Ford GT40: The History


Words: Neil Siner

Born of American rage and brought up with love in the South of England, the Ford GT40 was the beautiful child of a boardroom bust up between two motor manufacturing giants.

When Enzo Ferrari did a last minute U-turn in the 1962 buyout of his company, an incensed Henry Ford II called together his top boys and laid it down straight. They were, at any cost, to produce a car that would break the grip of the Ferraris on the world’s greatest endurance race. They were to win at Le Mans and thereby hoist a middle finger at the commendatore.

GT40_History-1 (1 of 1) This 1966 GT40 MK11 placed 3rd in the famous 123 finish by Ford at Le Mans 1966. Photo: John Isaac @ Goodwood Revival 2013

Now Ford had well established drag and stock car teams but had no experience with long distance prototype racing, which was an exclusively European game. Enzo on the other hand was a seasoned pro in the field, with seven Le Mans wins under his stylish belt. So with no home based talent and the top continental Europeans already committed, the Ford execs turned to England for design and engineering knowledge – in the form of Lola designer Eric Broadly and Ex Aston engineer Roy Lunn. Their centre of operations was in Bromley, Kent. It was the middle of 1963. The team had less than 10 months before Le Mans ‘64.

Great period footage onboard at Le Mans 1969 in a GT40

Unsurprisingly this just wasn’t enough prep to beat a Ferrari team who had taken the first five places at La Circuit de la Sarthe the year before. It would be another two years of changes to both car and team before the GT40 was to make its historic win, with the Mark II finally demonstrating that American cash and tech would change the Euro race game forever.

GT40_History-2 (1 of 1) This 1965 GT40 is owned by F1 design savant Adrian Newey. Photo: John Isaac @ Goodwood Revival 2013

Three more consecutive wins at Le Mans stamped the Ford GT40 in the international motoring psyche and still powers a thriving market for both originals and replicas today. It has also spawned a raft of spin-offs and re-creations. The Ford GT (2004-2006) is of course a direct descendant. The Pathfinder GT40R, meanwhile, is a bolt-for-bolt remake, which with full FIA approval and a relatively reasonable price tag of around $150,000, has allowed this version to follow in its father’s footsteps and return to its spiritual home on the European racetrack.

GT40_History-3 (1 of 1) This is a 1965 ‘race coupé’ GT40MKI, faithfully restored and owned these days by Shaun Lynn. Photo: John Isaac @ Goodwood Revival 2013