Voice of the #F1 Fans: Ford GT40 Part 1

Voice of the Fans

Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor bruznic

Note from the Editor: bruznic submitted this even though it’s not strictly about F1. It’s a wonderful history of the cars he liked, but since he’s nearly as mad as their beer, we let him publish it. What car sucked you into MotorSport? Let us know in the comments…

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Ford GT40

Yes, yes… I know this is a Formula One site, but you guys (and girl) asked for this follow-up story after my first article about Le Mans. To be quite honest, I’d never expected to get so many positive reactions after my first two articles. I almost started to blush as a result, but then I remembered that I never blush. I tried it once in the 80’s, but I didn’t like it. I believe it was Jennie Mowbray who informed me of the online shortage of good Jacky Ickx stories, and as it happens I’ve got many of them. One of my favourites is about him in the GT40, so that comes in handy for this piece.

This’ll be quite a large piece, but this time I’ll leave room to split it into a two-parter. As a matter of fact, I intend to do a Francis Ford Coppola in that part one will be awesome, but part two will be even better! Hahaha! As I mentioned before in the title, I’m going to write about my all-time favourite car: the Ford GT40.

For those of you wondering, my list goes:

1. Ford GT40 – such a history with beautiful lines. Low and wide. The more I look at it the more I love it. (Ed: Agreed)
2. Ferrari F40 – the last real Ferrari!
3. Porsche 911 3L turbo – for a very long time this was my numero uno. The first time I saw one I was very young. I was out with mom and dad for a stroll when suddenly I got hit by lighting! The noise coming from that boxer… the massive wheel arches… the enormous spoiler… OMG! Truly, it was my first crush.
4. Citroën DS – even when it’s 61 years old it still looks futuristic. It was the first car that I wanted to buy when I was 18, but, my jaw dropped to the floor when I heard the price. I love the one with the third facelift, when they ditched the round headlights. If you pronounce it’s name in correct French it means goddess. Quite fitting description…
5. Lancia rally 037 – Ooh la la! Probably the most iconic (or at least one of the most iconic) liveries ever to grace the racing world.
But I digress. Sorry, I love to digress. Back to the GT40. I’m including the story of Le Mans 1969, which is the last big effort the original car did; of course with a title role for Ickx. It’s been said that this was one of the most exciting endurance races in history. Of course, there is the fact that it happened in ’69 at a time when my dad just turned 10 years old, so I couldn’t be there to watch it live. All the information I’ve gathered comes from books, articles and the one source that gives me less objective info than the other. Therefore I’ll do my best to make Ickx look as heroic as possible 😂. I’ll be doing part one about the car and its history, and part two about the race. Enjoy!

Part one: The car.

Back in the early 60’s, Henry Ford II (or “Hank the Deuce”) wanted his company to race again. But he therefore had to break the 1957 Automobile Manufacturers Association ban on racing, a ban the manufacturers imposed upon themselves after the horrible Mercedes crash at Le Mans in 1955. 77 people were killed and many more were injured when the Mercedes-Benz driven by Pierre Levegh brushed the Austin-Healey driven by Lance Macklin. The Mercedes crashed into the spectators’ stand and burst into flames killing and injuring many in what is now known as one of the worst Le Mans tragedies.

As a result of that, the manufacturers in America agreed to a self-imposed ban on factory supported racing in the hope that they’d outsmart the government. You see, they’d never want the government to take a look at racing regulations and possibly rewrite them. In June of 1962, Ford withdrew his company from that ban, which was a clear signal of their intentions to race. We all know that a big car company can’t do without a (successful) racing campaign and Henry Ford II knew the same. His company was losing credibility and therefore sales dropped.
The biggest point on Hankie’s agenda was to win at the prestigious Le Mans 24 hour race – clearly a man that didn’t want to start small, haha. Le Mans was, at that time, the playground of Ferrari with the famous Italian marque winning nearly every endurance race of any significance during those days. That very Ferrari is the real reason why the GT40 exists, which was a result of the sudden drop-out of the negotiations by Enzo Ferrari when Ford was to acquire Ferrari and merge the two companies; something that really pissed off Henry Ford II. A feud was born. Of course that’s another page-filling story which I will summarise by saying that Henry vowed to beat Enzo on his territory… Le Mans.

Ford1IMG1

Ford started up the British-based racing program called Ford Advanced Vehicle Division. Roy Lunn, an Englishman working for Ford England before he was “upgraded” to Ford America, would lead the program. In America he had developed the Mustang 1 concept – a mid-engined sportscar that would be the godfather of perhaps the most known Ford car to date. And if I remember correctly, only their F150 pick-up truck has sold more than the Mustang line.

Other than being the grandfather to all mustangs, this concept Mustang 1 would be the soul of the GT40 project, albeit in a philosophical rather than technical sense. Aluminium-bodied (Aloooominum for the Yanks) and lightweight, the two-seater was equipped with a 1.7-liter V-4 and some running gear from the Ford Cortinas of that time. Could you imagine turning up at Le Mans with that engine up against the Ferraris with their 5L V12’s? I think Enzo would almost die from laughter!

Aside from the mid-engined layout, there was little resemblance to the Le Mans racers that would soon put Ford back in to the hearts of race fans around the world. But still this Mustang project was essential to the GT40 program; it proved to Ford management that an international collection of engineers could form a successful product development team. Later on the reactions fuelled by jealousy would say that the car was actually European engineering funded with American cash. Of course by looking closely at the whole history we can say that this was bullshit.

Looking at the picture of the Mustang shown above, we all see that there isn’t really a lot to work with towards a Le Mans Grand Tourismo car that Ford wanted for the win. There was, however, a car out there that did check all the required boxes. Even better, it already had a massive Ford V8 engine in the back, which was quite a rarity for a European car back then. It was the new Lola GT. A good looking British coupé, build by Eric Broadley. And if you look at the picture below, you do get the feeling of the GT40 coming closer. Broadley – even though the car was unfinished – showed the Lola at the big racing car show in London in January of 1963. He was eager to jump on the deal Ford offered him as he was short on funds. It’s apparent that the Lola shared the essentials with the GT40. A pretty good looking car if you ask me.

Ford1IMG2

Naturally Ford could only use so much of the design otherwise it wouldn’t be their car, so they changed a lot. The GT40 became longer, wider, smoother and perhaps even more elegant. It was fitted with fiberglass bodywork and an all-aluminium 4.2L V8 engine called “Indianapolis” and born was the ‘Mark 1’ of what would become an iconic car. Ford named it plain and simple: the GT40. GT standing for Grand Tourismo and 40 for the height the car has in inches. For us, the metric using part of the world, that would be 101.6 cm.
I don’t know if any of you have seen this car in real life but if you haven’t go find a ruler and measure 101.6 cm from the ground up. That’s what I call a low car. The “height” is so low that most of us won’t fit in it, unless the readers are jockeys 😉. As a matter of fact, Dan Gurney didn’t quite fit in either, that’s why they have this extra room in the door where the driver sits to give room to Dan’s helmet. Therefore it was thus named the Gurney Bubble.

Ford1IMG3

First time the team showed up at Le Mans for a test, the car hadn’t driven many kilometres and subsequently ran into an enormous amount of problems. Tricky conditions were the least of their troubles. The result was two crashes, giving neither drivers nor mechanics much time to get used to the car.

Ford1IMG4

The biggest problem however was the aerodynamics of the car. So the Ford boys went back home to the drawing board and come June, at the race, much of their aerodynamic problems were solved. They even were competing against the mighty Ferrari’s until they had to throw in the towel after mechanical failures; all of them engine problems. Ford then called up Carroll Shelby who took matters in his own hands and fitted the GT40 with Ford’s reliable 7L engine, which they used in their stock cars. This version of the GT40 would be known by the ‘Mark 2’ designation. A lot faster than the original… how could it be otherwise with such a difference in engine? Ford started testing the Mark 2 obsessively in wind tunnels and apparently they even put them on a dynamo for 48 hours in similar conditions to Le Mans. While the Mark 2 still looks like the original, it’s a lot more aggressively styled. The picture included actually shows just how low the car is.

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By then it was 1966 and Ford began their domination on the international racing scene. Both at the 24 hours of Daytona and the 12 hours of Sebring they delivered a dominant 1,2,3 finish. At Le Mans that year, the Ford was very strong and unchallenged and when the night fell they’d worked on building up a massive lead on their opponents through to early Sunday morning. So big was the lead that the team asked the drivers to slow down in fear of mechanical failures. In the end, the factory Fords again took the checkered flag with a 1,2,3 finish. The first two were even on the same lap and staged a photo finish on the demand of Ford thus giving us the closest Le Mans finish to date. In the end, they gave the win to Bruce McLaren as he had started from a lower place than Denny Hulme and therefore drove a bigger distance in 24 hours. The other 10 privately entered GT40’s all failed to finish. This would be the first American Le Mans win.
For 1967, Ford decided to deal with those earlier mentioned critics (about the cars being European engineering, but funded with American cashjiejs) realising that such jabs could only be stopped by making a follow-up car completely in America. The objective was to save weight and better the Mark 1 and Mark 2’s aerodynamics, and therefore make a car that was theoretically faster and more efficient.

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Ford decided to keep using the 7.0L engine only going back to the drawing board for the body work. The code name for the project was ‘the J-car’, which was named after new regulations that the FiA introduced in ’66 -Appendix J regulations. Furthermore, they decided to go for a fairly new method in race car manufacturing by building the car out of aluminium in a honeycomb structure. A method invented in the 1920’s but still used in today’s racing mainly with carbon fibre.
For those of you that don’t know it, imagine a sheet out of aluminium and on it a structure of upwards placed aluminium in the form of a honeycomb with, on top of that, another sheet of aluminium. This structure is supposed to be stronger than just sheets on top of each other. The final result was a weight saving of 140kg with the bodywork now only weighing 39kg!!! (Yes, that’s three exclamation marks.)
Unfortunately during a test at the Riverside high-speed track, the car became uncontrollable coming on to the straight, crashing and killing Ken Miles who was behind the steering wheel. During the crash, the honeycomb structure didn’t live up to its goal and shattered on impact, as well as the car having burst into flames. It is believed that the “special” aerodynamics of the car, without any spoilers, generated lift instead of downforce causing the crash, upon which Ford decided to go back to the drawing board, once again, going for a more conventional approach.

Ford1IMG7

And thus the Mark 4 car was born. Now all the attentive readers amongst you will ask, “Four? How can it be four when there wasn’t a three?” Well to put it plain and simple, there WAS a three, but that was only a road-going car and not a dedicated racer – so for this article, it doesn’t matter.
The Mark 4 was the J-car with improved aerodynamics and the most radical of the GT40 incarnations, even though it shared some parts with the Mk1/Mk2 such as engine, gearbox, suspension parts and brakes. But the car had one major setback… as a precaution after the death of Miles, Ford fitted a roll cage lifted from their NASCAR cars; proven to be safe, but it added a lot of weight. So it neutralised the weight loss (and increased performance) that was gained by the honeycomb bodywork. Nevertheless, the bodywork was altered to fit the Le Mans circuit with the long tail being designed for Le Mans’ long straights, which in those days weren’t separated by chicanes. This afforded the cars top speeds on the better side of three hundred km/h and the Ford had a pretty decent top speed of 343 km/h, which was recorded during the Le Mans race of 1967.
Ford tested a 2 speed automatic transmission during the J-car days, but for the Mark 4 they decided that the 4 speed manual from the Mark 2 would be better. Can you imagine that? A 2 speed automatic? That’s something for a moped! Or something to build in a Lego Technics car. 😉
Eventually, the car proved to be quite heavy. It came in at a huge 270kg heavier than the Ferraris it was up against that year. Something Dan Gurney wasn’t too happy about. And since he wasn’t driving for Ferrari, he even dared to complain about the car. It even went so far that Ford1IMG8 in order to preserve his brakes he started to lift and coast the car a long way before the braking zones.
A.J. Foyt later on adapted to this driving style because of the highly stressed brakes, since they were just lifted from the Mark 1 and weren’t up for the challenge of the combined weight and top speed of the Mark 4. That resulted in increased lap times during practice, but it did save the brakes. Together with the Le Mans race of ’67, the only other race where the Mark 4 competed was the 12 hours of Sebring, both of which Ford won; though Ford only showed up with one car for Sebring, driven by Andretti and McLaren. For Le Mans, however, Ford brought four cars: two representing Shelby America with Donohue/McLaren and Gurney/Foyt of which Gurney and Foyt won the race, and two cars for the Holman Moody team driven by Andretti/Bianchi and Ruby/Hulme.

Ford1IMG9

Andretti was very thankful for the roll cage installed in the cars that probably saved his life after a huge accident at the Dunlop corners, which is the first braking point after coming out of the pits. It seemed one of the mechanics put one of the brake clippers upside down, by mistake, which caused the uncontrollable spin Andretti had before he crashed in to the concrete surroundings of the track. Andretti survived with some broken ribs. If you look at the picture you could say he had lady luck on his side.

To this day, the 1967 race is the only true American victory at Le Mans. The team, drivers, engine, chassis and tires were all from the land of the free. The only thing that was missing was a few rocket launchers 😂. And with that bombshell (am I the only one that misses Clarkson?), on to part the second…

Special thanks to @WTF_F1 for bringing balance to the force.

Disclaimer: TheJudge13 provides a platform for Formula 1 fans to publish their voice on matters relating to Formula 1. The views expressed in Voice of #F1 Fans are those of the contributor and not those held by TJ13.

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19 responses to “Voice of the #F1 Fans: Ford GT40 Part 1

  1. Thanks Bruznic…I’ve been looking forward to reading this!

    I was lucky enough to see a Ford GT40 recently – there is a replica at the Gosford Classic Car Museum. Intellectually I was aware how small 40 inches was but it’s only when I saw it in real life that I realized just how low it actually was!

    Endurance racing in the “old days” was full of active Formula One drivers…wish there could be more of that today. Hulkenberg was so fortunate to be in the right place at the right time…it could be a long time before that happens again…

    I felt really sorry for Ken Miles (partnering Denny Hulme) in 1966…he had led for so long…and I’m sure he (and probably everyone else) thought he had won. Ford didn’t really want the two lead cars fighting for the win until the end as there was the danger that neither would finish…as we saw only this year with the Toyota expiring on the last lap! Miles had won the 24 hours of Daytona, the 12 hours of Sebring and no one has ever done the triple…and then to die so tragically shortly afterwards…

    Can’t wait for part 2 🙂

    • Yes it’s unbelievable how low it is. I’ve included that mk2 pic not because it was the best I could find but because of the man besides the car. Gives a bit of a visual idea about it. First time I saw it I was at the Zolder circuit for some historic race, pits open for public and there it was. Yellow, racing stripes and not higher as my middle. 😂

  2. Great write-up Bruznic. I have always been torn over the gt40, my bread and butter was always the Italian ladies ranging from humble fiat to the likes of Ferrari and Lancia (don’t touch Lamborghini….I have enough tractors lol) but I managed to secure some engine work on a block.from a humble ford. After it was rebuilt I got to see her in flesh and was hooked,i couldn’t get in the damn thing though. You have to remember that this was designed in a time of imho automotive perfection. Every line on those few machines are pure car junkie heaven and just can’t be replicated,ford tried later but again inho failed miserably. From your list I agree to all..the ds was something out of this world and I would love to own one but never came across a savable example,i did settle for the bx 😉 but the car that got me hooked,the one that I cut my teeth on and the one that lead me to all the great bodies I have handled in my long,long,long working life was a humble fiat 500..to me she was perfectly formed,faster than a Ferrari and more grateful than a Jag.they say you never get better than your first love and I agree…Tess was her name,she was a redhead with a small rounded rear end,yes she was unstable,smoked and in the rain she tended to have a breakdown but I loved her 🙂

    • A little bit up the road from me is a Citroën garage and the owner, as a lucrative hobby, restores the DS. His showroom always has a number of them catching my eye. And he usually has a wide range of them, all incarnations. It was there where I went to inform myself of the price. Mind you they’re fully restored with original parts so it pushes the price up. And in my humble opinion they’re all restored with care and attention to detail. But how I’d love to own one…

  3. Love it when people write about their passion, especiallly when it is about cars,you can feel the emotion in the article. Looking forward to part two, Francis😉

  4. Question: Why is a Porsche 917 in the picture above the text?
    I saw the Lola on the cover of Car and Driver waaaay back when, and saw the real thing some years ago at a British Car fest weekend. Lovely!
    I met a guy who had a DS or ID. He said he’d lower the car to the bottom of the suspension, pull up to a stoplight, hit the switch to pump it up, and yell to the guy next to him, “Your car’s sinking!” Who would then look over, see that car going up, and cars just DON’T go up…so he must be sinking.

  5. Great story, bruznic. Nice one 🙂

    Answering the question from TJ: “What car sucked you into MotorSport?”

    My three hero cars from three different styles of four-wheeled racing:

    My dad was a Ford man, so my earliest memories of watching the Bathurst 1000 are of cheering for the Tru-Blu Ford Falcon of Dick Johnson. Anchoring that interest was the thunderous sound of a red 351 V8 😄 Falcon that lived up the street from us. It still makes me smile to think of the sound that the obviously non-standard twin system made as the owner booted it up the hill past our house. I love seeing a nicely original 😄 on the road these days – few and far between though. So that’s tin tops / touring cars.

    I was a smart-@ss in primary school so I picked up the book prize for top student in Year 7. The book they gave me was about cars. It had large, hand-drawn illustrations of a whole bunch of different vehicles, but I only remember two of the pictures:

    Picture #1 – A Lotus 77. That car with the JPS livery was just about the coolest looking open-wheeler ever. Sadly, I never got to see much of the car in action ‘cos F1 coverage was ridiculously limited back then in country Western Australia, but the interest in formula racecars definitely started when I leafed through that book for the first time.

    Picture #2 – A Mexico Escort rally car – another memory linked to cars I saw myself. Some guy in town had a tuned, twin-cam Mk1 Escort that (again) sounded fantastic. But the one in the book had them massive wheel arches, a four-gang of massive spotties bolted on the bumper and very cool looking Minilites. Put the real sound and that picture together – joy! I was a big rally fan through the Group B and and subsequent Group A period.

    Not surprisingly, my first car was a (very standard) Mk1 Escort. It lasted about a year until it developed some serious issues starting with a burnt a valve. With a heavy heart I sold it for parts ‘cos it made no financial sense to fix. As a genuinely poor student it was Shank’s pony, a pushbike or the bus for the next few years.

    The next car I bought (could afford) was a $150 Datto 120Y four-door that I bought off a mate so I could get to my first job out of uni that was 40km from where I was living. ZERO kudos for ownership that particular vehicle 😛

    • Hmmm… the WordPress editor has changed the Ford Falcon model designation from (phonetically) ecks-dee ( X . D) to a smiley. Funny. Disrespectful but funny. 🙂

    • Thanks Rodger. Strangely enough I’m only seeing this now. Moderation probably. Interesting to see your interests. I’m a fan of the escorts too. Two towns over we have a stage of the belgian rally championship every year and after the “big” contenders come through there always is a historic leg of the rally. Lots of mk2 mainly. Great car, great noise, super to see them sideways. Rally always brings out the best in cars if you ask me. A dull skoda in the streets looks like a awesome beast when they fix it up to go rallying.
      I am an owner of a Ford focus, the one that Carlos sainz senior used to drive in the wrc. Sadly enough mine is a dull Street version and not a rally one 😆

  6. The picture of the GT40 with the Gurney Bubble is a replica built by ERA and finished by Chuck Gutke from Cobra Restorers in GA, USA. It is a left hand drive car. Mr. Gutke was very tall. The picture of the black and White car with no rear view (periscope in the roof) was called the Breadwagon. Only a replica of this car exist and it has the 2 speed automatic gearbox. It was built on the continuation of the J-Cars (J-13 thru 19). 19 is the replica of the breadwagon automatic. The MK-II and MK-IV 4 speed gearbox was built by Ford by using NASCAR parts from the 4 speed toploader and 9″ Differential. the gearbox was made of Magnesium and was called T44. Another interesting of the JCars all 4 wheels were different to vent the brakes. The fins were designed to cool the brakes and since the rotation changes from each side. The rear are bigger than the front so all are unique. The calipers were modified by Phil Remington to allow to pull the pads out and be replaced very fast. The MK-II and IV were heavy and ate the pads very fast. Wheels were small at that time so the brakes were small. I own an ERA GT in JW Gulf colors and part owner of J10 (CanAm Car rebody to MK-IV in red and white).

    • Well colour me jealous 😆 I own an ’04 Ford focus and that’s it. And every day it’s a step closer to retirement.
      As for the Gurney Bubble, that was the best picture I could find online to illustrate what I meant. Most pictures show it in a bird view, I wanted one, like this, to show how it adds, cleverly, extra room. It was taken from the ERA GT site, yes.
      As for the breadwagon, I’d love to see the replica in real life. Although I prefer the mk1 and mk2 style, the J-car and the mk4 are for sure the most interesting incarnations of this car!
      Thank you very much for the extra info. I think you might enjoy part two as it covers the gulf coloured car, since it’s the best looking the car ever was. Many cars have come with that livery, yet the Ford wore it best.

  7. I saw the “breadwagon” JCar a few years ago at the shop of Kenny Thompson at Charlotte NC when he did some work for our J10. The original cars were built by Kar Kraft in Detroit and the tub were made by Brunswick Aircraft. Mike Teske registered a new company for the continuation called Kar Kraft LLC to built 7 Mk-IV + plus the Breadwagon. Thompson did the “assembly” line to reproduce the difficult Jcar chassis.

    A note that J11 and J12 were built with spare tubs built by Brunswick Aircraft and do not have a plate id to the chassis. they were finish in the 70s and maybe later. The ID were assigned by the owners. After the MK-IV was declared not legal for 1968 Le Mans Ford pulled out. J9 and J10 were finished with open cockpit for Can Am racing. Our J10 chassis is the most raced of all. Ford GT MK-IV only ran two races (Sebring and Le Mans) and all the cars did not ran at Sebring. The Gulf Ford GT40MK-I chassis number 1075 won Le Mans twice (68/69) without Ford sponsor and was entered by JW Engineering. JW moved to Gulf Porsche 917 in 1970 Le Mans. I agree that the GT40 wore best the Gulf colors. Ford purchased a J11 or J12 after the winning car was dropped and crack at Goodwood a few years ago. The race winning car was send to Gurney’s shop for repairs. The put the purchased car at the museum

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