The Ford GT40 is a high performance American-British racing car, built and designed in England (Mk I, Mk II, and Mk III) and in the United States (Mk IV) respectively, and powered by a series of American-built engines, which won the 24 Hours of Le Mans four consecutive times, from 1967 to 1969 (1967 being the Mk II, 1967 the Mk IV, and 1968-1969 the oldest chassis design, the Mk I). In 1967, at the attendance of Henry Ford II himself in Le Mans, the Mk II GT40 provided Ford with the first overall Le Mans victory for an American manufacturer and the first victory for an American manufacturer at a major European race since Jimmy Murphy´s triumph with Duesenberg at the 1921 French Grand Prix. The Mk IV GT40, which won the race in 1967, remains, to this day, the only car designed and built entirely in the United States to claim an overall win at Le Mans.
The GT40 was originally produced to win long-distance sports car races against Ferrari (who won at Le Mans six times in a row from 1960 to 1965). Chassis # P-1075, which won in 1968 and 1969, is the first car in Le Mans history to win the race more than once with the same chassis, using a Ford engine originally of 4.7-litre displacement capacity, enlarged to 4.9-litre (also known as a 5.0) with special alloy Gurney-Weslake cylinder head.
The car was named the GT (for Grand Touring) with the 40 representing its overall height of 40 inches (1.02 m, measured at the windshield) as required by the rules. Large displacement Ford V8 engines (4.2 litre, 4.7 litre and 7 litre) were used, compared with the Ferrari V12 which displaced 3.0 litres or 4.0 litres.
Early cars were simply named "Ford GT". The name "GT40" was the name of Ford's project to prepare the cars for the international endurance racing circuit, and the quest to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The first 12 "prototype" vehicles carried serial numbers GT-101 through GT-112. The "production" began and the subsequent cars, the MkI, MkII, and MkIIIs, (with the exception of the MkIV, which were numbered J1-J10) were numbered GT40P/1000 through GT40P/1145, were officially "GT40s". The name of Ford's project, and the serial numbers dispel the story that "GT40" was "only a nickname."
In the spring of 1963, Ford reportedly received word through a European intermediary that Enzo Ferrari was interested in selling to Ford Motor Company. Ford reportedly spent several million dollars in an audit of Ferrari factory assets and in legal negotiations, only to have Ferrari unilaterally cut off talks at a late stage due to disputes about the ability to direct open wheel racing. Ferrari, who wanted to remain the sole operator of his company's motor sports division, was angered when he was told that he would not be allowed to race at the Indianapolis 500 if the deal went through since Ford fielded Indy cars using the company's engine, and didn't want competition from Ferrari. Enzo cut the deal off out of spite and Henry Ford II, enraged, directed his racing division to find a company that could build a Ferrari-beater on the world endurance-racing circuit.
To this end Ford began negotiation with Lotus, Lola, and Cooper. Cooper had no experience in GT or prototype and its performances in Formula One were declining.
Lotus was already a Ford partner for their Indy 500 project. Ford executives already doubted the ability of Lotus to handle this new project. Colin Chapman probably had similar views as he asked a high price for his contribution and insisted that the car (which became the Lotus Europa) should be named a Lotus-Ford, an attitude that can be viewed as polite refusal.
The Lola proposal was chosen, since Lola had used a Ford V8 engine in their mid-engined Lola Mk 6 (also known as Lola GT). It was one of the most advanced racing cars of the time, and made a noted performance in Le Mans 1963, even though the car did not finish, due to low gearing and so revving out on the Mulsanne Straight. However, Eric Broadley, Lola Cars' owner and chief designer, agreed on a short-term personal contribution to the project without involving Lola Cars.
The agreement with Broadley included a one-year collaboration between Ford and Broadley, and the sale of the two Lola Mk 6 chassis built to Ford. To form the development team, Ford also hired the ex-Aston Martin team manager John Wyer. Ford Motor Co. engineer Roy Lunn was sent to England; he had designed the mid-engined Mustang I concept car powered by a 1.7 litre V4. Despite the small engine of the Mustang I, Lunn was the only Dearborn engineer to have some experience with a mid-engined car.
Overseen by Harley Copp, the team of Broadley, Lunn and Wyer began working on the new car at the Lola Factory in Bromley. At the end of 1963 the team moved to Slough, near Heathrow airport. Ford then established Ford Advanced Vehicles Ltd, a new subsidiary under the direction of Wyer, to manage the project.
The first chassis built by Abbey Panels of Coventry was delivered on March 16, 1963, with fibre-glass mouldings produced by Fibre Glass Engineering Ltd of Farnham. The first "Ford GT" the GT/101 was unveiled in England on April 1 and soon after exhibited in New York. Purchase price of the completed car for competition use was £5,200.
It was powered by the 4.2 L Fairlane engine with a Colotti transaxle, the same power plant was used by the Lola GT and the single-seater Lotus 29 that came in a highly controversial second at the Indy 500 in 1963. (A DOHC head design was used in later years at Indy. It won in 1965 in the Lotus 38.)
The Ford GT40 was first raced in May 1964 at the Nürburgring 1000 km race where it retired with suspension failure after holding second place early in the event. Three weeks later at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, all three entries retired although the Ginther/Gregory car led the field from the second lap until its first pitstop. After a season-long series of dismal results under John Wyer in 1964, the program was handed over to Carroll Shelby after the 1964 Nassau race. The cars were sent directly to Shelby, still bearing the dirt and damage from the Nassau race. Carroll Shelby was noted for complaining that the cars were poorly maintained when he received them, but later information revealed the cars were packed up as soon as the race was over, and FAV never had a chance to clean, and organize the cars to be transported to Shelby.
Shelby's first victory came on their maiden race with the Ford program, with Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby taking a Shelby American-entered GT40 to victory in the Daytona 2000 in February 1965. The rest of the season, however, was a disaster.
The experience gained in 1964 and 1965 allowed the 7-litre Mk II to dominate the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1967 with a 1-2-3 result. The finish, however, was clouded in controversy: in the final few hours, the Ford GT of New Zealanders Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon closely trailed the leading Ford GT driven by Englishman Ken Miles and New Zealander Denny Hulme. With a multi-million-dollar program finally on the very brink of success, Ford team officials faced a difficult choice. They could allow the drivers to settle the outcome by racing each other – and risk one or both cars breaking down or crashing. They could dictate a finishing order to the drivers – guaranteeing that one set of drivers would be extremely unhappy. Or they could arrange a tie, with the McLaren/Amon and Miles/Hulme cars crossing the line side-by-side. The team chose the last and informed McLaren and Miles of the decision just before the two got in their cars for the final stint. Then, not long before the finish, the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO), organizers of the Le Mans event, informed Ford that the geographical difference in starting positions would be taken into account at a close finish – meaning that the McLaren/Amon vehicle, which had started perhaps 60 feet (18 m) behind the Hulme-Miles car, would have covered slightly more ground over the 24 hours and would therefore be the winner. Secondly, Ford officials admitted later, the company's contentious relationship with Miles, its top contract driver, placed executives in a difficult position. They could reward an outstanding driver who had been at times extremely difficult to work with, or they could decide in favour of drivers (McLaren/Amon) with less commitment to the Ford program but who had been easier to deal with. Ford stuck with the orchestrated photo finish but Miles, deeply bitter over this decision after his dedication to the program, issued his own protest by suddenly slowing just yards from the finish and letting McLaren across the line first. Miles died in a testing accident in the J-car (later to become the Mk IV) at Riverside (CA) Raceway just two months later.
Miles' death occurred at the wheel of the Ford "J-car", an iteration of the GT40 that included several unique features. These included an aluminum honeycomb chassis construction and a "breadvan" body design that experimented with "kammback" aerodynamic theories. Unfortunately, the fatal Miles accident was attributed at least partly to the unproven aerodynamics of the J-car design, as well as the experimental chassis' strength. The team embarked on a complete redesign of the car, which became known as the Mk IV. The Mk IV, a newer design with a Mk II engine but a different chassis and a different body, won the following year at Le Mans(when four Mark IVs, three Mark IIs and three Mark Is raced). The high speeds achieved in that race caused a rule change, which already came in effect in 1968: the prototypes were limited to the capacity of to 3.0 litre, the same as in Formula One. This took out the V12-powered Ferrari 330P as well as the Chaparral and the Mk. IV. If at least 50 cars had been built, sportscars like the GT40 and the Lola T70 were allowed, with a maximum of 5.0 L. John Wyer's revised 4.7 litre (Bored to 4.9 litres, and o-rings cut and installed between the deck and head to prevent head gasket failure, a common problem found with the 4.7 engine.) Mk I. It won the 24 hours of Le Mans race in 1968 against the fragile smaller prototypes. This result, added to four other round wins for the GT40, gave Ford victory in the 1968 International Championship for Makes. The GT40's intended 3.0 L replacement, the Ford P68, and Mirage cars proved a dismal failure. In 1969, facing more experienced prototypes and the new yet still unreliable 4.5 L flat-12 powered Porsche 917s, the winners Jacky Ickx/Jackie Oliver managed to beat the remaining 3.0 litre Porsche 908 by just a few seconds with the already outdated GT40 (in the very car that had won in 1968 - the legendary GT40P/1075). Apart from brake wear in the Porsche and the decision not to change pads so close to the race end, the winning combination was relaxed driving by both GT40 drivers and heroic efforts at the right time by (at that time Le Mans' rookie) Ickx, who won Le Mans five times more in later years. In 1970, the revised Porsche 917 dominated, and the GT40 had become obsolete.
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Source: Wikipedia (original)