Wild Beasts

GT40, daughter of spite

Photo credit: Wheelsage, Ford, RM Sotheby’s

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.

The first version of the Ford GT40 presented in New York in April 1964 with its creators: in the centre the engineer Eric Broadley and the two designers who, among other things, made the bodywork out of fibreglass

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.

The Ford GT40 debuted at Le Mans in 1964. Note the flaps mounted to prevent the car from los-ing grip at high speeds. The three cars entered had technical problems and withdrew, opening the door to Carroll Shelby who took charge of future development

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.

The first major win after Carroll Shelby’s arrival came at Daytona. The car underwent numerous developments and demonstrated its potential

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.

Shelby’s V8 4.7 Shelby engine (the Cobra signature speaks volumes) during the 1965 season

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.

The 1966 MKII veersion finally took Ford to victory at Le Mans with three cars arriving in the top three. The new 7.0 engine contributed decisively to its success. For the first time, the average speed over the 24-hour race exceeded 200 km/h

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.

As per tradition we have published a transparency of the car. Note the harmony of the exhaust pipes that drop down above the gearbox
In 1967 Ford brought a further evolution of the GT40 called Mark IV to Le Mans. Notice how the car had changed profoundly, now much more streamlined and aerodynamically efficient. It would win with the Americans Gurney and Foyt behind the wheel
Gulf’s now famous blue and orange livery on the GT40 number 9, winner at Le Mans in 1968, which for regulatory reasons used the 4.7 engine once again and the previous bodywork