This weekend at the ADAC Eifel Rennen there was many old marques of distinction taking on the historic Nurburgring in Germany, one of the cars and my personal favorite was the Ford GT-40 and still today a very modern looking car.
Going back to the 60’s, Henry Ford head of The Ford Motor Company wanted to improve the image of Ford to the younger generation. He decided that Ford should set out to win both The Indianapolis and the Le-Mans 24 hour race in France, as they were the two major motor races.
After a failed attempt to buy Ferrari, who held dominance over the Le-Mans race, Ford decided to go his own way and to win Le-Mans with a new Ford GT car.
Ford’s Company approached various people to design the new Ford GT can They decided upon Eric Broadley of Lola Cars, who had just produced for racing a Lola GT mid-engined car powered by the Ford 4.2 Ltr engine and driven through a Colotti type 37 transaxle.
It was in August 1963 that John Wyer received an invitation to join Ford’s new GT40 prototype development team. Ford Advanced Vehicles Limited was formed with new premises at Slough and the set-up was managed by John Wyer. Throughout 1964 John Wyer was responsible for the racing programme of the GT40, but at the end of that year Ford decided to split the racing activity between Carrol Shelby, a new Ford racing subsidiary in Detroit. John Wyer and the Slough works were to be responsible for the development of the existing model and in due course to build production road cars.
By April 1964 the first GT40 prototype was completed. The first engine in these prototype cars was a 4.2 Ltr Ford V8, both block and heads were of aluminium, the engine was dry sumped, with IDA Webber carburettor. In this form the engine produced 350 BHP at 7,000 RPM and 275 lbs.ft of torque at 5,600 RPM and weighing dry [no driver]:- 1,835 lbs, or with liquids [no driver] 2,450 Ibs a four speed.
During 1964, The prototype testing began and it became known that the rear of the car was very unstable at speed, after two cars crashed they were repaired and taken to MIRA for the tail lifting problem to be remedied, Bruce McLaren and Roy Salvadori were the test drivers, who found that contrary to earlier wind tunnel test results a spoiler across the width of the tail, forced the rear end down and cured the instability problem. Over the twelve months to 1965 Le-Mans, they tried 289 c. i. and 325 c. i. engines, improved brakes, early ZF transaxles etc and finally the definitive nose cone was confirmed.
By mid 1965 Ford decided that the GT40 had reached a sufficiently designed car to go into a limited production run and build 50 GT cars to qualify them for the Production Sports Car Category.
The right amount of success eluded the early Mk1’s which used the 289 c.i. [4.7 Ltr] engine, 48 IDA Webber carbs, ZF transaxle 5-DS-25/11 5-speed plus reverse with synchromesh and Boroni wire wheels. Ford decided that even after extensive development the Mk1 would not remain competitive in the GT category, so work started on a new prototype design called the GT40 MK2 with a 427 c.i. [7 Ltr] engine, which had been successful in American Saloon Racing Series.
In the Mk2 car this engine produced 485 BHP at 6,200 RPM and 475 Ibs.ft of torque at 4,000 RPM providing a driver with a wide and useful power band, together with a new Ford designed transaxle to handle the extra power. Again they had to alter the bodywork and scoops were added to cool the rear brakes, improved ducting for the radiator and carburettor and ventilated disc brakes were added. First time out in 1966 the Mk2 won at the Daytona 24 hour endurance race – finishing First, Second and Third.
The ultimate challenge was the Le-Mans 24 hour race. The event had GT40 Mk1’s and Mk2’s seeking to challenge the dominance of Ferrari. By the end all the Mk1’s were out, only four Mk2’s were left, but they couldn’t have done better finishing First, Second and Third. Ferrari failed to finish. Ford had finally beaten the italian Ferrari team in the world’s only 24h endurance motor race.
During the early Mk1 years Ford produced a GT40 MK3 to comply for road use, especially in America. These cars differed from the Mk1’s by two pairs of round front headlamps, a longer rear body to accommodate a luggage box of six square feet, the interior was functional, adjustable seats, centre floor mounted gear-lever, [other GT40’s had right hand gear-levers] sound and heat insulation, moving the water pipes from the centre to the sill, softer springs and shockers, and a 4.7 ltr engine with a single Holley Four- choke carburettor. This engine produced 306 BHP.
During 1966-67 there was a new GT40 designed, the J-Car. The J-car was designed mainly from Ford’s styling department than by wind tunnel work. This resulted in aerodynamic problems which together with other teething problems kept the J-car from competition.
The J-car was developed further by Kar-Kraft in Dearborn U.S.A. during the winter of 1966-67. The car now benefited from wind tunnel testing with its improved aerodynamics and a much improved chassis. Again, for Ford the highlight of 1967 was Le-Mans, where they finished 1st and 4th with Ferrari 2nd and 3rd.
Ford now bowed out of GT racing, having achieved its goal of beating Ferrari at Le-Mans. Ford had done it two years running and proved their mastery in a very demanding sport. This left John Wyer with no works cars to compete, so with sponsorship from Gulf Oil he further developed the Mk1 for the 1968 and 1969 seasons.
These developments included wider rear bodywork to accommodate wider racing tyres, with six spoke magnesium knock on wheels, more efficient Girling brakes, a very strong engine:- 400 BHP at 6,500 rpm and 385 lbs.ft of torque in 1968. In 1969 this was raised to 425 BHP at slightly lower revs of 6,250 and 396 lbs of torque at 4,750 rpm with a 302 ci. engine plus other improvements.
The Ford GT40 again won Le-Mans in both 1968 and 1969, the remarkable fact was that the same chassis, P1075 won in both years. This was the very first time that the same car had won Le-Mans twice and the feat was not repeated until the 80’s when a Porsche 956 matched the record.
Speeds of 217 mph were recorded for the Ford GT40 at Le-Mans, which in 1969 was staggeringly fast – a lot of normal road cars did not get to 90 mph then, yet the road version of the Ford GT40 was capable of 165 mph.
In order to curb the high speeds of GT racing new rules governing engine size were introduced at the end of 1969 and so the GT40 was beaten by the rules, not the opposition, It left whilst in command at the top, leaving a fine history by Mk1’s, Mk2’s and Mk4’s, winning Le-Mans in 1966,1967, 1968 and 1969.