The Ford GT40 was a sports car and winner of the 24 hours of Le Mans four times in a row, from 1966 to 1969. 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).
The car was named the GT after the Grand Tourisme category where it was intended to compete; the 40 represents its overall height of 40 inches (1.02 m, measured at the windshield) as required by the rules. Large-capacity 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 LeMans. 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 MkVs, numbered GT40-P-1000 through GT40-P-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.
Initially, Ford attempted to buy Ferrari. Much to the surprise of Ford who expected long negotiations, the proposal was welcomed by Enzo Ferrari. A deal had been all but agreed on when Ferrari called the merger off in 1963, after an agreement with Fiat that gave some financial backing to Ferrari, while preserving Ferrari's independence.
A frustrated Henry Ford II decided to produce his own car instead. 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 should be named Lotus and not 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 1962, even if the car didn't finish. However, Broadley agreed on a short-term personal contribution to the project without involving Lola cars.
The agreement with Lola Cars' owner and chief designer 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 already ex-Aston Martin team manager John Wyer. Ford Motor Co. engineer Roy Lunn was sent to England. Lunn had designed the mid-engined Mustang 1 concept car powered by a 1.7 L V4. Despite the small engine of the Mustang 1, Lunn was the only Dearborn's 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.
The car 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 GT was first raced in May 1964 at the Nürburgring 1000 km race and later at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and was not very successful with all three cars retiring. The experience gained then and in 1965 allowed the Mk II to dominate the race in 1966 with a 1-2-3 finish. New Zealand drivers Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon drove the winning Ford GT. Ken Miles was leading at the end of the race when the Ford team, desiring a publicity photo of the three GT40s crossing the finish line together, ordered him to slow down until he was only leading the second place car, driven by McLaren and Amon, by half a car length at the checkered flag. Unknown to Ford, however, the scoring system at Le Mans takes into account the differing distances covered by the cars due to differing positions on the starting grid, and so the McLaren-Amon car, having started further back, became the official winner. Miles was thus denied his deserved unique achievement of winning Sebring, Daytona, and Le Mans in the same year, the last before his death.
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).
After a rules change for 1968 which limited the capacity of prototypes to 3.0 L (same as in Formula One), but allowed a maximum of 5.0 L capacity for the Sports category (where at least 50 cars had been built), a revised 4.7 L Mk I won the 24 hours of Le Mans race in 1968 against the fragile smaller prototypes. 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 (the same actual car which had won in 1968). 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 would win Le Mans 5 times more in later years. In 1970, the revised Porsche 917 dominated and the GT40 became obsolete.
The Mk I is the original Ford GT40. Early prototypes were powered by 4.2 L (255 in³) engines; production models were powered by 4.7 L (289 in³) engines, also used in the Ford Mustang. Some prototype models had a roadster bodywork.
The Ford X1 was a roadster built to contest the Fall 1965 North American Pro Series, a forerunner of the CanAm, it was entered by Bruce McLaren team and driven by Chris Amon. The car had an aluminum chassis build at Abbey Panels and was originally powered by a 4.5 L (289ci) engine. The real purpose of this car was to test several improvements originating from either Kar Kraft, Shelby or McLaren. Several gearboxes were used, a Hewland LG500 and at least one but more probably several automatic gearboxes. It was later upgraded specification to the Mk II with a 7.0 L (427ci) engine and a standard four ratio Kar Kraft gearbox, however car kept specific features like its open roof and lightweight chassis. The car went on winning the 12H of Sebring 1966.
The Mk II used the 7.0 L (427 in³) engine from the Ford Galaxie.
For Daytona 1967, two Mk II models (chassis 1016 and 1047) were branded Mercury 7.0 L. Mercury is a Ford Motor Company division, and this was only a cosmetic change. It made no difference anyway as Ferrari won 1-2-3.
The Mk III was a road-car only, of which 31 were built. The car had four headlights, the rear part of the body was expanded to make room for luggage, the 4.7 L engine was detuned to 335 bhp, the shocks were softened, the shift lever was moved to the center and the car was available with the steering wheel on the left side of the car. The most famous Mk III is GT40 M3 1105, a blue left hand drive model delivered in 1968 in Austria to Herbert von Karajan. As the Mk III wasn't very appealing aesthetically (it looked significantly different to the racing models), many customers interested in buying a GT40 for road use chose to buy a Mk I that was available from Wyer ltd in a street version.
In an effort to develop a car with better aerodynamics and lighter weight, it was decided to retain the 7 liter engine essentially unchanged, but redesign the rest of the car. In order to bring the car more "in house" and less of a partnership with English firms, Ford Advanced Vehicles was sold to John Wyer and the new car was designed by Ford's design studios and produced by Ford's subsidiary Kar Kraft under Ed Hull, in partnership with the Brunswick Aircraft Corporation for expertise on the novel use of honeycomb aluminium panels bonded together to form a lightweight but rigid "tub". The car would make a full use of the new and more liberal the FIA's Appendix J regulations for race car construction , and was therefore known as the J-car.
The first J-car was completed in March, 1966 and set the fastest time at the LeMans trials that year; the tub weighed only 86 lb, and the entire car weighed only 2660 lb, 300 lb less than the Mk II. It was decided to run the MkIIs with their proved reliability, however, and little or no development was done on the J-car for the rest of the season. The next year development was back on, and a second car was built; during high speed testing, the car became airborne and went off the road. The honeycomb chassis did not live up to its design goal, shattering into myriads of pieces upon impact, and the wreck immediately burst into flames, killing the team's most successful driver, Ken Miles. It was decided that the unique, flat-topped "bread van" aerodynamics of the car, lacking any sort of spoiler, were implicated in generating excess lift, and a more conventional but significantly more aerodynamic than the Mk II body was designed for the Mk IV. The new body was 15 mph faster than the Mk II on the Mulsanne Straight.
The Mk IV was build around a reinforced J chassis powered by the same 7.0 L engine as the Mk II. Excluding the engine, the Mk IV was totally different from other GT40s, using a specific chassis and specific bodywork.
The Ford G7A was a CanAm car using the J chassis. Unlike the earlier Mk.I,II and III cars, which were entirely British, the Ford J and Mk.IV were built in America by Shelby.
The major difficulty of course was the expulsion of the Ford GT40 from the Le Mans in 1970.