As we all know, the ford GT40 is one of the most iconic cars in motorsports thanks to the amazing feat they have achieved in the 24 Hours of Le Mans where they beat Ferrari at their own game. Not only that, but it’s also one of the most important vehicles in Ford’s history, bringing forth a significant recognition on the world stage that the American auto giant is capable of building race-winning and world-beating cars.
We were reminded of the bitter rivalry between Ford and Ferrari in the 1960s with the Ford vs Ferrari Hollywood film, which highlighted the story of the people behind the successful GT40 program and what transpired on the very day Ford took that monumental win at Le Mans. However, there are more revelations about the car that was never seen in the movie, and we’ll shed some light on these other forgotten secrets of the Le Mans-winning Ford GT40.
10 Lola Chassis
The Ford GT40 wasn’t an all-American car to begin with, as Ford looked to other sports car manufacturers such as Lotus, Cooper, and Lola following the fallout in the negotiations between the American auto giant and Ferrari. Ultimately, Ford ended up collaborating with Britain’s Lola Cars to produce the first GT40 prototype.
It was based on the Lola Mk6 which used a Ford V8 engine when it participated in the 1963 24 Hours of Le Mans. Ford sent their engineers to the Lola factory in Bromley, England to work on the first GT40, called the GT/101, which was completed in 1964.
9 Dynamometer simulation
Today, it is standard practice that racing teams extensively use simulators to fine-tune their cars for race preparation work. But back in the 1960s, simulators were almost considered witchcraft, as the engine and transmission were put on a computerized test rig to simulate the conditions at Le Mans.
An engineer named Mose Nowland and his team went to work in the Ford Dearborn, Michigan headquarters to heavily modify the 427 V8 engine used in NASCAR to make it reliable enough for use in the 24-hour endurance race.
8th First Race
Initially, the Ford GT40 had disappointing results in its early days as a racecar due to some teething problems that prevented it from showingcasing its full potential. In fact, on its first race in May 1964 at the 1000km of Nürburgring, the car retired due to suspension failure.
The only silver lining during that race was it went as high as second before trouble struck. It was undoubtedly almost, but as the saying goes, “to finish first, first you have to finish”, and that’s exactly what the early GT40 was not able to do.
7 first victory
Ford and the GT40 racecar indeed quickly started to turn their fortunes around when Carroll Shelby took over from ex-Aston Martin team manager John Wyer in 1964. It was the first race under Shelby’s watch that the GT40 achieved its maiden victory in the 1965 Daytona 2000 , with Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby as their drivers.
Just a month later, the GT40 ran by Shelby American, Inc. achieved another class victory in the Sebring 12-hour race, and finished second overall behind the winning Chaparral race car.
6 Legendary Drivers
As it was, Shelby and GT40 hit the ground running and started to build momentum prior to the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race. However, we shouldn’t forget they also had legendary drivers that got behind the wheel of the iconic racecar, such as Mario Andretti, Jochen Rindt, Graham Hill, Dan Gurney, Mark Donohue and many more.
The eventual GT40 that won in the 1966 Le Mans was driven by Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon, who were both racing legends from New Zealand. As we all know, Bruce McLaren was the founder of McLaren cars, and Amon was one of the fastest guys in Formula One in the 60s and 70s. Not to mention, Ken Miles’ teammate Denny Hulme won the Formula 1 title just a year after the monumental race in 1966.
Ford announced their arrival on the motorsport world stage with the GT40. And until now, the GT40 has the record for being the only American racecar to achieve an overall victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
50 years later, the new Ford GT managed to repeat the victory at Le Mans, but they raced in the GTE class, and the overall victory went to Toyota. As of now, it looks like Ford would still hold on to its record, but the Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus prototype has the potential to join the GT40 as American overall winners at Le Mans.
4 J car
In the Ford v Ferrari movie, we could all see the disappointment on Miles’ face when he was denied a race win in the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race. Being the driver-mechanic that he was, saw that there is still plenty of things to improve with the GT40.
Two months later, Miles drove the “Bread van” designed J-car featuring the aluminum honeycomb chassis to do R&D work when he had his fatal accident at the Riverside Raceway. The J-car would eventually become the Mk. IV that Dan Gurney and AJ Foyt took to victory in the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans.
3 Mark II Won Before Mark I
The Ford GT40, as we all know, became a successful race car. But apparently, it also stood the test of time, as the last victory of the GT40 at Le Mans was achieved with the five-year-old Mk. I in 1969.
Following a string of regulation changes in 1968, the Mk. II and Mk. IV versions of the GT40 were no longer eligible to compete at Le Mans, but the Mk. I, with its 4.9-liter V8 engine, was still well within the rules, and achieved back-to-back victories in 1968 and 1969, with Wyer Ltd. taking over from Shelby American.
2 Other Racing Achievements
The Ford GT40 is noted for achieving four straight Le Mans victories, but other than that, Ford has also clinched championships that were sanctioned by the FIA.
Known today as the World Endurance Championship, Ford clinched the 1966 International Manufacturers Championship, the 1967 and 1968 International Championship for Sports Cars, and the 1969 International Championship for Makes in the over 2000cc category.
1 continuation models
Ford no longer makes the iconic GT40, but some independent companies have taken hold of the car’s original blueprints to make the so-called continuation models.
Companies such as Superformance, Southern GT, and CAV GT have made replicas and continuation models of the GT40. And not to mention, the Holman-Moody, which won third place at the 1966 Le Mans race, is capable of creating a new GT40 built to the 1966 specifications.