The Ford GT40 was a high performance sports car and winner of the 24 hours of Le Mans four times in a row, from 1966 to 1969 (in 1967 with a different body, though). It was built to win long-distance sports car races against Ferrari (who won at Le Mans six times in a row from 1960 to 1965).
The car was named the GT (for Grand Tourisme) with the 40 representing its overall height of 40 inches (1.02 m, measured at the windshield) as required by the rules. Large displacement Ford V8 engines (4.7 L and 7 L) were used, compared with the Ferrari V12 which displaced 3.0 L or 4.0 L.
Early cars were simply named "Ford GT". The name "GT40" was the name of Ford's project to prepare the cars for the international endurance racing circuit, and the quest to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The first 12 "prototype" vehicles carried serial numbers GT-101 through GT-112. The "production" began and the subsequent cars, the MkI, MkIIs, MkIIIs, and MkVs, numbered GT40-P-1000 through GT40-P-1145, were officially "GT40s". The name of Ford's project, and the serial numbers dispel the story that "GT40" was "only a nickname."
The contemporary Ford GT is a modern homage to the GT40.
In the spring of 1963, Ford reportedly received word through a European intermediary that Enzo Ferrari was interested in selling to Ford Motor Company. Ford reportedly spent several million dollars in an audit of Ferrari factory assets and in legal negotiations, only to have Ferrari unilaterally cut off talks at a late stage. Ferrari, who wanted to remain the sole operator of his companies motor sports division, was angered when he was told that he would not be allowed to race at the Indianapolis 500 if the deal went through. Enzo cut the deal off out of spite and Henry Ford II, enraged, directed his racing division to find a company that could build a Ferrari-beater on the world endurance-racing circuit.
Lotus was already a Ford partner for their Indy 500 project. Ford executives already doubted the ability of Lotus to handle this new project. Colin Chapman probably had similar views as he asked a high price for his contribution and insisted that the car (which became the Lotus Europa) should be named Lotus and not Ford, an attitude that can be viewed as polite refusal.
The Lola proposal was chosen, since Lola had used a Ford V8 engine in their mid-engined Lola Mk 6 (also known as Lola GT). It was one of the most advanced racing cars of the time, and made a noted performance in Le Mans 1963, even though the car did not finish. However, Eric Broadley, Lola Cars' owner and chief designer, agreed on a short-term personal contribution to the project without involving Lola Cars.
The agreement with Eric Broadley included a one year collaboration between Ford and Broadley and the sale of the two Lola Mk 6 chassis built to Ford. To form the development team, Ford also hired the ex-Aston Martin team manager John Wyer. Ford Motor Co. engineer Roy Lunn was sent to England; he had designed the mid-engined Mustang I concept car powered by a 1.7 L V4. Despite the small engine of the Mustang I, Lunn was the only Dearborn's engineer to have some experience with a mid-engined car.
Broadley, Lunn and Wyer began working on the new car at Lola Factory in Bromley. At the end of 1963 the team moved to Slough, England near Heathrow airport. Ford established a new subsidiary under the direction of Wyer, Ford Advanced Vehicles Ltd to manage the project.
It was powered by the 4.2 L Fairlane engine with a Colotti transaxle, the same power plant was used by the Lola GT and the single-seater Lotus 29 that came in a highly controversial second at the Indy 500 in 1963. (A DOHC head design was used in later years at Indy. It won in 1965 in the Lotus 38.)
The Ford GT40 was first raced in May 1964 at the Nürburgring 1000 km race where it retired with suspension failure after holding second place early in the event. Three weeks later at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, all three entries retired although the Ginther/Gregory car led the field from the second lap until its first pitstop. February 1965 saw Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby take a Shelby American entered GT40 to victory in the Daytona 2000 km.
The experience gained in 1964 and 1965 allowed the 7-litre Mk II to dominate the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1966 with a 1-2-3 result. The finish, however, was clouded in controversy: in the final few hours, the Ford GTs of New Zealanders Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon were running close behind the leading Ford GT driven by Ken Miles. Ford team officials faced a difficult choice. They could allow the drivers to settle the outcome by racing each other -- and risk one or both cars breaking down or crashing. They could dictate a finishing order to the drivers -- guaranteeing that one set of drivers would be extremely unhappy. Or they could arrange a tie, with the McLaren/Amon and Miles/Hulme cars crossing the line side-by-side. The team chose the last and informed McLaren and Miles of the decision just before the two got in their cars for the final stint. Then, not long before the finish, the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO), organizers of the Le Mans event, informed Ford that the geographical difference in starting positions would be taken into account at a close finish -- meaning that the McLaren/Amon vehicle, which had started perhaps behind the Hulme-Miles car, would have covered slightly more ground over the 24 hours and would therefore be the winner. Secondly, Ford officials admitted later, the company's contentious relationship with Miles, its top contract driver, placed executives in a difficult position. They could reward an outstanding driver who had been at times extremely difficult to work with, or they could decide in favour of drivers (McLaren/Amon) with less commitment to the Ford program but who had been easier to deal with. Ford stuck with the orchestrated photo finish but Miles, deeply bitter over this decision after his dedication to the program, issued his own protest by suddenly slowing just yards from the finish and letting McLaren across the line first. Sadly and ironically, Miles died in a testing accident just two months later. Miles was thus denied his deserved unique achievement of winning Sebring, Daytona and Le Mans in the same year, the last before his death.
The Mk IV, a newer design with a Mk II engine but a different chassis and a different body, won the following year (when four Mark IVs, three Mark IIs and three Mark Is raced). The high speeds achieved in that race caused a rule change, which already came in effect in 1968: the prototypes were limited to a the capacity of to 3.0 L, the same as in Formula One. This took out the V12-powered Ferrari 330P as well as the Chaparral and the Mk. IV. If at at least 50 cars had been built, sportscars like the GT40 and the Lola T70 were allowed, with a maximum of 5.0 L. John Wyer's revised 4.7 L Mk I won the 24 hours of Le Mans race in 1968 against the fragile smaller prototypes. This result added to four other round wins for the GT40 gave Ford victory in the 1968 International Championship for Makes. The GT40's intended 3.0 L replacement, the Ford P68, proved a dismal failure. In 1969, facing more experienced prototypes and the new yet still unreliable 4.5 L flat-12 powered Porsche 917s, the winners Ickx/Oliver managed to beat the remaining 3.0 L Porsche 908 by just a few seconds with the already outdated GT40 (in the very car that had won in 1968). Apart from brake wear in the Porsche and the decision not to change pads so close to the race end, the winning combination was relaxed driving by both GT40 drivers and heroic efforts at the right time by (at that time Le Mans' rookie) Jacky Ickx, who won Le Mans five times more in later years. In 1970, the revised Porsche 917 dominated, and the GT40 had became obsolete.
The Ford X1 was a roadster built to contest the Fall 1965 North American Pro Series, a forerunner of CanAm, entered by the Bruce McLaren team and driven by Chris Amon. The car had an aluminum chassis built at Abbey Panels and was originally powered by a 4.7 L (289ci) engine. The real purpose of this car was to test several improvements originating from Kar Kraft, Shelby and McLaren. Several gearboxes were used: a Hewland LG500 and at least one automatic gearbox. It was later upgraded to Mk II specifications with a 7.0 LC (427ci) engine and a standard four ratio Kar Kraft gearbox, however the car kept specific features such as its open roof and lightweight chassis. The car went on to win the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1966.
The Mk II used the 7.0 L (427 CID) engine from the Ford Galaxie.
For Daytona 1967, two Mk II models (chassis 1016 and 1047) were fitted with Mercury 7.0 L engines. Mercury is a Ford Motor Company division, and Mercury's 427 was the exact same engine as Ford's with different logos. A batch of wrongly heat treated input shafts in the transaxles sidelined virtually every Ford in the race, however, and Ferrari won 1-2-3.
The Mk III was a road-car only, of which 7 were built. The car had four headlights, the rear part of the body was expanded to make room for luggage, the 4.7 L engine was detuned to , the shocks were softened, the shift lever was moved to the center and the car was available with the steering wheel on the left side of the car. The most famous Mk III is GT40 M3 1105, a blue left hand drive model delivered in 1968 in Austria to Herbert von Karajan. As the Mk III wasn't very appealing aesthetically (it looked significantly different from the racing models), many customers interested in buying a GT40 for road use chose to buy a Mk I that was available from Wyer Ltd.
In an effort to develop a car with better aerodynamics and lighter weight, it was decided to retain the 7 liter engine, but redesign the rest of the car. In order to bring the car more "in house" and lessening partnership with English firms, Ford Advanced Vehicles was sold to John Wyer and the new car was designed by Ford's studios and produced by Ford's subsidiary Kar Kraft under Ed Hull. There was also a partnership with the Brunswick Aircraft Corporation for expertise on the novel use of honeycomb aluminium panels bonded together to form a lightweight but rigid "tub". The car would make full use of the new and more liberal Appendix J regulations for race car construction , and was therefore known as the J-car.
The first J-car was completed in March, 1966 and set the fastest time at the Le Mans trials that year. The tub weighed only , and the entire car weighed only , less than the Mk II. It was decided to run the MkIIs due to their proven reliability, however, and little or no development was done on the J-car for the rest of the season. Following LeMans, the development program for the J-car was resumed, and a second car was built. During a test session at Riverside International Raceway in August 1966, with Ken Miles driving, the car suddenly went out of control at the end of Riverside's high-speed, 1-mile-long back straight. The honeycomb chassis did not live up to its design goal, shattering upon impact, bursting into flames and killing Miles. It was decided that the unique, flat-topped "bread van" aerodynamics of the car, lacking any sort of spoiler, were implicated in generating excess lift, and a more conventional but significantly more aerodynamic body was designed for the Mk IV. The Mk. IV ran in only two races (Sebring 1967 and Le Mans 1967) but won both events.
The Mk IV was built around a reinforced J chassis powered by the same 7.0 L engine as the Mk II. Excluding the engine, the Mk IV was totally different from other GT40s, using a specific chassis and specific bodywork. As a direct result of the Miles accident, the team installed a NASCAR-style steel-tube roll cage in the Mk. IV, which made it much safer but negated most of the weight saving of the honeycomb-panel construction. Dan Gurney often complained about the weight of the Mk IV, since the car was 600 pounds heavier than the Ferraris it raced. The installation of the roll cage was ultimately credited by many with saving the life of Mario Andretti, who crashed violently in a Mk. IV during the 1967 Le Mans, but escaped with minor injuries.
The Ford G7A was a CanAm car using the J chassis. Unlike the earlier Mk.I,II and III cars, which were entirely British, the Ford J and Mk.IV were built in America by Shelby.
As the price and the rarity of the Ford GT40 have increased, so has the demand for cheaper cosmetic imitations and replicas of varying quality. There have been several kit cars and replicas made that have been inspired by the Ford GT40:
Similar to the original cars, but bigger, wider, and especially taller than the original 40 inches (1.02 m) - a potential name resultantly was the GT43. Three production prototype cars were shown in 2003 as part of Ford's centenary, and delivery of the production Ford GT began in the fall of 2004. The Ford GT was assembled in the Ford Wixom plant and painted by Saleen, Incorporated at their Saleen Special Vehicles plant in Troy, Michigan.
A British company, Safir Engineering, who made continuation GT40's in the 1980s owned the GT40 trademark at that time, and when they completed production, they sold the excess parts, tooling, design, and trademark to a small Ohio company called Safir GT40 Spares. Safir GT40 Spares licensed the use of the GT40 trademark to Ford for the initial 2002 show car, but when Ford decided to make the production vehicle, negotiations between the two failed, and as a result the new Ford GT does not wear the badge GT40. It is rumored that Safir GT40 Spares asked $40 million dollars for the rights, but this has never been verified. The partners at Safir GT40 Spares state they have correspondence from Ford declining Safir's $8 million offer. Later models or prototypes have also been called the Ford GT but have had different numbering on them such as the Ford GT90 or the Ford GT70
|Le Mans 24 Hour victories|
|1966||Mk II||Chris Amon, Bruce McLaren||4843.09||125.39||201.80|
|1967||Mk IV||Dan Gurney, A. J. Foyt||5232.9||135.48||218.03|
|1968||Mk I||Pedro Rodríguez, Lucien Bianchi||4452.88||115.29||185.54|
|1969||Mk I||Jacky Ickx, Jackie Oliver||4997.88||129.40||208.25|