The Ford GT 40

When Eric Broadley produced his Lola coupé at the Racing Car Show at the beginning of 1963 there was no inkling then of what it was going to lead to. It is now a matter of history that the Ford Motor Company, having failed to buy the Ferrari firm “lock, stock and vee 12-cylinder barrels,” shopped around for another likely basis on which to start building up a GT Prototype racing programme with the main intention of winning the 24-hour race at Le Mans. The object of this move was to short-cut their way to success by buying “experience” rather than earning it the hard way, like everyone else. The Lola coupé looked a likely proposition, in fact it was one of the most advanced and exciting cars produced in recent times, and the mighty Ford Empire bought the Lola and Broadley and his men. A new factory was built on the Slough Trading Estate, to the West of London, and the firm of Ford Advanced Vehicles Ltd. was established as an English base from which to operate in European racing. Broadley was retained for 1964 and John Wyer was in charge, while there was close co-operation with the Dearborn experimental department, although at times it would have been best to have left the job to Broadley.

Using the prototype Lola coupé, with Ford V8 engine and Colotti gearbox, as a basis, the Ford GT coupé was evolved, although to be more accurate it was a Lola-Ford GT coupé, for Broadley had his own staff with him, and the cars were made and built in England by British craftsmen and mechanics. Altogether some twelve experimental cars were built, of which two were open versions, but they were all basically to the original design, Ford supplying the money and engines. All of these experimental cars were kept within the Ford Empire, two going to Carroll Shelby, whose Shelby Cobra organisation was working closely with Ford Advanced Concepts at Dearborn, while another went to Ford’s own Experimental department, for testing and evaluation. Two were destroyed in crashes while testing, and another has been a “works hack,” suffering all manner of experimental alterations.

During 1964 Ford entered GT Prototype racing with a singular lack of success, and bearing in mind the potential of the original Lola coupé which Broadley ran at Le Mans in 1963, driven by Hobbs and Attwood, it seemed that they had redesigned the prototype and improved it to such an extent that it had less potential than when it started. After many trials and tribulations the Ford GT Prototype looked as though it was going to challenge Ferrari’s supremacy in this category of racing, and it was the first car that we had seen for some years that was able to keep up with the works Ferraris. Knowing the money and effort that was going into this GT project in various organisations all supported by Dearborn, it looked as though they might be very successful in 1965. The Slough factory was still doing development and experimental work, though Broadley had now left and re-formed his Lola Cars firm, making sports cars and Formula Two cars, so that Wyer was in charge of F.A.V. and in California the Shelby organisation was making strides in turning the GT 40 into a raceable proposition, rather than an experimental car. In addition Ford France were given a car to run in races, thus swelling the number of Ford entries. With Broadley and all Lola design influence gone from the Slough factory one was justified in referring to the cars purely as Ford GT Prototypes, although there were three separate teams running them, and an indication of the lack of a concerted effort could be seen in the fact that they appeared to be three separate entities, the Slough cars being painted pale green, the Shelby cars blue with white stripes, and the Ford France car was left in the original colours of white with blue stripes. Nor was there any continuity over such things as wheels and tyres, some using wire wheels, others using alloy wheels, some being on Goodyear tyres, others being on Dunlop tyres. Presumably all the results of these variations were collected and compiled to provide useful data, but I should have thought that this could have been done in pre-race testing.

With Ferrari producing his new P.2 car for 1965, with 4 o.h.c. V12 engine, the old push-rod Ford V8 engines, developed from the Fairlane looked a bit agricultural and lacking in power. It was reasonable to suppose that a test car would appear at Le Mans for the practice weekend fitted with an Indianapolis Ford V8 engine, the 4 o.h.c. fuel-injected racing engine, if only to worry Ferrari, but the only cars to turn up were fitted with very ordinary push-rod engines. For the race the Shelby team arrived with two GT 40 coupés fitted with 7-litre Galaxie engines, but while very fast they were also very heavy on fuel and destroyed themselves very early in the race. The other Ford entries were the 4.7-litre versions, though 5.3-litre engines were tried in practice, but the whole effort was a disaster for various mechanical reasons not necessarily connected with the basic design of the car. Le Mans was a costly effort, for in the garage in the town were ten Ford-engined cars and when it was suggested that they represented £100,000 the Ford people laughed.

With the new F.I.A. rules coming into force next January, in which there will be three categories of GT racing, Ford decided to go into limited production with the GT 40 coupé. The new classes for GT racing are (a) one-off Prototypes (6) Competition GT cars, of which 50 must have been built within 12 consecutive months, and (c) GT cars, of which 1,000 must have been built within 12 months. The Ford project is to build 50 by the end of the year and thus get Homologated in category (b). As a result of knowledge gained through racing and testing, a finalised design has been settled upon and a production line is already well under way at Slough, the first few cars having been delivered, while at the time of a recent visit another seven were in various stages of assembly. The aim is to produce two a week until the end of the year, which should not be beyond the bounds of possibility. From the experimental cars the production ones differ in a few ways, such as the use of a 5-speed Z.F. gearbox built in Germany, the adoption of the wet-sump 4.7-litre Ford V8 engine as used in the Shelby Cobras, and a longer and smoother nose cowling, which has entailed a different sub-frame of square-section tubing ahead of the main bulkhead, and this also permits the carrying of a larger spare wheel and tyre.

The main body/chassis unit is fabricated from sheet steel and is of welded construction, this unit starting just behind the front wheels and finishing just ahead of the rear wheels, the majority of the weight being within the wheel base; only the radiators being forward and the gearbox being to rear beyond the axle centre-lines. This steel chassis/body unit is made by Abbey Panels Ltd, of Coventry and it arrives at Slough in a bare and unpainted form. Front and rear sub-frames are fitted, for carrying body panels etc. and the unit then goes to Harold Radford Ltd., where the fibreglass doors, rear engine-hatch which forms the complete tail, and front nosepiece, which is a single moulding, are cut-and-shut to fit the chassis/body unit, these panels then being marked and retained for the car in question. The fibreglass components are made by Glass Fibre Engineering, of Farnham, Surrey and delivered to Slough in the bare unpainted state. When the chassis/body unit is returned from Radfords the factory at Slough then assembles all the suspension parts, steering, wiring, engine, gearbox and so on and the nearly completed car then goes back to Radfords for final trimming of the interior, seats, glass and so on, the final car being painted in the particular colour required by the customer. Borrani wire wheels and Goodyear tyres are fitted as standard, but Halibrand alloy wheels are an optional extra and other makes of tyre can be supplied on request.

The 4.7-litre Ford engine comes from America as a bare unit and at Slough are fitted the four double-choke downdraught Weber carburetters, modified valve covers, alternator and exhaust manifolding and pipes. The engine is rated at 380 b.h.p. at 6,500 r.p.m. with a maximum torque of 330 lb./ft. at 5,500 r.p.m. The total weight of the car is 2,000 lb. (17.85 cwt.) and to stop all this from anything up to 180 m.p.h. there are 11 1/2 in. Girling Disc brakes on each wheel.

Realising that there are not 50 drivers in GT racing capable of handling a GT 40 coupe, let alone so that are prepared to buy such a car, part of the production will be turned out in detuned form as a fully equipped road car. A single 4-choke Holley carburetter will be used instead of the Webers, large silencers and more legal exhaust systems will be fitted and the cockpit will be more lavishly trimmed with numerous home-comforts and a great deal of sound deadening knowledge applied. It is anticipated that about 20 such versions will be built, and they should become prized acquisitions. The price of the complete car ready to race, or fully fitted out for road use will be £5,200, plus £1,300 purchase tax in this country. At a total of £6,500 it becomes an expensive toy, but what an exciting one, and surely the most advanced and fastest GT car, when it is homologated, unless Ferrari nips in with a production P.2. and gets it homologated.–D. S. J.

Ford GT 40 Specification

Engine: Ford V8, 101.6 x 72.9 mm. (4,736 c.c.), push rod o.h.v. Compression ration 10:1
Gearbox: Z.F. 5-speed and reverse. Final drive 4.22:1 or 3.33:1.
Wheels and Tyres: Borrani wire spoke, alloy rim with 5.50 x 15 in. front and 7.00 x 15 in. rear, Goodyear.
Steering: Rack and Pinion.
Wheelbase: 7 ft. 11 in.
Track: 4 ft. 7 in.
Dimensions: 3 ft. 4 1/2 in. high x 5 ft. 10 in. wide.
Brakes: Girling Disc 11 1/2 in. diameter.
Chassis/Body: Welded steel sheet semi-monocoque. Fibreglass doors and front and rear hinged sections.
Electrical System: 12 volt transistorised ignition. 57 amp hour battery.
Suspension: Double wishbones and coil spring/damper units, front. Lower wishbones, top transverse links, double radius arms and coil spring/damper units, rear.