On the road with the Ford GT40

The shape of things that must come

When Eric Broadley’s Lola coupe, with Ford V8 engine mounted amidships behind the cockpit; appeared at the 1963 Racing Car Show I was very excited, as were most people who saw it. The whole conception of the car looked so right, and I remember thinking how I would dearly like a ride in it some time, but did not contemplate driving it as it seemed way out beyond my capabilities. This was January, 1963, and now just under four years later I have been using a production version of this original prototype car on the road for a week as my normal motoring machine, temporarily replacing the 4.2-litre Jaguar E-type.

As is well known, the mighty Ford empire bought Broadley and the Lola coupe, set them up in a factory at Slough and developed that first car into a Ford GT as a racing car and started three years of serious motor racing, culminating in victory at Le Mans, apart from many other events. From the first factory in Slough developed “Ford Advanced Vehicles” who were in charge of the mid-engined coupe project, and as the racing versions progressed so did the idea of production versions to be sold to the public and used as road cars. The first racing coupes were very much Lola-Fords, but gradually the Ford engineers took over completely so that the name Lola could justifiably he dropped, and Broadley ended his contract and returned to Lola Cars to work.on the design of sports cars. The mid-engined coupe gradually became completely Ford and was designated the GT40, but to Eric Broadley must go all the credit for the original conception and early development of what has become the most outstanding car of the day and very much a leader for the car of tomorrow. When I talk about “car” I mean the specialised competition or GT car, not bread-and-butter stuff for Mr. Everyman. At the end of 1965 the GT40 was well into production (hand-built) and chassis GT40P/1013 was finished off as a road car rather than a competition car. Mechanically the specification was not changed, nor was the shape, but there was a lot of attention to “home-comforts”, such as interior trim, door pockets, radio, heaters, silencers, heavier flywheel and a less-fierce clutch. The 4.7-litre Ford engine was not tuned to such a high degree and the maximum speed was modestly quoted as 164m.p.h. In racing trim and depending on axle ratio, tyre size and so on, these Ford coupes were capable of 190m.p.h. down the Mulsanne straight at Le Mans, and given a long enough “run-in” they could probably touch 200m.p.h. as a freak maximum. A quoted road maximum of 164m.p.h. was not out of the way, and this would mean an easy 150-160m.p.h. on a Motorway straight.

During 1966 the GT40 was produced in increasing numbers, all the chassis/body units for Le Mans emanating from F.A.V. at Slough, so that a proper production line of 6-8 cars at a time was set up. Having started at chassis GT40P/1001, the P denoting the finalised production series for homologation as Group 4 sports cars, a mixed array of cars to GT40P/1052 was completed by the end of the summer. I say mixed as some were to Group 4 specification and sold for racing, such as GT40P/1009 to Peter Sutcliffe, 1014 to Karl Richardson, 1021 to Nic Cussons and so on, others went to Shelby and Alan Mann as body/chassis units for building the 7-litre Mk. II cars for Le Mans, and some were built as road cars, such as 1033 to Switzerland, 1034 to Gloucestershire, 1043 to America and so on, altogether eight road versions being built. By the end of the year twenty more road versions, numbers 1053 to 1072, will be completed and shipped to Dearborn for customers in the U.S.A. These 72 cars are all in the production series, there having been numerous experimental and prototype cars built during 1965.

Car number GT40P/1013 was retained by Ford Advanced Vehicles of Slough as a “demonstrator” and it was this one that John Wyer and John Horsman kindly lent me for a week, with the advice “have fun”. It does not need much imagination to appreciate that the GT40 is a very fast car, though how fast and how safe you cannot appreciate to the full until you have driven it, or been driven in it by a very competent driver. At the end of 1965 I had a few quiet laps of the Goodwood circuit at the wheel of a GT40 (actually GT40P/1008, owned by Ford of Dagenham, and was staggered at the ease with which it could be driven at the standard of a mediocre “club-driver”. Everything on the car worked beautifully and efficiently and you felt you could do no wrong. After my few laps I got Sir John Whitmore to show me how it should really be driven and he set out to frighten me, not realising that providing I have confidence in the driver I have never yet been frightened in the passenger seat of a racing/sports car. He threw that GT40 about with all the Whitmore abandon that one used to associate with him on BMC-Mini racers. Not only were the road-clinging qualities of the Ford outstanding, but its manners were impeccable when he overcooked it and we got all sideways, usually done deliberately by him.

As the GT40 has been developed various people have expressed strong opinions about it, one of these being Carroll Shelby, and I had long discussions with him about the GT40 concept as applied to an everyday GT car, he being of the opinion that it could never come about due to heat, noise, space and comfort. He was pushing the Shelby-Mustang and the Shelby-Cobra at the time, so was probably biased. Having been an avid Porsche fan for years, and enthusiast for the 904 and Carrera Six as the type of GT car that must come, I was all in favour of the GT40, with 350b.h.p. amidships.

I have been using a 4.2-litre E-type Jaguar for all-round motoring for two years now, and consequently have become pretty used to speeds between 100 and 140m.p.h. with acceleration to match, so when I left the F-type at Slough and set off in the Ford GT40 I did not feel I was moving into a new world, as far as performance was concerned, and no doubt Wyer and Horsman felt a lot happier than if my normal motoring was all done in Viva or Anglia. My short trip at Goodwood had confirmed my ideas about the handling and performance of the GT40 so what I was really interested in now was its ability to be used as a replacement for the E-type. I am not suggesting that either car is suitable for everyday motoring of the town-bred commuter, the parking enthusiast or the domestic man. I am fortunate in that practically all my motoring can he open-road type sports car motoring, so that considerations of number of seats, luggage space, tractability, parking ability, use by all members of the household and so forth do not enter into my life. One friend actually had the audacity to look at the Ford GT40 and say “What’s it like for parking in London?” I told him I wouldn’t want to take it to London, let alone park it there, and that I had it for motoring with a capital “M” not for parking (in fact this particular car is often driven in London by F.A.V. staff men on demonstration duties). Another friend who was taken for a “demo” said “not for me, but just what you want, as your motoring is competitive even if you are only going down to the village.” Two more friends who were given rides, one making a journey of over 40 Miles just for the opportunity, asked what were the snags. The only one I could think of at that moment was the limited luggage space, so I said that I could not even take a tooth-brush and pyjamas. Almost in unison they chorused “Who cares about sleeping in your clothes when you can motor in a car like that.” I mention these examples in passing as they indicate the reaction of motoring enthusiasts to what must be the most outstanding car on the road today. Another friend who is a scientist/engineer accompanied me on a fairly long and fast cross country trip and was absolutely staggered at the smooth ride and ability of the wheels to stay on the ground not only over undulations and round bumpy corners, but over long brows at 120m.p.h. or more and over short humps at half that speed. He knew all about the theories of low polar moments, central mass weight, seats at the C of G and so on, but had never had an opportunity to experience such things in practice. He smiled serenely in technical satisfaction. With an all-up weight of just under a ton, a power output of at least 335b.h.p., the straight-line performance does not need measuring, it must be impressive. The outstanding thing about the GT40 is not “what it does” but the “way that it does it.”

The seating position is very reclining, like a modern Grand Prix car, but so good is the visibility through the large raked screen with its pillars wrapped around the sides, that even in heavy traffic there are no problems. The windscreen pillars are cleverly placed so that the thickest part is on a radial line from the driver’s eye, which means that he is presented with the smallest possible obstruction to his vision, unlike some family cars that suffer from the widest section of the windscreen pillar being transverse to the radial sight line. The nose of the car falls away in front of you, containing as does only the radiator, with thermostatically controlled fan, spare wheel, steering gear and bulkhead for the front wishbone suspension. Sitting in the car gives no impression of how low it is because of this superb visibility and you wonder why people stand and stare and drivers ahead look anxiously into their mirrors. The steering wheel is vertical and at arms’ length so that you point the car rather than steer it, and there is more than enough room for the passenger, even when the driver boobs and gets a bit crossed-up! An inch or two from the steering wheel rim, on the right, is the very solid gearlever that controls the 5-speed ZF gearbox down at the very tail of the car. There is a purposeful wooden knob on the gearlever, with the letters GT on the top. Just above it is an “all-purpose” lever; up and down operates direction winkers, press and it blows the horns, move it left and it flashes the headlights, move it right (with the lights on) and it dips the headlights. There are all the usual instruments. including 8,000r.p.m. indicator in front of the driver, and 200m.p.h. (!) speedometer on the passenger side, while at each end of the instrument panel is a spherical air vent. Under the dash is a horizontal hand-brake looking suspiciously like a standard Anglia component. Between the seats is a padded bulkhead to keep the occupants apart under cornering forces and on this is an ashtray and a starter button.

Power comes from a pushrod 4.7-litre Ford V8 engine running on four double-choke downdraught Weber carburetters, with a Climax-type cross-over exhaust system feeding into a large silencer on top of the gearbox and with two large-diameter tail pipes sticking out of the tail like a pair of cannon. At tickover and low speeds the V8 engine sounds a bit like a tractor, but a touch of the accelerator pedal and the r.p.m. shoot up and everything goes smooth. For all normal purposes 5,000r.p.m. in the gears was adequate, while 5,500r.p.m. in top (25m.p.h. per 1,000r.p.m.) was reached on any old road. A short length of Motorway had 5,800r.p.m. showing with acceleration showing no sign of tailing off. There was no opportunity (Monday traffic) to reach 6,000 in top gear, but at anything over 5,000 the engine was impressively smooth. There were a number of occasions to settle down to some cruising on undulating open roads at 5,500 in 5th gear and at this speed everything was working with the sort of smoothness that convinced me that the GT40 would do this all day without any strain. Ford quotes a maximum of 6,250 r.p.m. at which 335 b.h.p. is claimed.

I have a very short list of desirable gearboxes, this part of a car being one of my essentials for enjoyable motoring, and on this list are things like Porsche 911 and Alfa Romeo. At the top of the list is now the ZF box of the GT40. Reverse and first are on the left, first being back towards you, second and third are in the centre and fourth and fifth across to the right, the movement across the gate being infinitesimal. There is a very clever and foolproof interlock mechanism that only allows two segments of the ” gate ” to be open at any one time. Thanks to this you can push the lever across from 1st to 2nd, or 3rd to 4th with no possibility of getting the wrong gear. Similarly when changing down you pull the lever diagonally across towards you from 4th to 3rd with no fear of going into 1st for bottom gear is not available until the lever goes into second gear and opens the interlock. The only drawback to this system is that if you do a crash-stop in 5th you cannot snick the lever into 2nd or 1st for getting away again, you must go down through the sequence, 4th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st. The movement of the lever is so small that you get used to this manoeuvre and you can do it quicker than you can say it. With gearbox ratios of 2.42, 1.47, 1.09, 0.96 and 0.85 the speed of the change can be easily envisaged and all ratios are synchronised. There is one little peculiarity about the GT40 as far as gearchanging is concerned and that is when you are driving quietly about the place (which isn’t often) and making leisurely changes with small throttle openings after each change. As the clutch bites there is the squeak of protesting tyres from behind you. The drive shafts to the independently sprung rear wheels, shod with 7.00 x 15in. Goodyear tyres, have large rubber “doughnut” universal joints at their inboard end. As you accelerate, even gently, they ” wind-up ” and a leisurely gearchange allows them to “unwind” just as the clutch takes up again, so you get a split second of wheel-lock and the wide Goodyears give a little squeak of protest. Driving the GT40 in the way that is meant, and the way that it really enjoys, this does not occur, for the fast gearchange and wide throttle openings do not allow time for any “unwind” on the doughnuts.

Acceleration, apart from sprint bikes and dragsters, now has a new meaning for me, for the GT40 is doing 100m.p.h. before you can say Barbara Castle, and it feels constant right up to 150m.p.h. I thought the E-type Jaguar had acceleration from 80-130m.p.h. but I now have to alter my sense of values, and the handling of Ford makes it all so safe. Known local bends that the Jaguar can accelerate round in the upper 80s were taken easily at 120 and still accelerating. One of my prerequisites for high-speed motoring is to have enough reserve of horsepower and torque at 100m.p.h. to be able to stamp on the accelerator and surge forward so that you are quickly past an impending change of road traffic conditions. I have put the Porsche 911 and 911S aside because they do not reach my requirements, as exemplified by the E-type, and I have felt the Jaguar to be adequate in this respect (here I am talking about a full day’s motoring on the Autostrada from Turin to Naples, not a blind up the M1). The Ford makes the Jaguar seem dull and woolly, even in the 5th gear, while you can do this “urge at 100 m.p.h.” test in 3rd or 4th if you want to, the estimated maxima being 127 and 142m.p.h.

Getting this sort of performance is no great problem these days, but getting it as safely, smoothly and confidently as the Ford GT40 does is a new conception of motoring, and it makes you really appreciate the modern racing car, for in all mechanical respects, as regards ride, suspension control, cornering power, steering and braking this road equipped GT40 was identical to the Group 4 racing versions. When you drive it fast over winding. undulating roads at speeds in excess of 110m.p.h. the suspension and shock-absorbers are working superbly; the engine is smooth, the steering light and unbelievably accurate, so that it is easy to see why so many racing drivers have rushed to get on the Ford payroll, it was obviously not money alone that attracted them. The steering characteristics at all normal fast speeds is essentially neutral, but on high speed corners, with low cornering forces, over exuberance is scrubbed out by understeer and a very gentlemanly characteristic of the front running out a little wide. On slow corners with a high cornering force being generated the rear end will slide, but is instantly corrected by the high-geared steering. The wide track and low centre of gravity make noticeable roll non-existent and the car remains well balanced and well mannered at all extremes, as Whitmore demonstrated very ably at Goodwood last year.

Fuel is carried in two sidetanks that run under the door sills and contain Goodyear Fuel Cells and hold 20 gallons between them. They are filled by enormous quick action fillers on each side just by the screen pillars; the average pump attendant seemed very suspicious of squirting the tiny nozzle of his Gilbarco pump into the gaping orifice, as though afraid a hand was going to come up the filler neck and grab the nozzle. On a measured 10 gallons of Esso Golden the Ford did 137 miles (13.7m.p.g.) driven hard, giving short sharp demonstration runs and on fast (a very relative term after a week with the GT40) open roads. I was not prepared to waste this week of glory on doing an economy run, but it would not be difficult to achieve 15m.p.g. and still not be overtaken, while a single Carter or Holley carburetter would no doubt give 18-20m.p.g. with E-type Jaguar performance.

During nearly 900 miles of ridiculously fast motoring I became so enamoured of the Ford driving position and road manners that I felt I was getting into a “vintage” car when I got back into the Jaguar. I have yet to find adjectives good enough to describe the way the GT40 motors about the place, and can only sum it up by saying that it is an entirely new conception of motoring. One that Grand Prix drivers and certain other racing.drivers have known for some time in racing circles, hut here it was in a usable road car. The mid-engine layout for a GT coupe is so obviously right from the performance, road holding and handling point of view, that it is now up to designers to think of ways of overcoming the little snags that come in its train when using the car for everyday motoring. With such a low roof line doors present a problem and though I was able to slide in and out easily, it is more difficult for the average-sized driver and almost impossible for the tall driver. Thinking on the lines of sliding or roll-top doors seems the obvious trend. Three-quarter rear vision is another problem, for those who worry about things behind them. At the moment this is overcome by sticking Les Leston-type “goody” mirrors on each side, but this seems too archaic for such an advanced vehicle as the GT40. Also the carrying of spare wheel in the nose should he a thing of the past and then you could use the space for luggage. Some form of inbuilt emergency castor or roller to get you to the next service station would seem suggested here. The great holes in the fibreglass body work for the fuel fillers, right on points of critical air-flow over the body must surely be a temporary measure, and the road dirt that is swirled up behind the car so that it covers the rear vertical surface, ‘including the lamps and number plate, is such that improvements will have to be made if the police force are going to remain calm.

At the moment the GT40 is such an unknown quantity to the world at large that it generates respect and admiration at all times. It was truly amazing how often drivers in front would look in their mirrors and give a couple of flashes on the left-hand winker to say they were ready to be overtaken (a practice used widely on the Continent, and which I am pleased to see is gaining use over here). The E-type Jaguar, with its distinctive front aided by excellent publicity has instilled this sort of respect in the average motorist, but the GT40 made it almost embarrassing at times. To wave pedestrians over crossings, or drivers of ordinary cars in front of you at intersections, through the steeply-raked Ford windscreen was to generate confusion and incredulity. It was not so long ago that Cisitalia staggered the sporting world with their 1,100-c.c. coupe that was only 49 inches high. The 4,700-c.c. Ford GT40 is 40 1/2 inches high. This, I feel, is progress, as is the fact that you can now travel the Mulsanne straight in a production that car that would not be embarrassed by the traffic in Le Mans or Tours, at speeds in excess of the maximum of the Le Mans winning cars of 1952/53. After driving the GT40 about on the ordinary roads it is not difficult to visualise cruising the Mulsanne straight at 190m.p.h. in a few years’ time.

Some people have described the GT40 as a crude American monster doing everything by brute force and lacking the sophistication and engineering of a European car. These people have never looked closely at a GT40, for it would be difficult to find anything less American or less crude. The only “iron” thing about it is the basic block and heads of the Detroit-built V8 engine, for the rest it is pure Grand Prix and the detail workmanship and mechanical finish is such that R.A.C. Scrutineers enthuse over it. The chassis is of sheet steel .024 inches thick and welded into a semi-monocoque structure including the central part of the roof. The nose piece is a single hinged panel of reinforced fibreglass, as are the doors, which form part of the roof, and the hinged tail section.

When the Ford empire set up its small specialised factory at Slough and called it Ford Advanced Vehicles I thought it was a bit of a joke. After a week of motoring in a GT40 I can now appreciate that not only have they produced an Advanced Vehicle, but it is here with us today and is a new conception in GT motoring that must soon become common-place. Ferrari and Lamborghini are still experimenting with the conception, while Lola is starting again, and Lotus are turning to it, but Ford are now well advanced, as the name board outside the factory in Banbury Avenue, Slough, Buckinghamshire, tells us. The selling price of a road-equipped GT40 is £5,900 plus £1,353 purchase tax (total £7,253) which is just over three-and-a-half E-type Jaguars! Is it worth that much? If you have the money to buy a new conception in road motoring you will not be disappointed; if a Jaguar, Ferrari or Aston Martin satisfy you then the unbelievable qualities of a Ford GT40 will probably be beyond your appreciation. In the publicity material John Wyer says the engine of the GT40 is detuned for road use, but “will give a more than average performance”—the understatement of the year, I feel.—D.S.J.