Jim Smart
November 24, 2016
Photos By: Barrett Jackson

There has never been another story like it in world racing history.

Ford GT.

It is a story of passion and ego. Two of the most powerful names in automotive history went head to head at the world’s greatest racing venue — The 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari.

Ford won.

The Ford GT story is the most legendary in American automotive racing history. An American automaker with a push-rod big-block V-8 against exotic European V-12 power and chassis technology. It became a battle of wits and raw racing experience. Ford and Ferrari were close to cutting a deal in 1963 where Ford would acquire Ferrari and get into racing on a grand scale. In fact, Enzo Ferrari came to Ford with this proposal in the first place. At the eleventh hour, in spite over a disagreement with Mr. Ford, Enzo Ferrari backed out of the deal leaving Henry Ford II empty handed. A furious Henry Ford II then became determined to build a global super car and go after Ferrari at Le Mans. Ford was going to beat Ferrari at all costs.

Ford contracted with Eric Broadley of Lola Cars in England acquiring two Lola Mk6 chassis. Ford then hired John Wyer, former Aston Martin team manager, along with chassis engineer Roy Lunn to develop and build the Ford GT40 at Ford Advanced Vehicles in England. What came of this relationship was, at the time, the most advanced Ford racing vehicle in history. Those first Ford GTs were powered by the 260ci (4.2L) and the 289ci (4.7L) small-block V-8 splined into a Coletti transaxle.

The 4.7L small-block V-8 was only the beginning of a succession of hot Ford powerplants to follow including the 7.0L (427ci) NASCAR-bred big-block in the Ford GT. “GT” meant Gran Turismo and “40” indicated vehicle height in inches. GT40 was originally more of a nickname than anything official though it was the project code name among insiders. In fact “GT40” can be likened to Carroll Shelby’s decision to name his Mustang fastback G.T.350.

In May 1964, Ford brought the GT40 to the Nürburgring 1000 in Germany, then, the 24 Hours of Le Mans that summer without securing a finish due to mechanical issues. This would prove to be the first of several disappointing experiences as Ford learned the ropes of endurance racing. Ford would ultimately replace John Wyer and hand the team over to Carroll Shelby. Ford would come back to Le Mans in 1965 with the same struggles it had in 1964. There was still more work to be done.

Ford learned a lot about endurance racing from two very difficult seasons. With the GT40 program in the hands of Carroll Shelby there was hope. Because Ford had poured millions of dollars into beating Ferrari without success in 1964-1965, there was incredible tension in the air because these folks had the close attention of Henry Ford II. Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby of Team Shelby managed to steer the GT40 to a win at the Daytona Continental 1000. Despite the win it was no time to lift.

The GT40 MkII, which was powered by the 7.0L (427ci) FE big-block V-8, cleaned house with a 1-2-3 finish at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1966. Later at the 12 Hours of Sebring, GT40 Mk II cars took top wins, which added to Ford’s optimism. It became a matter of mind over matter. Ford was going to Le Mans in June of 1966 and was going to win. It was an astonishing A 1-2-3 win with three Ford GT40s leading the pack.

Ford’s first win at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans was startling with a 1-2-3 finish. There was plenty of controversy to go with it including who was actually going to win — a call made by Ford executives.
Winning was never easy for Ford. There were disappointing mechanical failures and the need for more revisions to machine and drivers in the 1964-1965 seasons. The good news is it only took two racing seasons to get it right.
Ford got off to a rough start in 1964 with mechanical breakdowns and premature retirements. Nineteen sixty-five would be a repeat of 1964. Carroll Shelby would be asked to rescue the GT40 for 1966 and get it into the winner’s circle.

The following year, 1967, Ford GT40 Mk IV took Le Mans using 427 power. Revised rules the following year, 1968, made it necessary for Ford to go back to the original small-block Ford displacing 302ci (4.9L). Ford’s GT40 would win Le Mans two years in a row in 1968-69 and with the same car. With four Le Mans wins and Ferrari in the rear view mirror Henry Ford II concluded Ford Motor Company had proven to everyone, including Enzo Ferrari, it was a world beater.

Game Over.

Ford got out of racing in 1970.

By 1968-1969, Ford had become more seasoned to where the winner’s circle became routine. By 1970, Henry Ford II had beaten Ferrari four times at Le Mans. There was nothing left to prove.
Carroll Shelby with the GT40 Mk IV in 1967 with 7.0L (427) power. It would be quickly learned the 427 was just too much.

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Carroll Shelby delivering the first GT40 Mk III.

Ford GT

In Ford’s 100th year, it conceived and built a GT40 concept car to celebrate a century of greatness. Ford’s GT40 concept car was unveiled at the 2002 Detroit North American International Auto Show as an opening kickoff to its Centennial. In 2003, Ford built three pre-production GTs in 2003. Mass production and delivery of these cars began the following year in the fall of 2004.

Although the production 2005-06 Ford GT closely resembles the classic GT40 they have absolutely nothing in common in terms of size and structure. They are not the same car. And this is where we have a back story to the use of the “Ford GT” name instead of Ford GT40. Safir Engineering in Britain, which was building continuation GT40 super cars, owned the rights to the GT40 name.

When Safir Engineering ended production of these exotic limited production sports cars it sold remaining parts and tooling to a American company known as Safir GT40 Spares. In fact Safir GT40 Spares allowed Ford to use the GT40 name on its one-off 2002 concept car. Although Ford wanted to use the GT40 name on production GT coupes it was never able to come to an agreement with Safir GT40 Spares.

Ford GT’s mass production assembly process was very complex. Bodies were fabricated at Mayflower Vehicle Systems in Ohio, then, shipped to Saleen in suburban Detroit to be painted. Final assembly of these cars happened at Ford’s Wixom, Michigan assembly plant where two-seat Thunderbirds and Lincolns were built at the time. By the time all was said and done in 2006 some 4,038 Ford GTs were built.

The Ford GT really is an all-America super car ready to take on the world with its twin-screw supercharged 5.4L DOHC Modular V-8 installed mid-ship. The 5.4L block is Ford GT specific, with Ford producing a very limited number of these blocks. Even the heads, which are 2000 Cobra R based, are different yet with a thicker casting for added strength. Darned things are powerful too at 550 horsepower and 500 lb-ft of torque.

Ford GT Prototype Makes The Auction Block

There are always stories about the prototype or some rare unheard of piece making it out the back door of a Detroit automaker. Not often they come up for sale. But this one did. Meet CP-1 (Confirmation Prototype 1) or the first fully functional confirmation Ford GT prototype, which was built in 2003. Three non-functioning prototypes were built in red, white, and blue for show purposes only, and they currently reside in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

This Ford GT prototype is serialized as #1FAFP90S04Y400004 and fitted with a full drivetrain and complete interior. CP-1 has factory Build Sheet documentation, and is still fitted with certification test connections and monitoring equipment used in road and federal emissions testing.

What makes this engineering prototype an incredible find is the autographs of 13 members of the original GT design team, including Carroll Shelby, Bill Ford, GT Chief Designer Camillo Pardo and GT Chief Design Engineer Fred Goodnow. CP-1 was purchased from Ford Motor Company by a respected GT collector and author of the definitive book on the 2005-2006 Ford GT.

This isn’t your run of the mill Ford GT if there can one at all. The body and engine compartment feature non-standard production Ford GT components along with design features unique to this prototype. Groovy silver trim rings on the seats, as one example, didn't make it to production. The aluminum headliner didn’t make it either. Closer inspection reveals two quick-release valves in the right rear quarter panel connected to the fuel tank to aid quick changes in fuel grades. In back are engineering exhaust pipes tied to a sniffer pipe for emissions testing. The engine compartment has a carbon-fiber rear clamshell that dramatically reduced curb weight. When Ford brass discovered each of these pieces cost $45,000 a pop to make, that plan was quickly sidelined in favor of aluminum, which is cheaper to make. CP-1’s 5.4L DOHC engine has a black supercharger and valve covers, which became aluminum with customary Ford blue valve covers when production began.

Ford GT CP-1 could be considered the most fun you can have with your pants on. However, it has a special chip installed by Ford in the PCM, which limits vehicle speed to just five mph — seriously. There are motorized wheelchairs faster than this. But, this isn’t about taking this thing for an insane spin around a test track, but instead something to behold, and store safely as an integral segment of Ford history.

If you were at Barrett-Jackson’s Northeast Auction on June 26, 2016, you witnessed Ford GT CP-1 on the auction block. Perhaps it isn’t surprising this gem didn’t sell because the reserve wasn’t met. The reserve isn’t known at press time. Makes us wonder just how much money it would have taken to secure this one-off Ford GT.

Meet CP-1, Confirmation Prototype, Ship 1. This is the first functioning drivable prototype Ford GT build prior to mass production startup in 2003. It possesses a lot of non-standard pre-production parts that never made production. Though we’d like to take on the track and flog it Ford has installed a limiting chip designed to hold vehicle speed to just five miles per hour.
This thing has a snarly bark at the tailpipes from its unique 5.4L DOHC monster mash beneath the bonnet.
Cockpit is challenging to get into if you are tall. Once you’ve arrived it is comfortable and has a nice fit. And let’s face it, when you are driving a Ford GT there’s not likely anyone else in the parking lot like you. Those groovy trim rings and keister vent holes didn’t make production.
Start button was a new concept then.
Quite the contact patch next to these special fuel connections used for certification purposes. You won’t see these on a mass production car.
Immortality in ink on the CP-1 confirmation prototype. The names of the people who made it happen.
Where Ford GT mirrors the Le Mans original is entrance and exit. It is tricky to get in and out of. This is a race car you lie in. You have to work out a maneuver to get your legs in first, then, your posterior. Once you are there it’s time to drive.
Engine and transaxle are where it gets involved and compact. CP1’s 5.4L DOHC twin-screw supercharged mill is a one of a kind. Block and heads are unique to the Ford GT. As we understand it from people in the industry there were only enough GT-specific blocks and heads for production vehicles. No spares. Can anyone confirm this? Block and heads sport thicker castings for durability at 550 horsepower and 500 lb-ft of torque.

2017 Ford GT

After a lengthy hiatus from the super car business Ford is at it again. The 2017 Ford GT Super Car lives up to this description. It is the most sophisticated Ford GT ever done. Biggest shocker is, it isn’t a V-8. It is a twin turbo EcoBoost 3.5L V-6 fully prepared to go out and defend Ford’s reputation as a Ferrari killer. Ford GT hammered Ferrari 50 years ago and it can clobber both Ferrari and Porsche now.

This just happens to be the 50th Anniversary of Ford’s stunning 1-2-3 finish at Le Mans in June of 1966. And what a celebration for Ford enthusiasts worldwide. Ford is celebrating the 50th Anniversary of an eye-opening Le Mans win with the ultra high-tech 2017 Ford GT. Ford tells us, “As for the 2017 Ford GT body, designers and engineers have gone heavy on carbon fiber and aluminum. These advanced materials provide strength, rigidity and help reduce mass. The aircraft-inspired body also features active aerodynamic elements such as a deployable rear spoiler.”

Ford goes on to say, “As for the chassis, it rides atop a a racing-styled pushrod suspension which could have been ripped off of a Formula 1 car. The reborn Ford GT rides on 20-inch wheels dressed in super-gummy Michelin Pilot Super Sport Cup 2 tires.”

Why an EcoBoost instead of a high-revving rabid dog Coyote V-8? Because Ford is moving forward, not backward, with the power of EcoBoost in a world-class all-aluminum DOHC V-6 sporting 600 horsepower. And this is where the world is going regardless of how much we love V-8 engines. Tougher federal fuel economy and emission standards are becoming harder and harder to meet. Ford has dropped the V-8 option in its Expedition models, which is a sign of things to come. So why not conceive and build a GT super car sporting twin turbo V-6 power as an example of what you can do with fewer cylinders and less displacement?

The all-new 2017 Ford GT features the company’s latest Synch 3 Connectivity Infotainment System as well as a host of other innovations that will connect you with anything and anyone. However, when you’re piloting a new Ford GT, you’re not obsessed with electronic devices. You’re focused on the twisties ahead along with the mesmerizing experience of 600 horsepower at your backside.

The 2017 Ford GT is without question an American legend and easily one of the most aggressive and smoothest looking super cars ever. Oh sure, it is a motorsports driver’s super car. However, this is real American muscle as only we know how to build it. The 2017 Ford GT shows the world what America is all about. And because these cars are available in very limited numbers they’re priced only for people who don’t have to worry about how to pay for them. Somewhere on the order of $500,000 a copy.

Ford GT Returns To Le Mans

Ford trumpets the triumphant return of the GT to Le Mans on the 50th anniversary of Ford’s first win — a valiant 1-2-3 checkered flag pass across the finish line in 1966. Here’s how it shook out — No. 68 Ford GT of Sébastien Bourdais (FRA), Joey Hand (US) and Dirk Müller (GER) crossed the finish line at Le Mans at three o’clock on Sunday, as the overall GT winner of the 2016 Le Mans 24 Hours. No. 69 Ford GT of Ryan Briscoe (AUS), Scott Dixon (NZ) and Richard Westbrook (GB) joined the winners on the podium after scoring third place. Nos. 66 and 67 Ford GTs finished in fourth and ninth places, respectively. Not bad after a 46-year hiatus. Bill Ford spoke, “This is an historic moment for Ford Motor Company. We dared to dream that we could return to Le Mans, 50 years after the incredible 1966 win, and take on the toughest competition in the world. The pride we all felt when the Ford GT crossed the line at Le Mans is indescribable.” With raw emotion, Mr. Ford said, “The team that designed, built and raced the Ford GT has worked tirelessly to bring us to this result and I am proud of each and every one of them.” He added, “The Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team demonstrated the spirit of Ford, that of innovation, determination and true teamwork. We cherish our history and heritage, but today we made history again and I couldn't be more proud.”

Mark Fields, President and Chief Executive Officer at Ford, said, “Building a new car and racing it at Le Mans is a monumental task. We took it on and we conquered the biggest challenge in sports car racing, the Le Mans 24 Hours. It has been incredible to share this event with our dealers, owners, employees, sponsors and guests who are all bursting with pride at being part of the Ford family.” Fields went on to say, “Every manufacturer in the GTE Pro class fought with everything they had in the best competitive spirit, and we are thrilled to have played our part in this incredible race.”

The No. 68 car driven by Sébastien Bourdais (FRA), Joey Hand (US) and Dirk Müller (GER) crossed the finish line at Le Mans as the overall GT winner of the 2016 Le Mans 24 Hours. A fabulous return to Le Mans for Ford after 46 years.

One cannot comprehend the stress, sweat, and stamina it takes to compete at Le Mans. After one hell of a battle with the No. 82 Ferrari, the No. 68 Ford GT driven by Hand took the lead for the final time in the 20th hour of the race. On the three occasions that the Ford driven by Hand passed the Ferrari, it rekindled a 50-year-old rivalry between the two car manufacturers.

“It’s a big deal to come back here 50 years after the Ford win in 1966,” Hand commented, “We said we wanted to win but to actually do it is huge. This team has come so far in a short amount of time. They all worked hard, right through Christmas and New Years and gave us a race car we can race hard. We drove like it was a sprint race for 24 hours. I’ve won a lot of races and this is a big one. I’m honored to be part of this programm. I’m a red, white and blue guy so to be part of the Ford family, where they treat you like their own, is a great place to be.”

“It’s an unbelievable feeling to be able to make this happen,” Bourdais commented, “There was so much effort, so much emotion, and to be the one that wins the trophy to give to the Ford family and everyone involved is very special. Everything aligned for us today — the history, the Ferrari/Ford battle, 50 years on and the Ford family being here. To come out on top of all that is an amazing feeling.”

Ford tells us the No. 66 Ford GT, driven by Billy Johnson (US), Stefan Mücke (GER) and Olivier Pla (FRA) was in contention for a top finish early in the race, however, a small electrical problem set them back. And this is what you can expect at the Le Mans 24 Hours, one extra moment in the pits is all it takes to become way behind with no chance of winning the race. No. 67 Ford GT of Marino Franchitti (GB), Andy Priaulx (GB) and Harry Tincknell (GB) suffered from a transmission problem at the start of the race so they had to play catch up. Yet these guys came in ninth. Not bad.

Perhaps this return to Le Mans 50 years after coming out on top four years in a row signals a real return to racing for Ford Motor Company. Only time will tell. But, one thing is certain — you can bet we will be watching.