Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5
Although launched over 40 years ago, the GT40 is considered by many to be the most exotic Ford to have ever been built. It was
Ford's first ever mid-engined sports car, and also one of the earliest for any car makers. The famous mid-engined Lamborghini Miura
, for example, was inspired by it.
The story of the GT40 goes back to the early 1960s, when Henry Ford
was negotiating to buy Ferrari
. The offer was rejected by Enzo Ferrari
in last minute negotiations, and in retaliation Henry
set about building a Ford able to dominate racing and beat the Ferrari
From this beginning design brief, the GT40 was considered by most to be purely a racing car, although sufficient numbers were manufactured for homologation as well as marketing purposes. The British racing chassis ace Lola were employed to design the chassis - a basic structure forming a steel monocoque as the central part of the car.
The front and rear extensions were made of square-section tubular spaceframes, and the lightweight body
was made from fibreglass. Most road-legal (although still very raceable) GT-40's were built in two versions, the first simply called GT40 and powered by a Shelby-tuned V8, which was modified from one of the mass production American Ford V8s.
The GT40P featured a 4.7 litre V8 producing a massive 335hp. The most serious "road" version was the GT40 Mk III, which featured a more practical cabin and had the motor detuned to 306 hp for meet new emission regulations. Just 7 Mk III's were built before Ford decided to scrap the GT40.
Perhaps not the greatest road car, there is no denying its racing success, which include 4 Le Mans wins in a row, including the 1966 Le Mans
, 1967 Le Mans
, 1968 Le Mans
and 1969 Le Mans
, and 2 Daytona titles in 1965
. After Henry Ford
had carried out his revenge, the company didn't bother with the "Supercar" genre - at least for a time.
Failed In Four Attempts
The legend of the GT40 remains to this day. At Slough, Ford Advanced Vehicles operation started to build the 50-off production batch which would qualify the "40" as a CSI sports car, and at Dearborn work became concentrated on the 7-litre Mark II variant which was to found the legend of the GT40 as a great classic. Until the Mark II won Le Mans in 1966
, and the much more sophisticated Mark IV did the trick again in 1967, there was little real success to recommend the basic 4.7-5.0 litre GT40. It had no overnight success. It had been designed to win Le Mans, and four times failed to do so. While such unchallenged classics as the C-type and D-type Jaguars
, or the 300SL and 300SLR Mercedes leapt straight into the winners' circle (or at least finished their first major races), not one GT40 finished Le Mans in Ford's first four attempts.
Then, in 1968
, when the Ford
was at an age which would have seen most racing designs put out to pasture, the first GT40 ever to last 24 hours won the race! From that point on there was no looking back. In 1966
the GT40s had helped Ford to the Manufacturers' Championship and had won the 50-off production sports car title for their class. The 1968
season saw the blue-and-orange Gulf-JW cars thunder to reliable wins at Brands Hatch, Monza, Spa
, Watkins Glen
and Le Mans to take a resounding world title. In 1969
the Gulf-JW cars won Sebring
and Le Mans again to cap the GT40s' international career. The superfast flop had finally achieved classic status as a well-developed, heavy, undeniably handsome and supremely reliable Porsche beater.
How Many GT40s Were Built?
The GT40 legend grew slowly, and when the last cars were built they completed a total revolving murkily around the 100 mark. Roughly a dozen original prototype cars were built, followed by 85 GT40P production cars, 31 of which were supplied initially as road-goers. Plans were laid for two prototypes
and a 20-strong production run of the more civilised Mark III road-going model, but US Federal Safety Regulations successfully nipped that idea in the bud, after the two prototypes
and five of the production run had been completed. Alan Mann Racing built six more cars, and the Gulf Oil-sponsored Mirage "specials" of 1967
add another three numbers to the list.
That makes a total of 113 cars to enrich the world of high-performance motoring, but the breakdown wasn't that simple. For a start, two of the original prototypes (106-07), at least four GT40Ps (1031-32 and 1046-47), and three of the Alan Mann cars (AMGT3-AMGT5) were supplied to KarKraft or Shelby American in the United States for completion as 7-litre Mark lis, so that pulls us back to a total of 104 "basic" GT40s. Prototype 110 was a real oddball, being completed as a Group 7 CanAm car with a light alloy chassis by Bruce McLaren Motor Racing Ltd in mid-1965
. They worked on the car to a lucrative Ford contract, and the crew christened the 7-litre beast "Big Ed" after a rather less auspicious Ford of America project.
Unfortunately the resultant "XI" proved too heavy and unwi.ldy for CanAm racing, and enjoyed the competition equivalent of the Edsel's failure. Shelby American took the car to California and rebuilt it to Appendix J trim with an open cockpit Mark II body, and in this form "Big Ed" took a lucky win for Ken Miles/Lloyd Ruby in the 1966 Sebring 12-Hours. Unfortunately half a day's grind around the bumpy Floridan airfield proved too much for the alloy chassis, and the car was scrapped.
Some of the early cars were rebuilt and reappeared as late production models, with later chassis plates. Some cars, ostensibly crashed beyond repair, were resurrected, at least one extra car and probably more were built up from spares upon unused hulls, and there was a disposal of some cars supplied from Slough to Ford Division in America - some of these were probably built into Mark lis, but one was destroyed early in 1966
in Walt Hansgen's fatal test weekend accident at Le Mans, and eight ran in the 24-Hours race that year.
Prototypes Converted To Racers
Typical of the early cars rebuilt as later ones are 1004 and 1005 which began life as two of the original 1964
prototypes which were surrendered to Shelby-American early in 1965
. Ford AV had a rough ride trying to build and race these early cars, and a dismal performance in the Bahamas Speed Week had prompted the change. Leo Beebe, then new head of Ford's Special Vehicles Department, had told Ford AV: "I don't know anything about racing, but there is one thing that has become increasingly apparent to me in the past few months - you don't either!"
So the two cars went to Shelby, and in American colors they ran at Daytona where Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby drove one of them to the GT40's first international race win. The chassis returned to Ford AV where they were completed as the fifth and sixth GT40Ps. All Ford lacked for Le Mans that year were entries, and they arranged to take over places reserved by Rob Walker and the Swiss Scuderia Filipinetti. Walker's car, 1004, was sprayed Scots blue and white, while its sister, 1005, was sprayed red and white for Filipinetti. Both cars retired and 1004 was taken home to Slough, stripped and stored.
The Filipinetti car eventually found its way to Terry Drury, complete with French-language Dymo tape stickers in the cockpit, but in 1968
JW. Automotive - which had evolved from the old FAV company the previous year - retrieved 1004 from storage, built it into a car complying with its latest Gulf GT40 racing spec, and numbered it 1084 - the last of their GT40Ps. This historic car went to Rodney Clarke (of Connaught and Puttocks of Guildford fame) and was raced for him at club events by Paul Weldon.
The nose body section of the Walker Le Mans car and the rear section of its Filipinetti-entered sister, were reunited to form the shell of Bryan Wingfield's 1009 - the well-known ex-Peter Sutcliffe, Ed Nelson, Malcolm Guthrie car which the club secretary bought from Guthrie after he had virtually totalled it against a bank in the 1968 Kyalami 9-Hours. That was an unlucky race for Guthrie, after losing 1009 he had commissioned Alan Mann Racing to build a replacement GT40. They built him a car for 1969 Le Mans
which included all their accumulated knowledge in lightweight construction, and as "AMGT1009" this real ultimate in the long line of Ford GTs went back to South Africa at the end of that season, only for Guthrie to bounce it off an unyielding Renault R8 Gordini at Kyalami! The damage was repaired in time for the later Springbok Championship events.
The End of GT40P 1000 and 1040
Only six of the whole GT40 series seem to have been written-off in race accidents. One, presumably the first GT40P (1000), crashed at Sebring
and was burned-out in Canadian driver Bob McLean's fatal accident there. Number 1040 was being driven in its first race at Monza in 1967
as a brand-new Filipinetti team car when a carburettor fire developed. Driver Denis Borel parked it by a fire point before bailing out, but the Italian marshals just stood back and enjoyed the blaze which consumed the car.
Belgian industrialist Jean Blaton, better known by his racing pseudonym of "Beurlys", lost his second car - 1079 - on the first lap of the 1968 Le Mans race after co-driver Willy Mairesse had failed to latch the door properly at the start. As he tore down the Mulsanne Straight the door blew open, and as the fiery little Belgian fought to close it he lost control, and the yellow car thundered into the woods at about 240 km/h (150 mph). Mairesse escaped, but it was the end of his long racing career. He knew little else, and the following year took his own life in -an Ostend hotel...
The open prototype car, III, was reputedly written-off when Bob Bondurant crunched it into a ditch during the 1965 Targa Florio, and the following year saw Hansgen's GT40-based Mark II destroyed at Le Mans. In 1967, M10002 - the second of the low-profile Mirages — was wrecked in practice for the Nurburgring 1000 Kms when Dr Dick Thompson spun into the wreck of John Markey's Ginetta. I was standing just round a blind corner from the crash site, and I remember vividly the sudden wail of tyres, a pause, then a deep "Karummmp" which was felt as much as heard.
Thompson was OK, but it put a full-stop in the Mirage's chassis book! M10001 survived as a Mirage, joined Guthrie's private team, and subsequently went to Anthony Hutton and Paul Weldon, both of whom raced it enthusisatically, while the third car, M10003, was torn down at the end of the 1967
season and converted into GT40P/1074 - the second Gulf-JW team car for 1968
. Several cars were destroyed or severely bent in private testing, though some of these were later rebuilt.
The Greatest Of All GT40s
But it is the winning cars which are the true classics. Greatest of all the 40s is undoubtedly 1075, the remarkable Gulf-JW car which was built at Slough during the winter of 1967-68, and which won the Championship rounds at Brands Hatch, Spa and Watkins Glen during that first season, was third at Nurburgring and ended the year by winning Le Mans in the hands of Pedro Rodriguez and Lucien Bianchi. Retained by the team into 1969 it won Sebring, and then took its second consecutive Le Mans victory by about 100 metres from a pursuing Porsche 908! Not surprisingly, this remarkable double Le Mans winner is retained proudly by the Gulf Oil Corporation in Pittsburgh.
Likewise the 1966 Le Mans
-winning Mark II, which started life as GT40P/1047, and the 1967-winning Mark IV are both in the Ford Museum, and while several Mark lis were broken-up to prevent them falling into private hands, Mario Andretti
was reputedly given one for services rendered.