its size and spectacular success. (Most of First Gibraltar was sold to BankAmerica Corp. last year, reaping profits estimated at more than $1 billion.)

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