The high-performance Ford GT40 is the dream child of Ford Motors, conceived in America and birthed in England. The GT stands for Grand Touring, and the 40 refers to its overall height in inches. It was produced from 1964-1969, and has since become an American racing icon.
In the early 1960s, Henry Ford II is jonesing for a Ford at Le Mans (France), the world’s most famous race. He and Enzo Ferrari sniff at each other, but their courtship is doomed. Hear tell, Enzo jilts Henry’s buyout offer, and this means war.
A number of other couplings and uncouplings add to both the frustration and determination for Henry II to build and produce an American racing dream car.
Adding fuel to the fire: GM and its child prodigy, Corvette, are kicking Ford’s ass in the showroom, on the racetrack, and on the books.
The final hookup: Ford teams with Lola Cars, a British auto manufacturer. Its manager, Eric Broadley, lends his expertise to the project, along with ex-Aston Martin team manager John Wyer (not too shabby).
Lola is no stranger to Ford, already using some Ford technology in its own GT and prototyping a beautiful babe that exceeds 200 mph in 1964.
Ready to take on Ferrari and the world, the GT 40’s coming-out party happens at Nurburging (Germany) in 1964. After that, its parents throw it right back into the pool: 24 Hours of Le Mans, the international pinnacle of racing. Talk about growing up fast.
In both competitions, the car comes up short – can’t finish. The machine is surely beautiful but heartbreakingly vulnerable. It still needs some tough love.
Back to the drawing board. Enter Carroll Shelby. This Texas-born Renaissance Man is an auto designer and a racing driver himself (he wins the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans, so he has the grasp and the grit).
During the Big One – World War II – he’s a test pilot and flight instructor; he understands speed. Ford gives its GT40 over to his company, Shelby-American, for fine-tuning and reworking. The makeover results in the GT40 Mark II.
Spoiler alert — by 1966, Ford makes history by winning over Ferrari at Le Mans (Exhibit A when explaining how revenge is sweet).
It continues to astonish, winning the race over four consecutive years, from 1966-1969, becoming the first four-time winner in Le Mans history. The world removes its sunglasses and says, “Goddam!”
The GT40 legacy is the undisputed truth: the first and only American car to win at Le Mans, and the first specific chassis to win more than one Le Mans.
Fast-forward: The GT40 wins more big-time race events than any other racecar in history.
The story has given the car larger-than-life status. Get the whole story by screening The 24-Hour War. Adventure’s waiting just ahead — click here.