Iconic Race Cars: Ford GT 40


Ford GT 40 MK l

It was conceived, and designed in anger. It was built to prove a point. On the track it was as dominant as an angry beast. And after all was said and done, an argument was settled, a point was proven, and an iconic race car was born. And then just as quickly as it arrived on the scene, it was withdrawn. This iconic race car was the Ford GT 40.

To fully understand this story, we have to go back to the mid sixties, and the thinking that prevailed at that time. While you would not hear racing program managers, or car designers say it out loud, racing fans were more than willing to express their feelings on the subject. The prevailing theory was that the U.S. could not build a car that could successfully compete in European style road racing. Sure IndyCars and stock cars were fine on oval circuits, but long winding road courses were a different matter. The sad fact is that for the most part they were right. Sports cars such as the Thunderbird, Corvette, and the newly introduced Mustang and Camaro were designed with more of a strait line speed over handling philosophy. After all drag racing was all the rage in the mid 50s through the late 60s.

Ford GT 40 MK l
Ford CT 40 MK l

Carol Shelby took it upon himself to disprove this theory wrong by bringing the self built Shelby Cobra to European circuits. It took a bit of trying, but ultimately beat the dominant Ferrari at their own game. Shelby had gotten the attention of the European racing world.

Ford GT 40 MK ll

Also while this was going on, Ferrari was having money problems. This was nothing new for them. After breaking away from Lanciamin the late 40s, Ferrari underwent lean times on more than one occasion. In the mid 60’s Enzo Ferrari was in the process of shopping for a buyer for the company, At the same tine Henry Ford ll was looking for the easiest way to break into European sports car racing. Although the best offer for Ferrari had come from Ford, Enzo walked out in mid negotiations and sold part of the company to Fiat. This did not sit well with Henry Ford ll who had planned to use the company as his entry into European road racing. So upset was Ford that he tasked a team to design a car that could enter and beat Ferrari for the ultimate European sports car prize the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The obvious choice for such a job was the only American who had success in European racing, Carol Shelby. Having been promised the ability to run the program as he saw fit, Ford immediately saddled him with a couple of bureaucrats from headquarters. Needless to say this did not go well. After a trip to Detroit to straighten out the matter, Shelby was able to get on with the project.

Ford GT 40 MK lV

We won’t go into all the hits and misses, and ups and downs of the development process. But what emerged was one 0f the most Iconic race cars of all time. With Enzo Ferrari watching, the Ford GT 40 proved not only a match, but superior to the Ferrari. With dominant wins in 1966, 1967, 1968, and 1969. In the end Ford had settled the argument of whether the U.S. could compete, and win European road racing, and had more than proved their point.


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