Ford GT40 | 4 Straight Wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans | 1966-1969
The story of the GT40 starts in early 1963 when Henry Ford II caught wind that Enzo Ferrari was interested in selling Ferrari to Ford Motor Company. Ford went on to initiate costly legal negotiations and audits of factories and assets of Ferrari and soon was getting close to closing the deal. However, Enzo Ferrari wanted to remain the sole head of the Ferrari motor sports division. Ferrari was subsequently angered after discovering that he would not be allowed to participate in the Indy 500 due to the fact that Ford was an engine supplier and Ford didn’t want competition from Ferrari. Out of spite Ferrari pulled out of the deal at the last minute, resulting in an absolutely enraged Henry Ford II who had already invested millions in the attempted acquisition.
Ford, who had wanted a Ford at Le Mans since early in the 1960s, decided the 24 hour endurance race would be the battlefield in which to settle Enzo Ferrari’s hash. The Daytona Coupe quickly fared well for Ford in 1964 (with a GT-class win) and 1965, but were not enough to sufficiently take down the dominant Ferraris at Le Mans. Ford tasked his racing division to specifically build a Ferrari beater, with Le Mans in mind. Thus, the Ford GT40 was a car that was truly engineered to win.
The GT40, which gets its name for being 40 inches from ground to roof and GT standing for Grand Touring, had a variety of different models: the Mk I, the Mk II, the MK III (a road going version), the MK IV, the J-car and the G7A. The Mk IIs were the first GT40s to see racing success in 1966, with different versions of the car being used at various times in different races throughout the history of the GT40s.
The first GT40 was delivered on March 16 of 1963 using a 255ci (4.2L) V8 from a Fairlane, while the production models were later fitted with 289ci (4.7L) Mustang V8s. In 1964, after some promising starts at the 1000km Nürburgring and 24 Hours of Le Mans, the GT40s had a dismal season. The project was then put in the hands of Carroll Shelby, who suffered a similarly disappointing 1965 season after winning their first race at the Daytona 2000.
In 1966, things would be different. Fitted with massive 427ci (7.0L) engines the cars had a 1-2-3 photo finish with GT40s (Mk IIs) in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, finally fulfilling Fords plan for revenge (see first picture above). However, the GT40s didn’t stop there. In 1967 a Shelby powered GT40 (Mk IV) again went on to win, completing 388 laps (28 more than the previous year). Again in 1968, the GT40 (Mk I) would be atop the podium, taking first place with the legendary 302ci (“5.0L”, or, more technically 4949cc) engine. Then in 1969, the GT40 (Mk I) took the win again, making it 4 straight years of victories at Le Mans and sufficiently satiating Ford’s anger. The Mk I chassis was also only one of a few to ever achieve a double win at Le Mans. By 1970, the GT40 was more or less obsolete with an unimpressive finish to the 24 hour race that was dominated now by a revised Porsche 917.
The GT40 made Ford the first and only American constructor to win overall at Le Mans and the 1967 Mk IV is the only entirely US-built car to ever win overall at Le Mans.