Tuesday, February 19, 2008
February 2008 Dream Car of the Month - Ford GT40
1966 Le Mans 1-2-3 finish
In 1963, Henry Ford II, by then obsessed with fielding a Ford at Le Mans, was informed that Enzo Ferrari was possibly interested in selling his company. Ford jumped on the chance and spent millions of dollars negotiating the deal and reviewing all aspects of Ferrari’s company. At the absolute last minute, Enzo Ferrari either had a change of heart or just didn’t like the deal because he backed out, infuriating Ford. Henry Ford II then decided that his company would build their own car to kick Ferrari’s ass at Le Mans. The rest, of course, is history.
Ford quickly determined that they couldn’t do it alone and began negotiating with Lotus, Lola and Cooper to help with the design and build of their new race car. Lotus, specifically Colin Chapman, asked for too much money and insisted that the car be called a Lotus and not a Ford and Cooper didn’t have any experience in building the type of cars Ford wanted. Lola became partnered with Ford when Eric Broadley, Lola’s owner and designer, agreed to personally help in the development without the involvement of his company. The agreement was for one year and included two Lola built chassis sold to Ford for development. With the help of the legendary Carroll Shelby, they would build a world beater.
The first Ford GT40 was displayed in England on April 1, 1963 and was powered by a 4.2L Ford V8 mated to a Colotti transaxle. The “40” in the name of the car indicated the height of the car from the ground to the roof, 40 inches. The run of original cars was dubbed the GT40 MkI and production models were powered by 4.7L (289cid) V8s from the Ford Mustang.
The GT40 MkI saw it’s first racing action in 1964 with disappointing but promising performances at the Nurburgring 1000km and the 24hr of Le Mans. In both races the cars performed well but were unreliable and retired due to mechanical failures. In February 1965, the GT40 scored it’s first win at the Daytona 2000km race.
In 1966 the GT40 MkII was introduced. The new car was a revised MkI with slightly different body aerodynamics and, more importantly, a 7.0L (427cid) Ford V8. The MkIIs were entered into the 1966 24hr of Le Mans and completely dominated the competition, scoring a historic 1-2-3 finish.
There were 31 GT40 MkIIIs built as road cars. They featured softer suspension, four headlights and different bodywork and were significantly different looking from the race versions. They were powered by the 4.7L V8 producing around 335HP.
GT40 MkIV with Carroll Shelby
For 1967 the new GT40 MkIV was released. The MkIV was a new design with a new chassis and new, more aerodynamic, body but it still used the MkII 7.0L engine. The 1967 Le Mans race featured four MkIVs, three MkIIs and one MkI. A MkIV piloted by greats Dan Gurney and AJ Foyt scored the second consecutive Le Mans victory for the GT40s.
The GT40’s dominance at Le Mans continued in 1968 when rules changes limited the GT40’s class to 5.0L displacement max. That year a 4.7L MkI won for the GT40’s third win in a row. At the 1969 24hr of Le Mans the competition was much stiffer than the previous year. The GT40 had to compete against the mighty Porsche 908s and 917s. That didn’t matter as the GT40 once again proved it’s place in history by taking a fourth straight victory at Le Mans. The car that won in 1969 was the exact same car that had won the 1968 race and by that time it was seriously outdated.
The Ford GT40 is one of the greatest “American” race cars ever created. The American part of it is debated as most of the car was built and designed in England by various different people and companies. Either way, the car would have never come to be had Henry Ford II not been so determined to win. He was so obsessed with beating Ferrari on their own turf (Ferrari had won Le Mans six times in a row from 1960 – 1965) that it became one of the most expensive racing programs in history. The GT40’s success and impact on international sports car racing are indisputable.
1995 Ford GT90 concept
The GT40 lives on in many forms through various replica and kit car companies. Ford displayed a futuristic concept honoring the GT40 in 1995 known as the GT90. However, the most important tribute to the original car came in 2002 as Ford unveiled the GT40 concept at the Detroit Auto Show. The response was so overwhelmingly positive that the car, renamed simply Ford GT, went into production in 2004.
Production Ford GT