In the early sixties, Henry Ford II had a magnificent idea, that would bring much focus on the Ford Motor Company and it's automotive technology. Henry Ford decided to show off the high performance vehicles that his company could produce, by starting the Ford Advanced Vehicles Division. This division of the company would set out, as Henry Ford wished, to rip Ferrari's hold on road racing away and take over the field. Ford Advanced Vehicles was led and set-up in Slough, England by John Wyer, Eric Broadley, and Roy Lunn. John Wyer was formerly associated with the successful Aston Martin.
In the mid-1960's, Ford attempted to buy Ferrari. Ford wanted to buy the company, in order to take control of it's amazing stronghold on road racing. Negotiations failed; Ferrari didn't sell. Afterwards, Ford went to work on the original car...the Ford GT-40 Mk (MARK) 1. The "40" stood for the estimated height of the car, although oddly, it was closer to 41 inches than the 40 in that Ford claimed it to be. The actual height of the car was 40.5 in. The car's 350HP, 4.2L, V-8 engine was transplanted from the Ford Fairlane. This was the start of Ford's very famous run in road racing during the 1960s.
1964 saw the introduction of the all new Ford GT "Prototype". This was the first prototype version of the car. It was first seen by the press in late March at the Ford Advanced Vehicles Center in England. This car made it's first public appearance at the Le Mans test weekend on April 18 and 19 of 1964. The teams, during the testing, had many problems with the aerodynamic lift of the cars. One car, driven by Jo Schlesser, actually crashed after flipping into the air. The Ford GT first originally raced at Nurburgring in late May. The two cars were both retired before the end of the race. Three of these GT's were entered into Le Mans of that year, but none of them finished the entire race. The only real good that came out of it for Ford was the fact that Phil Hill set a new race-lap record at Le Mans.
Two months after the Le Mans race of 1964, Ford hired Carroll Shelby to take control and manage the racing program. After they put Shelby in control, Ford Advanced Vehicles focused more on making the production models of the car. The first victory by the Ford GT was at the Daytona Continental on February. 28, 1965. The 24 Hours of Le Mans of 1965 featured the first GT-40's powered by a 427 cu. in. engine. These vehicles would soon transform into prototypes for the GT-40 Mk 2. One of these GT-40's with the 427 cu. in. engine qualified at the pole for the event with a new track record. Right after Le Mans, Ford started going to work on their GT-40 Mark 2. On February 6th, 1966, Ford had a 1-2-3-5 finish with their Mark 2's. The top spot was taken by the team of Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon. Ford's Mark 2's also finished in the first and second place positions at the 12 Hours of Sebring. Also in 1966, Ford tested their GT-40 J-Cars at the Le Mans test days in April. These J-Cars turned out to be pretty much wasted time, besides the fact that they would lead to be experimental cars for the next model, the Mark 4. One other important part of the 1966 year for Ford was the introduction the GT-40 Mark 3. The Mark 3 was the street version of the GT-40 race cars. This car featured a longer rear-end than the Mark I itself for luggage space. This car went 0-60 in 5.3 seconds. These numbers were pretty amazing considering it was 1966. The 2004 GTO records 0-60 in the same exact time.
What is probably one of the most historic events of Le Mans took place on June. 19, 1966. Ford finally broke Ferrari's hold on road racing, and stopped Ferrari from winning a sixth straight time. Henry Ford II's hope of winning Le Mans came true. The GT-40 Mark 2's finished in the 1, 2, and 3 spots at one, if not "the", biggest international race there was. The winning car was driven by the team of Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon, who also set a record for the fastest race average speed at 125.4MPH. The second place car was driven by Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby. And finally, the third placed team included Ronnie Buckman and Dick Hutcherson.
At the very beginning of the next year, 1967, Ford was creating a more aerodynamic GT-40. This new, more aerodynamic GT-40 was called the 'Mirage', and was sponsored by Gulf Oil with the famous light blue and orange paint scheme. At the Daytona 24 Hours on February 5th, Ford entered 6 GT-40's. Unfortunately, all of them were retired, and all with the same problem...transmission failure. The bad news didn't hold Ford back. Later that year, in March, Ford released their GT-40 Mark IV to the public. The styling differences from the Mark II were definitely not gone unnoticed, yet the engine and gearbox did stay the same. At the debut race of the Mark IV at the 12 Hours of Sebring, the team of Mario Andretti and Bruce McLaren won. On June 11, the 24 Hours of Le Mans saw another victory from Ford's GT-40's.
Dan Gurney and A.J Foyt won with the brand new Mark IV. This win signalled the first time a whole entry was completely from or created in America. The car was developed and made in the United States, it was made by an American-based company, had an engine that was put together in America, and had two American drivers. This race has been known to have started the famous champagne straying ceremony at the end of races. After Le Mans, Ford got rid of the Mark IV. After the Le Mans of 1967, new rules would ban the large engines in GT prototype cars, because they believed the cars were reaching speeds that were a little too dangerous. Le Mans' new rules stated that prototype race cars can only have 3 liter engines or smaller , and cars with a production of at least 25 could have up to 5 liters. So, Ford went to work in making the older 5 liter GT-40's better.
At the Daytona 24 Hours in February of 1968, none of the GT-40's finished, but they did keep up with the competition pretty well. Also, at the 12 Hours of Sebring that year, the GT-40's also failed to complete the race. After those first two races, Ford did pretty well. They won several smaller, less-known races. Going into Le Mans, there was probably a good feeling and confidence, considering the many wins Ford experienced that year. Once again, for the third straight time, Ford won the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Again, the American brand kicked some butt. After the winning race, the mechanics of the car actually drove the winning GT-40 on public streets all the way back to the Ford base.
In 1969, as the car was beginning to age, the GT-40 won the 12 Hours of Sebring on March 22, with Jacky Ickx and Jackie Olivier. In the Le Mans race in June of 1969, Jacky Ickx and Jackie Olivier won Ford's fourth straight race at the famous event. The Ford won over the second place Porsche by only about 120 meters. This was the closest finish to ever occur during the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Ford ended it's factory support of racing until 1982, after the somewhat unexpected win from their car that was pretty much outdated compared to their competitors. This was the end of the line of Ford's amazing run in the road racing field.
33 Years Later, the Chairmen and CEO of the Ford Motor Company, Bill Ford, introduced the Ford GT-40 Concept Car. The unveiling of the car was at the 2002 North American International Auto Show. Just about everyone loved the idea of sending this legendary American sports car into production. Just a few weeks later, the production started. Then, on November. 12, 2002, the Ford GT Prototype, Workhorse 1 exited the Allen Park facility where it was built. Chris Theodore, Vice President of North American product development, drove the vehicle out of it's "home". At the 2003 North American International Auto Show, Ford released another concept GT. This time, it was powered by a supercharged 500 horsepower V-8 and it no longer held the "40" in it's name. The vehicle was no longer 40.5" high; it now stood at 44.3". This was one reason why the car no longer held the GT-40 name. The other was because of the loss of rights to the "GT-40" name. In the fall of 2004, the Ford GT will be released. Only 1,000 of these legendary vehicles are scheduled to be made. The car will be powered by a 550 horsepower supercharged 5.4L V-8 engine. THE LEGEND HAS BEEN REBORN!