Every competitive carmaker in the 1960s wanted to poke the all-conquering Maranello boys in the eye. Ford was no exception, fuelled by Enzo Ferrari’s abrupt termination of negotiations to sell his company to Ford. Whilst the decision to go head-to-head with Ferrari came from slighted Henry Ford II in America, design-and-build work took place in Britain.
The sensational result was the Ford GT (later named the GT40). Ford’s attack on the international endurance race circuit was not entirely motivated by pique — for sustained track success was the best advertising money couldn’t buy. The development team included Eric Broadley, owner-designer of the advanced Lola GT mid-engined racecar, and a new factory was established at Slough. The prototype was unveiled in April 1964.
This was powered by a 4.2 litre Ford Fairlane engine and —though not a winner — put in track time that helped finalize the Mk I’s design. This had a 4.7 litre engine and 50 were built to satisfy production sports car regulations. But it still wasn’t a winner, so the Mk II saw the introduction of a monstrous 7 litre engine that had been tried and tested on American racetracks, together with bodywork tweaks to accommodate it.
Ford had cracked it — the GT40 Mk II secured a 1-2-3 finish at Daytona. In 1966 there was a prestigious 1-2-3 in the Le Mans 24 ahead of Ferrari and Henry Ford II’s mission was accomplished. Meanwhile, a Mk III was built for road use, fitted with a 4.7 litre engine, but this wasn’t a success (seven produced). Still, Le Mans fell to a GT40 Mk IV in 1967 and two more Le Mans wins would follow in 1968 and 1969. And there, sadly, the extraordinary GT40 story effectively ended — its successor was the evolutionary G7A, built and campaigned in America.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1965 (until 1968)
4.2 I (256 cid), 4.7 I (288.5 cid) or 7.0 I (427 cid) V8
MK III road car – top speed of 160 mph (257 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 5.3 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Ford’s attempt to stage a dead-heat at the end of the 1966 Le Mans 24race came unstuck when, despite the neck-and-neck finish, Bruce McClaren and Chris Amon were declared the winners, having started further back down the track than second-placed Ken Miles – who was thus denied a heroic hat trick of GT40 wins at Sebring, Daytona and Le Mans in the same year.