Postcards from Slough
Postcards from Slough

Ford GT40

A replica Ford GT40 at the Haynes Museum

 

In the 1960s, Henry Ford Junior wanted a race car bearing the Ford badge that would win the Le Mans 24 Hour race. Enzo Ferrari’s team were dominating the event having won the 6 consecutive years from 1960 to 1965. Ford Junior’s chosen solution was buy the Ferrari car and stick a Ford badge on it! Not exactly the true spirit of the race, but amazingly, Enzo Ferrari initially responded positively to the idea and began negotiations. However, just as the deal seemed set, Ferrari pulled out.

 

Ford approached Eric Broadley of Slough-based Lola Cars to design a new car. They also approached John Wyer of Slough-based JW Automotive Engineering (JWAE) to head the project. Ford provided their own engineer, British-born and educated Roy Lunn, to work on the engine design. I’m emphasizing the British involvement in the project because many American accounts of this piece of motor racing history tend to ignore these facts and will have you believe that the whole project, from concept to manufacture, came out of Ford’s Dearborn plant in Detroit.

 

The team was established in 1963 and called Ford Advanced Vehicles. The team began working on the new car at the Lola Factory in Bromley but soon moved to Wyer’s JWAE Mirage factory in Yeovil Road, Slough Trading Estate. The car, which was to become the Ford GT40, was based on Broadley’s Lola GT design.

First victories

The first victory came in 1965 at the Daytona 2,000 with a GT40 driven by Ken Miles/Lloyd Ruby. In 1966 the Ford GT40 came properly good and proved to be reliable. In February, Shelby-Ford scored first place at the Daytona 24 Hours with their 7·0 litre GT40 Mk II driven by Ken Miles/Lloyd Ruby. This was followed by victory at Sebring 12 Hour also with the Miles/Ruby partnership.

 

Le Mans 1966

At Le Mans in 1966, eight Ford GT40 Mk IIs were entered; 3 by Shelby-American, 3 by Holman & Moody and 2 with Alan Mann Racing. Five 4·7 litre Mk Is were entered by other teams. Shelby-American Ford GT 40 Mk IIs took the top two places with drivers Bruce McLaren/Chris Amon taking first in #2 and Ken Miles/Denny Hulme taking second in #1. A GT40 Mk II of Holman & Moody/Essex Wire Corp driven by Ronnie Bucknum/Dick Hutcherson came third.

The GT40 is 40 inches tall, I measured it myself

 

Le Mans 1967

In 1967, Shelby-Ford entered three GT40s, two Mk IVs; #1 driven by Dan Gurney/AJ Foyt took first place with #2 driven by Bruce McLaren/Mark Donohue came fourth. The other car was a Mk IIB driven by Ronnie Bucknum/Paul Hawkins which did not finish but was placed eighteenth.

 

The Mk IV was closer to being an American car than the other marks as it had a new chassis designed and built in the United States whereas the other Mk Is and IIs which had were all British-designed body and chassis and built in the UK. In fact the win is the only all-American win at Le Mans with an American car and driven by American drivers. Wait a moment… wasn’t the body designed by a Brit?

 

When Gurney was presented with the bottle of champagne, he shook the bottle and sprayed everyone around and established a new tradition to be followed by motor racing winners ever since.

Dan Gurney/AJ Foyt took first place in this Ford GT40 Mk IV #1

Le Mans 1968

Certain rules were changed for the 1968 season, in particular engine size limits were brought in. An overall restriction to 3·0 litre engines was imposed but cars up to 5·0 litre were allowed to compete in the Sport category so long as at least 50 cars were built. Ford, for reasons best known to themselves, did not enter any cars for this season but John Wyer bought out the British part of Ford Advanced vehicles and entered three GT40 Mk Is. A further two Mk Is were entered by other teams.

 

The team raced under the name of JW Automotive Engineering. Two of JWAEs cars pulled out; one on Lap 15 with clutch failure, the other on Lap 107 with engine failure, leaving just one car in the race with 17 hours to go. As it turned out they only needed one car. GT40 #9 driven by Pedro Rodriguez/Lucien Bianchi won the race after 331 laps.

Le Mans 1969

At the 1969 Le Mans 24 Hour, JWAE GT40 driver Jacky Ickx protested against the traditional Le Mans start where drivers run across the track to their cars, strap themselves in and roar off. Instead he walked to his car, nearly being knocked over by an over-enthusiastic driver from the back of the field, and strapped himself in securely before setting off last.

 

The reason for his protest was demonstrated very soon with the death of John Woolfe before completing the first lap. Woolfe was driving a Porsche 917LH, a notoriously difficult car to handle, when it left the track at the fast Maison Blanche curve. He was thrown clear of the car indicating that he hadn’t strapped himself in securely. For subsequent years the drivers had to be strapped in their cars before the start. Later a rolling start would be adopted.

 

In spite of starting last, the race was won by Jacky Ickx/Jackie Oliver in their 4·9 litre GT40 Mk I #6. Team mates David Hobbs/Mike Hailwood came in third driving #7. Three other GT40 Mk Is were entered in the race for other teams, the best result being for Helmut Kelleners/ Reinhold Joest who came sixth driving #68 for Deutsche Auto Zeitung. Ford again did not compete.

Deutsche Auto Zeitung Ford GT40 Mk I driven by Helmut Kelleners/ Reinhold Joest taking sixth place in #68 at the 1969 Le Mans 24 hour

 

It was the last Le Mans for the GT40 as, even before the season began, Porsche were negotiating with JWAE to solve the aerodynamic problems of their 917.

The Ford GT40 Mk I driven by Jacky Ickz and Jackie Oliver to victory in the 1969 Le Mans 24 hour

Le Mans 24 hour victories

Year

Model

Team

Drivers

Litre

Dist

km

Kmph

mph

1966

Mk II

Shelby

C Amom

B Maclaren

7·0

4,843

211

131

1967

Mk IV

Shelby

D Gurney

AJ Foyt

7·0

5,233

218

135

1968

Mk I

Wyer

P Rodriguez

L Bianchi

4·9

4,453

186

115

1969

Mk I

Wyer

J Ickz

J Oliver

4·9

4,998

208

129

 

Technical Data

Wheelbase: 95in (2,413mm); Length: 160in (4,064mm); Width: 70in (1,778mm); Height: 40½in (1,029mm); Kerb weight: 2,002lb (908kg). All engines were V-8s with 5 speed manual gearbox.

 

One hundred and seven GT40s were built. The Mark I and III were made in Britain, the Mark IIs and IVs were built in the USA.

 

To view a Ford GT40 in authentic Gulf blue and orange livery click the button below.

One more look at that fabulous car at the Haynes Museum

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