Ford's American evolution: the road to its Le Mans victories

Ford's path to Le Mans victory was by no means predictable.

David Hobbs / Richard Attwood, Lola Cars, Lola Mk6 GT-Ford, leads Jack Sears / Mike Salmon, Maranello Concessionaires, Ferrari 330LMB at 1963 Le Mans

Broadley's Lola GT was the GT40's starting point

Motorsport Images

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

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

1962:

Henry Ford II decides he wants a Le Mans win.

1963:

Attempt to buy Ferrari outright falls at 11th hour: Ford begins to plan Its own car, and creates Ford Advanced Vehicles In UK. Eric Broadley comes on board as designer. and Ford buys two of his three Lola MkVI GTs. This monocoque project with mid-mounted Ford V8 will be the starting point for the new Ford GT. Body design and aerodynamics to be developed at Dearborn, USA. the monocoque at FAV in Slough.

1964:

April: GT40 revealed to public. Engine is dry-sumped alloy-block 4.2-litre lightweight derivative of the Fairlane unit.

At Le Mans tests Jo Schlesser writes off prototype due to severe high-speed instability. Tail spoiler added, nose deepened for Nürburgring 1000Km. but car retires when suspension mounts fail.

June: three GT4Os enter Le Mans: all retire, though Richie Ginther leads early on and Phil Hill breaks lap record. Leo Beebe installed to oversee project, with more control from Ford management in USA. Development duties are switched to Shelby American in USA; construction remains at Slough. Ford sets up Kar Kraft in USA. effectively its own build/prep shop, which starts design of next project, the composite-chassis J-car.

Tougher wet-sump iron-block 4.7-litre units fitted for Reims race: three more retirements with differing transmission problems. Shelby adapts two chassis for 7-litre Galaxle engine. Season closes with more DNFs at Nassau, making a 100 per cent failure record.

1964 Nurburgring 1000 Kms Nurburgring, Germany. 31st May 1964 The Ford GT40 (on its race debut) of Phil Hill and Bruce McLaren is worked on in the pits.

GT40’s debut at Nurburgring 1000Km; note deeper nose tail spoiler

Motorsport Images

1965:

Wider tyres. 4.7-litre engines now standard, improved cooling, new quick-change brakes and Hallibrand alloys. FAV and Shelby developing cars in parallel; FAV also builds three open-topped roadsters.

First victory, at Daytona, then a second place at Sebring. FAV roadster crashes out of Targa Florio. Three GTs and one roadster contest Nürburgring 1000Km: three break, one is eighth.

Shelby tests 7-litre MkII: top speed reaches 210mph and Dearborn insists two are entered for Le Mans, along with one FAV and two private GT40s; all five retire. In the wake of this debacle, the programme is on a knife-edge: victory in 1966 or immediate cancellation. Emergency meeting of senior team members agrees that reliability is the keynote: with no time to design a lighter chassis or a new engine, they will rely on sheer speed of 7-litre cars along Mulsanne.

Preparation to be shared between Shelby American and Holman-Moody in the US. and Alan Mann in UK. Mann builds two lightweight GT4Os. making a third parallel development string. FAV begins production run of 50 road cars to qualify GT40 in Gp4. Shelby develops lighter. dry-sump 427 giving 485bhp.

Le Mans, France. 19th - 20th June 1965 Maurice Trintignant/Guy Ligier (Ford GT40 spyder), retired, leads Claude Dubois/Jean-Francois Piot (Triumph Spitfire), 14th position, action.

FAV built three roadsters which had no discernible advantage over coupés

Motorsport Images

1966:

Definitive MkII shape settled. with deep nose, higher tail and extra rear airscoops. Mklls finish 1-2-3-5 in Daytona 24 Hours: at Sebring a one-off 7-litre roadster wins ahead of a MkII, and a GT40.

First tests of J-car, with composite monocoque and auto transmission. Alan Mann team supplied with Mklls. Ford’s Le Mans squad of eight Mklls and six GT4Os. against 14 Ferraris. Finally brings victory — though there’s controversy about which MkII actually covered the greatest distance. Henry Ford II dissatisfied that winning drivers Chris Amon and Bruce McLaren are not American. and car is arguably British in origin, though prepared by Shelby. Nevertheless. a Ford 1-2-3 (and the championship) justifies the project’s huge budget. But the teams are stunned when Ken Miles, Ford’s main development driver and a crucial link in sorting the cars, is later killed testing a J-car.

1967:

Alan Mann ‘deselected’ as entrant: John Willment and John Wyer form JW Automotive to continue developing the lighter 4.7-litre cars and create a road car, the MkIII. JWA, now with Gulf Oil backing, also builds slightly lighter, sleeker, narrow-roof GT40, called Mirage M1.

J-car’s unusual bodyshape replaced by all-new profile, with immediate gains in speed and handling: from now on this is labelled MkIV. Holman Moody builds MkIlB, with normal doors (no roof cut-out) and spare wheel moved from nose to Le Mans ‘luggage’ slot in tail. MkIV and IIB are first and second at Sebring. MkIVs touch 205mph at Le Mans trials in April: Mirages notably faster than the other GT4Os. JWA wins at Spa with 5.7-litre Mirage M1

David Piper / Dick Thompson in the John Wyer Automotive Engineering, Mirage Mk1-Ford, Le Mans 1967.

The JWA Mirage boasted a narrow roof and smoother curves

Motorsport Images

For Le Mans the Ford steamroller comprises four MkIVs. three MkIlBs. three GT4Os and two Mirages. The Fords are fastest, but closely pursued by Chaparral 2Fs and Ferrari P4s: eventually only two Fords are still running, but the two MkIVs cross the line first and fourth. Ford has at last won Le Mans with an American crew (Dan Gurney /AJ Foyt) in an American-designed car, at a record speed and even steals the Index of Thermal Efficiency from the French at 6mpg. Henry Ford II’s ambition is satisfied; official Ford GT programme ends immediately. Privateer teams aim to continue.

Bruce McLaren/Mario Andretti (Ford GT40 Mk4) leads 1967 Sebring 12 hours.

Composite-chassis MkIV was very different, with a longer, sleeker body

Motorsport Images

1968:

To keep speeds down. CSI restricts Gp4 sportscars to five litres: as Ford has built over 50 GT4Os and developed them into reliable race cars these are now competitive again, with bigger brakes and wider tyres. Ferrari withdraws from sportscar racing for the season. JWA refits GT40 bodies to its Mirages to qualify in Gp4 instead of 3-litre prototype class, and enlarges blocks to 4 992cc. One car takes pole at Daytona (Jacky Ickx), and breaks the MkIV’s lap record. After a series of failures. JWA wins Brands Hatch 1000km. JWA Ford quickest at Le Mans trials. beating Porsche’s new 908, then wins at Monza and Spa, plus a 1-2 at Watkins Glen. Le Mans, delayed to September by French elections, becomes the title-decider: JWA wins at the Sarthe and clinches sportscar title: it’s the first Le Mans win for a GT40, though, helped by many privateer entries, the ageing model wins 51 other races this year.

Pedro Rodriguez / Lucien Bianchi in the J. W. Automotive Engineering Lt, Ford GT40 at le Mans 1968

Reborn GT40 of ’68-69 had wider tyres and arches

Motorsport Images

1969:

Porsche bodyswerves the regs by building 25 of its new 917 prototype, allowing it to use 5-litre power. JWA’s new BRM-powered Mirage M2 is not ready, so team resort to the obsolete GT40: Ickx /Jackie Oliver win at Sebring in 1968 LM winner. chassis 1075. now with 480bhp. For Le Mans JWA enters two GT4Os which look like dinosaurs against the 230mph 917s. But the new Porsches suffer a series of breakages. and JWA cars move up the list until, by mid-morning, Oliver leads. lckx takes over and for two hours plays cat-and-mouse with Hans Herrmann’s Porsche 908. He wins by yards in closest LM finish ever: Ford’s fourth consecutive win. and the second win for 1075. Thus Ford’s GT programme finally comes to an overdue end with a sensational swansong victory.

Related articles

Related products