Born in Britain, raised in Britain, went to America. Sounds like Davy Jones from The Monkees but no, it’s the Ford GT40. It’s also a car with an Italian connection, being none other than Enzo Ferrari. However the connection is not a friendly one…
In 1963, Henry Ford (the second) received word that Ferrari was interested in selling parts to the Ford company. As you do, Ford spent a squillion on checking the viability of Ferrari and on legalities, only to have Ferrari cut short the discussions thanks to a dispute over racing rights. Enzo wanted to stay as the sole operator of the Ferrari motorsport division however he’d been told that Ferrari couldn’t race at the Indianapolis 500 if the business transaction went ahead, as Ford raced cars at the event using, naturally, Ford engines and didn’t want the Ferrari competition. Understandably, Enzo pulled the pin on the deal, leaving Henry Ford somewhat miffed. In response to Ferrari’s move, Ford directed his racing division to find a car that would flatten Ferrari on the world stage.
After looking at proposals from three companies, including Lotus (in which Colin Chapman insisted any car be called the Lotus-Ford, a polite way of telling Ford he wan’t interested), an agreement with Lola was signed and thus began the genesis of the GT40. The name itself comes from a simple mix; GT for grand touring and 40, for the height in inches. Prototype and testing cars were called, simply, GT, the GT40 name came when the production models arrived.
Lola had already used a Ford engine, a V8, in the mid engined Mark 6, which had raced at Le Mans. Eric Broadley, Lola Cars’ chief designer and owner, agreed to help Ford out with an agreement that didn’t directly involve the company. Two Lola Mk 6 chassis were sold to Ford and manpower was found in the shape of John Wyer, former Aston Martin racing team manager and Roy Lunn, the designer of the Mark 1 Mustang concept car. Work commenced on the car at the Lola factory in Bromley, before moving to Slough, near the Heathrow airport. The first car, known as the GT 101, had a 4.2L V8 engine and a transaxle gearbox. It was unveiled in the UK on 1 April, 1965 and could be had for the princely sum of 5,200 pounds.
The GT40 first raced at Germany’s Nurburgring in May of 1964, running second for some time before withdrawing thanks to suspension failure. Three weeks later three entries ran at Le Mans, with one car leading until its first pitsop, however all three eventually retired. Due to the lack of results, the cars were given to noted American engineer, Carroll Shelby. Shelby entered a car for the Daytona 2000 in February of 1965, with immediate results, scoring the win. The Mk 1 was raced at Le Mans in ’68 and ’69, winning both events plus at Sebring in 1969. The Mk 1 was powered, in production trim, by 4.7L V8s, the same as used in the Mustang.
The Mark 2 GT40 was propelled by a 7.0L V8, as used in Ford’s Galaxie. Although looking like the Mk, there were differences enough under the skin in order to house both the bigger engine and a different gearbox, being a four speed from a company called Kar-Kraft. It was the Mk 2 that won Le Mans for four years, from 1966 through to ’69.
The Mk3 was a very limited run, with just seven examples built and for a road only usage. It had quad headlights, a fatter rear for luggage and a detuned 4.7L V8, with 250kW or 335 horsepower.
In 1966 racing regulations were changed to what was called Appendix J. A development model, called the J-Car was built with bonded aluminuim panels. This came under the auspices of John Wyer, after he’d bought the previous construction business, Ford Advanced Vehicles, and had the design and manufacture more or less in house with Ford. The tub was superb in its weight reduction, tipping the scales at just 39kg and the whole, finished, car weighed 1210 kilos. The Mk 4 GT40 was born from this work, with the 7.0L engine being used plus a specific chassis and bodywork combination.
Due to a fatal crash with one of the development and racing drivers, steel tube roll cages were installed in the racing cars, negating any weight savings from the aluminuim tub. This same construction would be credited with saving the life of Mario Andretti, at the 1967 Le Mans 24 Hour race.
The GT40 has spawned copies and replicas, plus an offical Ford version that went into production in 2004, although it was wider and taller than the original. It is known as the Ford GT after a falling out between Ford and a small company that had purchased the rights from a continuation maker based in Britain. The orginal GT40s command high prices in the auction market and will always be remembered for the low height and ferocious 7.0L engine.