Ford GT40 is First Produced
The Ford GT40 was a high performance sports car and winner of the 24 hours of Le Mans four times in a row, from 1966 to 1969 (in 1967 with a different body, though). It was built to win long-distance sports car races against Ferrari (who won at Le Mans six times in a row from 1960 to 1965). That car used the Gurney Weslake engine with the special alloy heads made by Weslake.
The car was named the GT (for Grand Touring) with the 40 representing its overall height of 40 inches (1.02 m, measured at the windshield) as required by the rules. Large displacement Ford V8 engines (4.7 L and 7 L) were used, compared with the Ferrari V12 which displaced 3.0 L or 4.0 L.
Early cars were simply named "Ford GT". The name "GT40" was the name of Ford's project to prepare the cars for the international endurance racing circuit, and the quest to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The first 12 "prototype" vehicles carried serial numbers GT-101 through GT-112. The "production" began and the subsequent cars, the MkI, MkIIs, MkIIIs, and MkIVs, numbered GT40P/1000 through GT40P/1145, were officially "GT40s". The name of Ford's project, and the serial numbers dispel the story that "GT40" was "only a nickname."
The contemporary Ford GT is a modern homage to the GT40.
Henry Ford II had wanted a Ford at Le Mans since the early 1960s.
In the spring of 1963, Ford reportedly received word through a European intermediary that Enzo Ferrari was interested in selling to Ford Motor Company. Ford reportedly spent several million dollars in an audit of Ferrari factory assets and in legal negotiations, only to have Ferrari unilaterally cut off talks at a late stage. Ferrari, who wanted to remain the sole operator of his company's motor sports division, was angered when he was told that he would not be allowed to race at the Indianapolis 500 if the deal went through. Enzo cut the deal off out of spite and Henry Ford II, enraged, directed his racing division to find a company that could build a Ferrari-beater on the world endurance-racing circuit.
To this end Ford began negotiation with Lotus, Lola, and Cooper. Cooper had no experience in GT or prototype and its performances in Formula One were declining.
Lotus was already a Ford partner for their Indy 500 project. Ford executives already doubted the ability of Lotus to handle this new project. Colin Chapman probably had similar views as he asked a high price for his contribution and insisted that the car (which became the Lotus Europa) should be named a Lotus-Ford, an attitude that can be viewed as polite refusal.
The Lola proposal was chosen, since Lola had used a Ford V8 engine in their mid-engined Lola Mk 6 (also known as Lola GT). It was one of the most advanced racing cars of the time, and made a noted performance in Le Mans 1963, even though the car did not finish. However, Eric Broadley, Lola Cars' owner and chief designer, agreed on a short-term personal contribution to the project without involving Lola Cars.
The agreement with Eric Broadley included a one year collaboration between Ford and Broadley and the sale of the two Lola Mk 6 chassis built to Ford. To form the development team, Ford also hired the ex-Aston Martin team manager John Wyer. Ford Motor Co. engineer Roy Lunn was sent to England; he had designed the mid-engined Mustang I concept car powered by a 1.7 L V4. Despite the small engine of the Mustang I, Lunn was the only Dearborn engineer to have some experience with a mid-engined car.
Broadley, Lunn and Wyer began working on the new car at Lola Factory in Bromley. At the end of 1963 the team moved to Slough, England near Heathrow airport. Ford established a new subsidiary under the direction of Wyer, Ford Advanced Vehicles Ltd to manage the project.
The first chassis built by Abbey Panels of Coventry was delivered on March 16, 1963. The first "Ford GT" the GT/101 was unveiled in England on April 1 and soon after exhibited in New York.
It was powered by the 4.2 L Fairlane engine with a Colotti transaxle, the same power plant was used by the Lola GT and the single-seater Lotus 29 that came in a highly controversial second at the Indy 500 in 1963. (A DOHC head design was used in later years at Indy. It won in 1965 in the Lotus 38.)
The Ford GT40 was first raced in May 1964 at the Nürburgring 1000 km race where it retired with suspension failure after holding second place early in the event. Three weeks later at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, all three entries retired although the Ginther/Gregory car led the field from the second lap until its first pitstop. February 1965 saw Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby take a Shelby American entered GT40 to victory in the Daytona 2000 km.
The experience gained in 1964 and 1965 allowed the 7-litre Mk II to dominate the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1966 with a 1-2-3 result. The finish, however, was clouded in controversy: in the final few hours, the Ford GT of New Zealanders Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon closely trailed the leading Ford GT driven by Englishman Ken Miles and New Zealander Denny Hulme. Ford team officials faced a difficult choice. They could allow the drivers to settle the outcome by racing each other – and risk one or both cars breaking down or crashing. They could dictate a finishing order to the drivers – guaranteeing that one set of drivers would be extremely unhappy. Or they could arrange a tie, with the McLaren/Amon and Miles/Hulme cars crossing the line side-by-side. The team chose the last and informed McLaren and Miles of the decision just before the two got in their cars for the final stint. Then, not long before the finish, the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO), organizers of the Le Mans event, informed Ford that the geographical difference in starting positions would be taken into account at a close finish – meaning that the McLaren/Amon vehicle, which had started perhaps 60 feet (18 m) behind the Hulme-Miles car, would have covered slightly more ground over the 24 hours and would therefore be the winner. Secondly, Ford officials admitted later, the company's contentious relationship with Miles, its top contract driver, placed executives in a difficult position. They could reward an outstanding driver who had been at times extremely difficult to work with, or they could decide in favour of drivers (McLaren/Amon) with less commitment to the Ford program but who had been easier to deal with. Ford stuck with the orchestrated photo finish but Miles, deeply bitter over this decision after his dedication to the program, issued his own protest by suddenly slowing just yards from the finish and letting McLaren across the line first. Sadly and ironically, Miles died in a testing accident just two months later. Miles was thus denied his deserved unique achievement of winning Sebring, Daytona and Le Mans in the same year, the last before his death.
Miles' death occurred at the wheel of the Ford "J-car", an iteration of the GT40 that included several unique features. These included an aluminum honeycomb chassis construction and a "breadvan" body design that experimented with "kammback" aerodynamic theories. Unfortunately, the fatal Miles accident was attributed at least partly to the unproven aerodynamics of the J-car design, and the team embarked on a complete redesign of the car, which became known as the Mk IV. The Mk IV, a newer design with a Mk II engine but a different chassis and a different body, won the following year (when four Mark IVs, three Mark IIs and three Mark Is raced). The high speeds achieved in that race caused a rule change, which already came in effect in 1968: the prototypes were limited to the capacity of to 3.0 L, the same as in Formula One. This took out the V12-powered Ferrari 330P as well as the Chaparral and the Mk. IV. If at least 50 cars had been built, sportscars like the GT40 and the Lola T70 were allowed, with a maximum of 5.0 L. John Wyer's revised 4.7 L Mk I won the 24 hours of Le Mans race in 1968 against the fragile smaller prototypes. This result added to four other round wins for the GT40 gave Ford victory in the 1968 International Championship for Makes. The GT40's intended 3.0 L replacement, the Ford P68, proved a dismal failure. In 1969, facing more experienced prototypes and the new yet still unreliable 4.5 L flat-12 powered Porsche 917s, the winners Ickx/Oliver managed to beat the remaining 3.0 L Porsche 908 by just a few seconds with the already outdated GT40 (in the very car that had won in 1968 - the legendary GT40P/1075). Apart from brake wear in the Porsche and the decision not to change pads so close to the race end, the winning combination was relaxed driving by both GT40 drivers and heroic efforts at the right time by (at that time Le Mans' rookie) Jacky Ickx, who won Le Mans five times more in later years. In 1970, the revised Porsche 917 dominated, and the GT40 had become obsolete.
Although primarily known as a 4 time Le Mans winning race car, the road going version of the GT40 could well lay claim to being the world first supercar.
Ford created the GT40 for racing in a bid to outdo Ferrari after the Italian's had famously rejected their attempt to buy them in the early 60's. GT racing regulations meant that 100 GT40s had to be produced. Of these 100 racers, 31 were 'adapted' for use on the road with Ford later adding a handful of Mark III's made specifically for the road (these can be distinguished by their four headlamps).
The GT40 has become one of the most collectable classics ever, with examples fetching well into six figures and spawning a still thriving replica industry.