Rejuvenating GT40s

Author

Clive Richardson

View profile
Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

An ex-J.W.A. mechanic secures the future of these covetable Fords.

Production of the Ford GT40 ceased in the late 1960s, by which time this successful sports/racing car had established itself as a classic in its time, an appreciating collector’s item for the future. It epitomised the ’60s much as sporting machines such as the 4½-litre Bentley and the Jaguar D-type characterised their respective eras. But wait! Production ceased? A product of the ’60s? Not strictly so! Down in Danvers Street, Chelsea, a stone’s throw from the Kings Road, Mecca for “trendies” in the Beatles age which GT40 production paralleled, a brand new GT40 is taking shape in 1975. And, alongside, a second new GT40 chassis awaits attention. Not replicas, not motorised caricatures, but the genuine thing.

No, John Wyer has not decided that the 1976 Le Mans regulations favour a fifth GT40 victory (GT40s or their derivatives won in 1966, ’67, ’68 and ’69). These new cars are the product of John Etheridge, who was in on the GT40 story from the beginning, working for Wyer, Eric Broadley, Roy Lunn, Len Bailey and company after the formation of Ford Advanced Vehicles in 1963/1964. Fresh from an apprenticeship at Aston Martin, where he’d finished up on engine testing with Jack Sopp and met the then Aston Martin Team Manager Wyer, Etheridge earned his spurs preparing and developing GT40s. Le Mans, Daytona, Sebring, Nurburgring, he did the rounds as a GT40 race mechanic for J.W. Automotive, with spells on loan to customers under a support programme, a scheme which took him to South Africa maintaining the car he’d built for Peter Sutcliffe. He remembers building the two open GT40 development cars in 1965 and one of the three Gulf-Mirages—two of which were reconverted to GT40s later —amongst the many interesting landmarks in his Slough-based career.

Etheridge left J.W. Automotive in 1968, shortly before the Gulf/J.W.A. Le Mans victory, to start his own business. Today his John Etheridge Engineering Ltd. is offering a unique spares and preparation service for fortunate GT40 owners, putting to use expertise gained at first-hand with the models in their racing hey-day. So long as owners of the 70 or so GT40s still extant refrain from bending their irreplaceable chassis, the Danvers Street workshop can practically guarantee to keep them on the road—or circuit. Etheridge holds all the J.W. Automotive spares, selling them as agent for Wyer. Whatever is missing from the parts shelves he either reconditions, fabricates himself or commissions their reproduction. If “irreplaceable chassis” seems incompatible with the building of new GT40s, this is because the 1975 cars are being constructed out of new parts upon two of possibly only three new chassis remaining. Without doubt they will be the last GT40s to be built, for Abbey Panels Ltd., who built all the complex, sheet-steel, semi-monocoque hulls, have long since disposed of the jigs.

GT40 history is astonishingly complicated, encompassing numerous derivatives and construction by three separate licensees: Ford Advanced Vehicles (including J.W.A.), Shelby-American and Alan Mann Racing. Types varied from the original sharp-nosed version, through the short, definitive-type nose derivative (both the foregoing Mark 1, for the sake of argument, with small-block engines of various capacities), the 7-litre Mark 2, the “luxury” Mark 3 road car with longer front and rear bodywork and the totally different J-type and its development, the Mark 4, both with honeycomb-aluminium chassis in place of the sheet-steel structure of the other models. To the man-in-the-street “the GT40” is likely to be the short-nosed Mark 1, by far the most numerous of the marque, including as it did some 24 road-going versions built in Slough. It is this model in particular to which Etheridge is administering, forming as it did the mainstay of J.W.A. activities, racing and road-going, the other models, apart from the two prototype and five production Slough-built Mark 3s, being Shelby territory.

Etheridge is able to offer to order all the unstressed glassfibre body panels—the complete nose, bonnet, doors, sill shrouds and the massive tail section—authentic in every detail, made in the original moulds. Customers for these panels so far have requested the thicker section road-car specification, but there is no reason why they should not be produced in race-gauge glassfibre. Screens and Perspex side windows, racing or road, and all the necessary front and rear lighting equipment is available to complete the exterior package.

Apart from the very early Mark Is and the road cars, which ran on Borrani wire wheels, GT40s ran on BRM magnesium wheels. Unfortunately these are susceptible to both apparent external deterioration and invisible fatigue and one of Etheridge’s main tasks has been to originate suitable replacement wheels. GKN have produced for him suitable five-spoke (the BRM wheels had six spokes) aluminium wheel castings, former racing driver/constructor Mark Konig’s new machine shop machines them and the result so far has been some very satisfied GT40 owners. They look like being as popular with road car owners who prefer their aesthetics to wires, as with those whose racing magnesium wheels desperately need replacing. In fact it would be possible to have authentic magnesium wheels re-manufactured, but apart from long-term reliability and maintenance problems there would be the short-term hazard of a bill for well over £200 each; the aluminium replacements are considerably less for the 8½-in. wide fronts and 10-in. or 11-in. rears. Ten-inch fronts and rears up to 14-in. width are in the offing.

Another non-original Etheridge part essential to GT40 well-being is his new aluminium fuel tank kit. Originally the cars had a rubber bag-tank in each sill; with age most have deteriorated badly, but a more apparent deficiency is that the fuel tends to coagulate in them, blocking outlets, when the cars are left standing for some time, as most of these almost priceless museum pieces now tend to be. The Etheridge tanks, each of 10 gallons made for him by Grand Prix Metalcraft, slip unobtrusively in their place, packed in either ordinary foam or the expanding polyurethane foam, pumped in as a liquid, used in deformable structures.

One of the more unexpected GT40 problems Etheridge revealed to me was rust. In the interests of lightness the thin-gauge sheet-steel hulls were never protected adequately, with the result that many of the marque, particularly road cars, are rotting badly in the sill and under-chassis regions, where damp has been trapped. The only cure is to strip the car and have the chassis plated, a job which Grand Prix Metalcraft carry out for Etheridge. The new car gradually taking shape exemplified most of the other GT40 parts availability. All the suspension and steering components, including magnesium uprights (some interchangeable aluminium Mark 3 uprights are kept too) are from new stock, with the exception of Armstrong or Koni dampers; new ones are no longer obtainable so old ones are reconditioned. The front-mounted, Serck oil cooler came “off the shelf”, but an exact copy of the unobtainable original water radiator had to be made up “by a little man round the corner”.

Smiths have provided authentic instrumentation and the vented, hammock seats are being made as original. The pedal box was from stock, as were most other bits and pieces such as alloy fuel caps and radiator piping. Solid brake discs are fitted as per the very early racers and all the road cars, with very soft pads; the later ventilated discs, though stocked, are considered undesirable for the conditions under which this pure road car will be used. The V8 engine will be a Ford 289 cu in. (4.7-litre) high performance unit fitted with a four-barrel Holley carburetter, basically similar to that fitted in the Mark 3, and drive will be through a suitably ratioed five-speed ZF gearbox. Etheridge reckons the complete car will have cost its eagerly awaiting owner some £12,000 when complete, probably cheaper than buying an old one without a history.

Hidden away behind a Rolls-Royce hire business, John Etheridge Engineering Ltd. is a haven for many an exotic, London-based road car, Ferrari Daytonas, Dinos, Aston Martins and the like receiving skilled attention from John and his staff, including Noel Appleton, another former J.W.A. race mechanic. They appear bread-and-butter cars in this GT40 oasis, but perforce are Etheridge’s main income. Indeed anything, even GT40s, look run-of-the-mill alongside Jack Le Fort’s delectable Lola T70, in for an engine and gearbox rebuild. Now that really is a collector’s piece.—C.R.

Related articles

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consetetur sadipscing elitr, sed diam nonumy eirmod tempor invidunt ut labore et dolore

Related products

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consetetur sadipscing elitr, sed diam nonumy eirmod tempor invidunt ut labore et dolore