Veteran to Classic - Ford GTD 40 MkII

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Ersatz Character

I must confess I am confused. Do they offend, or are they an acceptable substitute? Should one turn one’s nose up at them, or is that an unreasonably snobbish attitude? Do they devalue the real thing or does their existence heighten the awareness of the real McCoy? In case you have not guessed, I am referring to replicas.

Of all the different variations there are in the classic/historic car world, replicas seem the most straightforward and honest — as long as they don’t pretend to be the real thing. I can live quite easily with DSJ’s definitions as elaborated in the pages of MOTOR SPORT over the years as well as in his book The Directory of Historic Racing Cars which was referred to by Mr Justice Otton in the case of Hubbard v Middlebridge Scimitar Ltd. ‘Original’, `Genuine’, `Authentic’, ‘Resurrection’, ‘Facsimile’, ‘Special’, and Duplication’, the various headings by which a car can be judged depending on its condition at any given time.

Furthest away from ‘Original’ is ‘Replica’ by which is meant that the car in question is a copy of another by the same manufacturer but the date of manufacture is irrelevant. The danger is when the replica, perhaps originally made as such in good faith, assumes the identity of the original as time passes, particularly if both original’ and ‘replica’ disappear from the public eye — and there have been some controversial cases of that happening in the last few years.

I expect my confusion would be summarily dismissed by Ray Christopher of GT Developments, who would point out that his company is recognised by the SMMT as a manufacturer in its own rights, having recently been admitted membership of the SMMT Specialist Car Manufacturers Group, and as such is not the constructor of fakes and replicas.

As so often in the past, the project started life as no more than as a hobby, a desire to own his dream car, but the cost of the original, coupled with the unavailability, led Ray Christopher to produce his own version. The model in question was the Ford GT40.

“The original idea was to build just one car, but we soon found out that it was not that straightforward.” He quickly realised, as many before him have done, that there are several decisions which have to be made en-route to producing a copy of your dream car. Just how far do you go in the quest of keeping the car as close to the original as possible? Do you retain designs that were proved to be incorrect or do you improve them? Do you keep true to the original’s contemporary technology or do you replace it with modern products? When, in fact, does a replica cease to be a replica and take on its own identity?

Christopher had decided in the construction of his replica that while it had to look like a GT40, it had to be as well engineered as possible, incorporating lessons learnt since the manufacture of the originals. “It’s pointless going back to the old technology, although there’s nothing wrong with it except that it is out of date. I wanted to upgrade the car and make it compatible with the Eighties.”

While purists might grimace at the audacity of this statement, Christopher at least had the sense to consult two characters involved with the original project to get their thoughts on how the car would have evolved had it continued in production. “Eric Broadley and Len Bailey were consulted about the project, and we specifically asked them on their thoughts on the car’s development had it continued in production,” states Christopher.

The drawings were commenced in 1980 at which stage he decided that his car was going to be more road compatible than tuned for the track. Although he had designs on competing in it, it was road use he basically had in mind, and so he biased it that way.

By now, though, the word was spreading that some chap in Poole, already involved in the construction of special vehicles for film companies, was in the early stages of making a replica. As the word spread, Christopher received one or two tentative enquiries. It was almost certain that he was not alone in lusting after a GT40, perhaps there might be some kind of a market for it.

If this was the case, and there was the basis for a limited production run, then more decisions would have to be made. Should he proceed with the heavy steel monocoque of the original? “I talked to Eric Broadley and he advised against it, stating that they were only meant to last a couple of seasons. So we made a spaceframe which, unless you know otherwise, looks like a monocoque. It has exactly the same dimensions, but is easier to build and repair.”

What about other modifications? “The suspension has exactly the same geometry as the original, but we have taken out some of the anti-dive because it wasn’t necessary for a road car, and I have replaced the hemispherical joint system with a 900 pound radial bush because on the original everything rattled and banged and wore out very quickly and I couldn’t envisage an owner changing rose joints every nine months. Although it’s quite good racewise, it’s better for the road car as it actually adds to the ride by taking up the shock factor.” The remainder of the chassis and suspension is identical to the original Mark II.

Perforce there are a number of mechanical changes. Although the 5-litre and 7-litre Ford engines are built for competition purposes, they are generally destined for racing boats. “They are good old torquey units. The casting on them is slightly thicker than normal to stop the distortion factor when they are dropped into a boat and opened up to maximum revs while the bottom end is also beefed up.

The engines arrive direct from Dearborn and all GTD do is wire them in and fire them up. For those who want more horsepower than the 250 of the 302 cu in and the 380 bhp of the 427 cu in, GTD can dial it in, but they find that the majority of their customers want to stick to the stock engine which is driveable in both town and on the open road. Unlike the engines due in a year or two, these Holley carburettored V8 lumps are ungreen, unsophisticated — and more in keeping with the cars’ character. More state-of-the-art, green V8s with an engine management system are due on the cars in 1992/93 which will be more environmentally friendly. At present the Renault Alpine gearbox is used on the understanding that the French company receive what Ray Christopher calls a “readback” on the development work with the transmission and the power they are putting through it.

Having produced over 260 Mark Is, thereby beating Ford’s original production run, GT Developments is now turning its attention to the Mark II, the model which won at Le Mans 25 years ago and which we had the chance of driving for a few days before Christmas.

Even if it is a modern car in construction, the machine still oozed with charisma, its feline poise overcoming any inhibitions about it not being the real thing.

It has been some years since we had sat in the original item and despite the addition of a trimmed fascia, leather upholstery, carpets and heater, it was the guillotine-style doors which shut over one’s head that triggered the memory of these cars as one’s hair got trapped. Getting into the car in the first place is a knack, and one where plenty of space is required as the doors need to open wide for egress and entry.

The car itself had already been warmed up and at 5.30 on the afternoon of my visit, I was told it was all mine. In complete darkness I got in and, the interior lacking any courtesy light, fumbled for the switches and controls before gingerly setting off from the industrial estate where GTD is situated feeling very nervous about the whole affair. The most confusing aspect was not so much that the gear lever was situated on the right hand side, but the fact that the ratios were the wrong way round. First gear was where second should be and third gear where fourth should be. This presented no real problem once I had become attuned to it, but while the car was new to me, or when driving rapidly, I found I had to think consciously about where to shove the gear lever. I was pleased with myself by the time it came to hand to car back, for I had only changed into the wrong slot once, and that was at a slow speed, although there had been one occasion, when approaching the end of a motorway, that I had almost changed down from a high speed fifth into third — managing to jerk the lever into the right slot at the last moment. It also took a good deal of time to get used to the pedals which were offset to the left, in fact so offset that the throttle pedal was to the left of the steering column! This entailed assuming an offset driving position, but the trouble was that the seat was not offset so I found myself straddling it slightly.

While the 5-litre car I was driving had a 150 mph capability and could accelerate to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds, the chances of using that performance on the open road were limited. To start with, the car needed at least 3000 revs before it would perform properly and it was such an attention-puller, that it would have smacked of showing off if one stormed away from the lights. On the other hand, so limited was the rear vision, the air filter takes up all the view in the interior mirror and the two wing mirrors are pretty ineffective, that one simply was unable to tell what was following — and the fact that I didn’t know you were following me, officer, is hardly an excuse in court.

Although the car displayed no bad temperament about being driven around town, it was, in fact, purgatory, the low height and lack of clear rear three-quarter vision ensuring that traffic queues were carefully followed. This was not the car to dart in and out of the congestion, the heavy single plate GT Developments clutch not helping.

It was therefore most pleasant to drive the car on good A and B roads. Unlike the original racing cars, this car was most tradable and lacked any signs of nervousness, even when tearing down a slightly bumpy leafy lane. By rights one should have been catapulted from one side of the road to the other, but Christopher’s revised suspension system, allied to the 265/50 VR 15 BF Goodrichs on the rear and 215/60 VR 15s on the front, worked efficiently.

GT Developments take great pride in manufacturing their own gauges which are based on the original, but the two I found most useful were the ones showing the contents of the fuel tanks. There is one for the left hand tank and another for the right hand side. When the fuel gauge on the right showed empty, I flicked a switch and began to feed off the left hand side, but when that showed a quarter fall, the engine began to stall when cornering and then it was not long before the power faded altogether. I switched back to the other side and made my way to a garage. On the right hand side, where the fuel gauge actually indicated empty, I was able to put in 29 litres and on the left hand side, where the fuel gauge registered just under a quarter, I put in 31 litres.

Despite this, and the other niggles however, I was genuinely sorry to return the car to GT Developments. True, it wasn’t a real GT40, but it looked like one and sounded like one, and it gave me the chance to dream about Le Mans 25 years ago. And if it had been vice-free it would have lacked even an ersatz character. Priced at £47,000 it is competitively priced for what it is, a figure that is affordable to many in Australia, Japan, the USA and Europe, where many owners of real GT4Os have become customers obviously wanting to enjoy GT40 motoring without risking the real thing.

GT Developments is clearly onto a good thing. They have other projects in the wings, including not only the possibility of doing a Lola T70 replica, but also coming up with a sports car of their own design. Ray Christopher has already made one dream come true for himself and many others; he is now intending to spread his net. WPK