The 1960s were exciting times for the Ford Motor Company. Fuel prices were low which meant good sales, the iconic Ford Mustang was introduced in 1964 and Ford became a force to be reckoned with in the world of car racing. Ford has historically been known as a world-class car manufacturer of mass-market cars and SUVs. In 1966 Ford changed this with the introduction of the legendary Ford GT40. What made the Ford GT40 so successful? We are going to tell you all about this brilliant car! Here goes the story…
At the beginning of the 1960s, Ford had already been established as the brand synonymous with making very good mass-market cars. Ford at the time was not known for its performance cars, race program. Ford was very keen on making a mark in the world of car racing. On receiving word that Italian powerhouse Ferrari was looking to sell, Ford initiated a conversation with Ferrari to acquire them. After months of negotiation Ford and Ferrari seemed to have reached a mutual agreement for the deal. The deal was called off by automotive legend and the owner of Ferrari, Enzo Ferrari when he learned that he would have to give up the management and day to day operations of his beloved race team Scuderia Ferrari to Ford. A heated argument and many insults later the seeds of the famous Ford and Ferrari argument were sowed. After the embarrassment received at the hands of Ferrari, the president of Ford Motor Company Henry Ford II wanted to get back at Ferrari by beating them where it mattered the most – Le Mans.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is regarded as the most prestigious endurance race event in the world. In the 1960s Ferrari was ruling Le Mans. To build a car capable of beating the mighty Ferrari, Ford assembled a stellar team of race engineers and experts including race legend Carroll Shelby. In coordination with Ford Advanced Vehicles, Shelby American, Wyer Automotive and legendary race driver Ken Miles the team began building the Ford GT40. The race at Le Mans is a very demanding and challenging one both for the car as well as the driver. The cars have to constantly race at high speeds while cornering, along straights and also maintain brake efficiency, fuel economy too. To maintain high speeds and push the car to the limits while cornering a low center of gravity, excellent driving dynamics and body control are very important. There had been previous variants of the Ford GT40 such as the Mk I, II, III – however they were a mixed bag with regards to race performance.
For the 1966 season of Le Mans – Ford entered the GT40 Mk II. Aerodynamics is a very crucial element of design in cars, even more so in race cars. In 1966 the Ford team revamped the aerodynamics of the previous edition GT40 and made it even better allowing for the car to seamlessly cut through the air and hence make it more efficient. The lightweight and improved aerodynamics of the car helped reduce the wear on the brakes making them last longer. During a very long and high-intensity race like Le Mans, the car brakes take a huge beating and tend to reach extremely high temperatures. The high temperatures often result in brake failure if not maintained or managed well. The Ford team developed an ingenious solution to the brake overheating which allowed them to replace the brake pads at the time of the driver change interval. The Ford GT40 was powered by a 7.0 L V8 petrol engine producing 463 bhp of max power output mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox. With this powertrain set up, the Ford GT40 was well equipped to give the Ferrari 330 a run for its money. After a thrilling and nail-biting 24 hours race at Le Mans…Ford pipped Ferrari and beat them with an iconic 1-2-3 Ford finish. With a brilliant driving performance from legendary drivers such as Ken Miles, Bruce McLaren the Ford GT40 put the American car giant on the global race map. The success of the Ford GT40 did not stop there, the car went on to win the Le Mans 1967, 1968, 1969 editions consecutively and is also the only car in the world to win at Le Mans 4 times in a row!