To apply the term “supercar” to the fabled Ford GT40 is to demean it; modern supercars may be uber cool and ferociously fast, but how many of them actually won Le Mans outright? The Ford GT40, though, was not only the ultimate road car but also the ultimate endurance racer of its era, a twin distinction no one else can match. It was so good that arguments are still going on over its nationality.
Let us call it a joint design project between the American manufacturer and independent British talent, with a bit of Italian and German input as well. What matters is that it achieved what it was designed for, claiming the classic Le Mans 24-hour race four times in a row. And there is more to the GT40 than its Le Mans legend. You could, if you could afford it, drive around quite legally on public roads in this 200 mph (322 km/h) projectile. Ultimate supercar? No, it is better than that. Ultimate car? Maybe.
The front section is the easiest way to identify various developments of the GT40. First prototypes had sharp snouts; the squared-off nose, as shown here, first appeared in 1965; the road-going MkIII was smoother, and the end-of-line MkIV rounder and flatter.
Ventilated discs were essential components.
The cockpit might be cramped, but the GT40’s impracticability is all part of its extreme extravagance.
Panoramic windshield gave good forward vision.
This is a racer, but road cars had tiny chrome bumpers.
Design of the GT40 was based on an earlier British Lola. Features such as mid-engined layout with gearbox/transaxle at the rear had by now become standard race-car practice. In Ford’s favor were the powerful V8, plenty of bucks, and Henry Ford II’s determination to win Le Mans.
Engine slotted almost exactly in middle of car.
Large doors almost reach centre of roof to ease access.
GT, of course, stands for Grand Touring; 40 for the car’s height in inches. Overall length was 13 ft 9 in (4.2 m), width 5 ft 10 in (1.78 m), and unladen weight 1,835 lb (832 kg).
Many race cars dispensed with side mirrors.
Exhaust note rises from gruff bellow to ear-splitting yowl.
Lip on tail helped high-speed stability.
Wheel widths varied depending on racing requirements.
GT40s can still be seen in retrospective events such as the 1994 Tour de France rally, which the featured car won. The British-owned car proudly displays the British Racing Drivers’ Club badge.
Ducts helped hot air escape from radiator.
Fuzzy slit above engine cover gives just enough rear vision to watch a Ferrari fade away.
The graceful and muscular shape was penned in Ford’s Dearborn design studios. Requirements included a mid-engined layout and aerodynamic efficiency, vital for burning off Ferraris on the straights of Le Mans.
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
MODEL Ford GT40 MkI, II, III, & IV (1964–68)
BODY STYLE Two-door, two-seat coupe.
CONSTRUCTION Sheet-steel monocoque (honeycomb MkIV), fiberglass body.
ENGINE Ford V8, 4195cc (MkI), 4727cc (MksI & III), 6997cc (MksII & IV).
POWER OUTPUT From 350 bhp at 7200 rpm (Mk1 4195cc) to 500 bhp at 5000 rpm (MkIV).
TRANSMISSION Transaxle and fouror five-speed ZF gearbox.
SUSPENSION Independent by coil springs and wishbones all around.
BRAKES Ventilated discs all around.
MAXIMUM SPEED 155–200 mph (249–322 km/h, depending on gearing)
0–60 MPH (0–96 KM/H) 4.5 sec
0–100 MPH (0–161 KM/H) 8.5 sec
A.F.C. 12–16 mpg (4.2–5.7 km/l)