Ford GT40 : One of the Greats

Imagine, if you would, you are the CEO of one of the largest automakers in the world, and heir to one of the great American industrial dynasties.  You want to increase your presence in Europe, and have longed for motor racing glory on the world stage.   Just about this time, you get word that a small but successful automaker is interested in selling its road car business.  You would, of course be Henry Ford II, and the small automaker would be Ferrari.

Enzo Ferrari
Enzo Ferrari

In 1963, Enzo Ferrari approached Henry Ford II about selling his business to Ford, because he admired his grandfather. Ford was understandably attracted to the idea of owning a company which produced the most sought-after road cars of the day, and which was also a very successful racing team.  The new road car business would be called Ford-Ferrari, and the racing business would be called Ferrari-Ford.  A price of $10 Million was agreed upon.  Ford Motor Company then spent millions auditing Ferrari and all of its assets.  During the negotiations, Ferrari stated his desire to maintain control of the racing side of the business. Ford wouldn’t allow Ferrari to race at the Indianapolis 500, though, because they already had cars with Ford engines.  Enraged at the thought of having to answer to anyone, Ferrari stormed out of negotiations and later stated in the Italian press he never intended to sell to an American company.

Henry Ford II
Henry Ford II

 It has been speculated that Ferrari never had any intention of selling his company, and instead used the threat of a sale to demonstrate the importance of Ferrari to Italy.  Henry Ford II was appalled by Ferrari’s behavior, and decided the only proper recourse was to beat him at his own game.  He was going to take the fight straight to Ferrari, and beat him at The 24 Hours of LeMans, where Ferrari cars had won four of the past five years. (’58,’60-’62.)

Ford began looking at partners for this new venture, and chose to begin with Cooper, Lotus, and Lola.  Cooper was only in Formula One, and Ford felt their standings didn’t warrant any further discussion.  Lotus was a partner in the Indy 500, but neither party was fully confident in the project coming to fruition.  During negotiations, Lotus CEO Colin Chapman suggested the car be called a Lotus-Ford, which must have been a polite way of saying, “No Thanks”.

lola_gt copy
Lola GT Mk6 with Eric Broadley (right)

Lola Cars had been using a Ford V8 in its Mk VI GT the previous year, and Ford decided to enter into contract with Lola Chief, Eric Broadley.  It was agreed that this Mk VI GT would be the basis for the new car.

A new team was formed to begin development of this new LeMans racer.  Head of this team was Harley Copp, who was VP of Ford of Britain at the time, and was responsible for the Continental Mk II, and the Ford Falcon.   Under Copp, Roy Lunn was appointed chief engineer, as he was the only one at Dearborn who had any experience with mid-engine cars after creating the Mustang I prototype.  Next came John Wyer, who was previously head of Aston Martin Racing, and led the team to victories at LeMans, and the 1000km Nurburgring.  Development began at Lola Cars in Bromley in 1963, and moved to Slough toward the end of the year.  They then founded a company called Ford Advanced Vehicles LTD as a subsidiary, to house all the operations for this racing effort.

Initial designs of the new car took the Lola Mk VI GT as a basis, but instead of using aluminum, Ford wanted to use steel for durability.  Broadley disagreed because it added weight, but the Ford engineers insisted the chassis needed to hold up to the rigors of the race, and to the new, more powerful engines planned for use.  The first engine used was an all-aluminum “Indianapolis” engine, which originated in the Ford Fairlane.  It was an all-aluminum 4.2 L V8 which put out around 350HP, and was backed by a Colotti 4-speed.  This wouldn’t be the actual race engine, but would at least allow them to begin development of the chassis.   The double-wishbone suspension was developed using highly advanced computers to create anti-dive geometry, and the wind-tunnel testing was done with scale models.  All of this is standard procedure today, but in 1963, it was on the cutting edge of technology.


The “Ford GT”, as it was initially called, was unveiled at the 1964 New York Auto Show, and began testing at LeMans just 2 weeks later.  As you would expect, without the necessary development and preparation, the 2 Ford GTs didn’t perform up to the standards needed for a podium finish at LeMans.  In fact, it was so catastrophic, that one car was destroyed, and the other was severely damaged.  Both cars generated a significant amount of lift on the straights, and would tend to go airborne!  Can you imagine approaching 200MPH in the rain, and the nose coming up on the car?!

Ford sent the surviving car to Germany for the 1000km Nürburgring.  Driven by Bruce Mclaren and Phil Hill, it held 2nd position early on in the race, but the suspension failed and they were out of the race.  A month later, 3 cars were fielded at LeMans.  One of these new cars was made with 24 gauge steel instead of 22 gauge steel, to lighten the car. The car driven by Ritchey Ginther was in the lead by the second lap, and hit 200mph on the Mulsanne.   Just 90 minutes after taking the lead, Ginther came in for a pit stop, and the mechanics went to work.  The pit stop began to eat away at the lead Ginther had accrued, and by the time it was finished, two minutes and seven seconds had passed.  Enough time for John Surtees to come screaming past in his red Ferrari and regain the lead.    One with an engine fire, and two with gearbox trouble,  none of the Ford GT cars finished that day.  In fact, none of the Ford GT cars finished any race in the year 1964.  Some would attribute the design and management team responsible for the failure, but Broadley is quoted in Motorsport Magazine as saying, “When the initial deal was made, I was going to control the design and the engineering, but Roy Lunn politiced it away from me. Lunn decided he wanted a steel monocoque, whereas the MK6 was aluminium. … Then they designed a body for the car with no discussion with me, just sent it over to us. High nose, low tail, hopeless. … The aerodynamic problems finally got through to them and they did something about it, but it wasted so much valuable time.”


Under John Wyer’s watch, the GT40 was failing miserably.  There was however a Ford engine at Le Mans that beat Ferrari, and that was the Shelby Cobra winning the GT class, and placing fourth overall.  Ford had a long-standing relationship with Carroll Shelby, and knew he had what it took to won races.  He was already doing it on a smaller scale with his Cobras and Daytonas.  Ford decided it was time to make a change if the Ford GT was going to get the chance it deserved, and they chose Shelby.

Stay tuned for the next installment, as we move away from the failure and heartache to the momentum and the triumph!

About Jerry Horton 35 Articles
I'm not going to pretend someone is writing a bio for me. Here I am. For those who don't know, I play guitar in Papa Roach. Since before I started dreaming of being a rockstar, I was dreaming about cars. My dad made me this way. Before I was born, he had a green 1972 Camaro. He did autocross when I was too young to know what was going on, and when I got a little older, he built a VW Beetle by himself in the carport. We would go to drag races in that car, and he would take down Mustangs and Camaros, much to their astonishment and horror. He took me to Top Fuel drag races in Sonoma, local drags at Sacramento Raceway, and I loved it. I was hooked. When it came time for me to get a car, he asked me if I wanted something older that we could work on, or something newer that would be a little more reliable. I told him I'd like an older car, and he said he found a 62 Chevy Nova with a 350. I was obviously excited, and 2 days later, he told me he had reconsidered. He said it was too much power for me, and ended up getting me a 1987 Mustang. 4 cylinder. I was extremely disappointed, and didn't want to talk to him for a while, but in the end it was the right decision. I drove that thing like an idiot, and ended up getting in 5 accidents (One was my fault). Fast-forward to the year 2000, and our first major record blows up, which allows me to get my dream car. The Dodge Viper. At the time it came out, the Viper was viewed as the modern-day Cobra; a motor with wheels. It scared the crap out of me, but over the years, I was able to show it respect, and get a lot out of it. Now, here we are. I created DriveKulture initially because the guys in my band aren't car guys. I needed an outlet; a place to share my ideas and opinions about new cars, sports cars, and kustom cars (yes that's custom with a "K"). I now see DriveKulture as not only a place where my car friends and I can interact, but also as a place for education. For a long time, I had pre-conceived notions about certain cars, and couldn't understand why someone would want them. In reading articles and talking with owners, I can see that they have slightly different tastes than I do, but their passion for cars are the same. I want to expose people to different types of cars, and try and convey what makes these different kinds of cars great. Welcome to DriveKulture.

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