The Ford GT40’s origins go back to the early 1960’s, and to the desires of then company president Henry Ford II, who wanted to see a Ford car race at Le Mans. In 1963 hope rose in the form of Ferrari, who began discussions as to selling the company to Ford, only to call off the deal after the latter spent millions listing all of the Italian builder’s assets. The reason for the discontinuation of talks between Ferrari and Ford was largely due to disputes over the company’s motor sport division, which, as part of the deal, would not be allowed to race at the Indianapolis 500. The result was that an enraged Henry Ford II made it his goal to build a Ford car that could trounce Ferrari wherever they went, and thus the company went into talks with several sports car builders to design a new and superior machine.
Eventually, three companies were shortlisted, Lola, Lotus and Cooper. Cooper were quick to fall out as the company was failing financially and had no experience as to building GT cars. Lotus had previously partnered with Ford for the Indy 500, but were dropped as Ford executives doubted Lotus’ ability to build such a car. Either way Lotus won as the
design for their prototype Ford GT would later become the Lotus Europa, a legend of the British racing scene. Eventually Ford was left with the company Lola, who had been partners with Ford in the past and used their Ford V8 in their mid-engined Lola Mk6 GT.
The agreement with Eric Broadley, Lola Cars’ owner and chief designer, included a one-year collaboration between Ford and Broadley, and the sale of the two Lola Mk 6 chassis builds 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 1.7L V4. Despite the small engine of the Mustang I, Lunn was the only Dearborn engineer to have some experience with a mid-engined car.
Finally, on April 1st, 1963, the first working prototype known as the Ford GT/101 was unveiled at a cost of £5,200. The car was powered by a 4.2L Fairlane engine with a Colotti transaxle, derived from the Lola GT. The Ford GT40’s first race was in May 1964 at the Nürburgring 1000 km race, but suffered an early retirement due to suspension failure. Three weeks later it appeared at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but all three cars that entered the competition were forced to withdraw due to issues. With these early problems
costing Ford dearly, the company handed over the project to long time partner Carroll Shelby, who noted that the cars were poorly maintained. After modification and some much needed love, the Shelby derived Ford GT40 took home its first victory at the Daytona 2000 of February 1965.
For the 1966 season Ford had to up the game, and entered the first Daytona 24 Hours and the 12 Hours of Sebring. At the Daytona, the GT40 dominated a crushing 1st, 2nd and 3rd place finish, whilst at Sebring the GT40’s took home 1st, 2nd and 3rd as well. At the 24 Hours of Le Mans the GT40’s once again took home 1st, 2nd and 3rd, but with the controversy that Ford team officials allowed both crews of the same team to race each other to the finish.
The GT40 continued to dominate through the 1967 to 1969 seasons, and was even a match for its intended replacement, the Ford P68, which was a hopeless failure. For 1970 though, Porsche struck back with the 917, a car of such power and performance it made the GT40 look almost pedestrian. As a result, after 4 versions of the GT40, it ended production that very year with 107 cars produced.
Today the GT40 is one of those great racing icons of the past 50 years, a mixture of some beautiful crisp styling and raw 7.0L V8 power. A majority of the original cars have been preserved and now either reside in museums or private collections. The simplistic nature of the design meant that replicas have also been a common practice for enthusiasts. With the car’s cult status growing in the mid-1990’s, Ford released in 1995 the GT90 concept car, and whilst this one-off modern retelling never went into production, it did sow the seeds of the 2002 Ford GT, a direct rebuild of the original GT40 for the modern day fan of the original. Even today, another run of the Ford GT is planned for 2016, showing that the beauty and love of the GT40 still hasn’t gone away.