The giant Ford didn’t like the fact that every Monday, newspapers the world across talked about Ferrari’s victories without him having to pay a single penny in advertising. Henry Ford II also look at all the money his brands had to invest for their own image. We are in the early 1960s and discreetly, through confidential contacts, Ford managed to establish contact with Enzo Ferrari with the intention of buying the Italian company and transforming it into its racing department.
Ferrari was waiting for precisely this opportunity: he needed a powerful partner: keeping the racing and car divisions afloat had become too much and too expensive for one man. But he didn’t want to sell it to the Americans. In addition to the Modenese yellow, his brands had always flown the Italian flag. And so, with in his inimitable style, he set up a negotiation reminiscent of one of the great Italian comedy classics. Things appeared to be going very well indeed, everything was ready for the final signature when Ferrari, refusing to let go of his desire to retain complete control and freedom over the racing division, abruptly broke off all relationships in 1963.
In reality, alongside the negotiations with Ford, he had also started talks with Alfa Romeo and Fiat, finding the agreement he was looking for with the latter. For Ford it was a setback they needed to repair immediately: Henry Ford was going to race with a car designed and built under his own brand. The decision was made to set up own headquarters in England and to bring in British specialists to prepare the car.
In light of the results, the choice was the right one even if, in order to win, the Ford GT 40 – this the name chosen: a GT that was just 40 inches high as required by the regulations, almost an evocation of Ferrari’s GTO: a GT Omologato (homologated).. – had to use a 7,000 cc engine when Ferrari, with its P3 and P4 models, needed just 4,000 cc.
The genius of the GT40 lies in the modernity of the concept: a rear-engine Berlinetta, harmonious and elegant even if was intended for racing. A perfect product from a great manufacturer. In reality, the project was developed in England, at the specially-created Ford Advanced Vehicles in Slough, with contributions from Eric Bradley of Lola. The engine was a 4.2-litre Ford V8 Fairlane capable of producing somewhere in the region of 350 hp.
Not always the good and the beautiful get along. The car was fragile and 1963 was a mess, so much so that in order to get it right, Ford put Carroll Shelby in charge after his many successes with the Cobras. The right choice but still not enough to win at Le Mans. Shelby then played the typically American card of exaggerated power by mounting a mighty 7-litre powerplant behind the driver. The challenge with Ferrari at Le Mans, recently brought to the screen, was won in 1966. A success that was to be repeated in 1967 with the MK4 evolution, and also in 1968 when the regulations set the engine displacement limit to 5,000 cc. All of this made the Ford GT40 a milestone in the history of motor racing.