History records that the Ford GT40 programme was a prime example of the old adage ‘Don’t get mad, get even’. In 1963, word had reached Ford headquarters in Dearborn via Ford of Germany that Enzo Ferrari was anxious to sell his company.
Strapped for cash in a downturn in the Italian economy, Ferrari hoped that Ford would take over the production of road cars, which he had always found a diversion from the real business of racing, while leaving him in charge of the Scuderia Ferrari racing division. Ford, on the other hand, was itching to go endurance racing following the collapse of an interdiction on participation in motor sport that had hamstrung members of the American Automobile Manufacturers’ Association since 1957.
Under the proposed agreement, Ford would market Ford-Ferrari cars, while Enzo would be in charge of the Ferrari-Ford racing division, with Ford making maximum capital of the publicity and engineering developments arising from its racing activities. Negotiations for a takeover had seemingly gone well, and the deal was due to be announced on 23 May but, in his imperious way, Ferrari – who thought the deal had been sealed with a handshake and then found that the Ford lawyers were drawing up formal documents for signature – had called it off at the very last minute.
Smarting from the rebuff, Henry Ford II and Lee Iacocca drew up plans to build a car to beat Ferrari where it hurt, at the Le Mans 24 Hours.
It was decided from the outset that the car would be powered by an American Ford V8 and that it would be designed at Ford’s American design centre, in Dearborn. But its construction took place in the UK; the glassfibre body panels were constructed in England while the cars were assembled in Slough, at Ford’s Advanced Vehicle factory.
The GT40 was based on a Lola V8-powered prototype designed by Eric Broadley. It had run in the 1963 Le Mans 24-Hour race, but didn’t finish. Lola’s racer provided the strong steel monocoque around which were hung the glassfibre panels. The car was initially known as the GT, but because it stood all of 40 inches high it became known as the GT40.
Which one to buy?
GT40s rarely come onto the market because most are in long-term ownership. When they do come up for sale they’re invariably traded behind closed doors so thumbing through the classifieds is unlikely to net you anything.
Just 133 GT40s were built in all. Most were built for track use but a handful of road cars were also produced. While the GT40 doesn’t make an especially civilised road car, it does offer immense performance with jaw-dropping looks. The road cars were softened compared with their racer counterparts. They still had four Weber carburettors, but the camshafts weren’t quite so wild, the exhaust ran a lot quieter and they also feature more forgiving suspension.
People buy GT40s for one of two reasons – to race or as an investment. What they don’t do is buy a GT40 for road use because frankly, these cars are too compromised – and also too valuable – for that. If you fancy a GT40 for road use, buy the best car you can find, then look after it and buy a superb replica to drive on the road. It’ll be less compromised and as a result it’ll be more enjoyable to drive. Besides – drive a genuine GT40 on the road and everyone will assume it’s a replica anyway.
Performance and specs
Engine 4738cc, V8
Power 306bhp @ 6000rpm
Torque 329lb ft @ 4200rpm
Top speed 164mph
Fuel consumption 13mpg
Gearbox Five-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
Kerb weight 910kg
• The key thing about the GT40 is that while restoration costs can be extremely high, the value of these cars means it still makes financial sense to undertake a complete body restoration or an engine rebuild.
• Derbyshire-based Gelscoe Motorsport can make any GT40 part you’re ever likely to need, using the original drawings so it’s an exact match. They hold a complete set of blueprints for the GT40, from the days when it was still a Lola project.
• Original cars can corrode spectacularly, especially in the pontoons where the fuel tanks are located. Water and dirt get in via the wheelarches and lower radius arm tubes, which then eats its way through the inner and outer sills.
• Crash damage is likely – with accompanying poor repairs. The chassis consists of 365 separate parts and replacing some of them means stripping the car down completely. For example, replacing the sills means removing the roof at the A-pillars – which isn’t always done.
• All GT40 engines are tough and simple, so they’re relatively cheap to overhaul. If you’re buying a competition car, check how much work the engine has done since it was last rebuilt – and also who has worked on it.
• The braking and suspension systems are strong, but again, racing takes its toll so establish what has been to the car and when. If you’re planning to compete in the car, assume you’ll have to get the suspension uprights and alloy wheels crack tested before long, to make sure they’re in good condition.
• The bladder fuel tanks that live in the sills have to be replaced periodically – and it’s not a five-minute job. Find out when they were last replaced, when they next need to be renewed and get a quote for the work. It won’t be cheap.
• The history of any genuine GT40 is well documented, so before you buy you should be able to pin down everything you’re likely to want to know about any potential purchase. Your first port of call should be the Shelby American World Registry – and it’s also worth investing in a copy of Ronnie Spain’s book GT40, which documents each of the factory cars.
1963: The Lola GT (Mk6) is shown at the London Racing Car Show. Ford takes over this programme later in the year, having failed in its quest to buy Ferrari.
1964: The GT40 makes its race debut in the Nurburgring 1000kms and later competes at Le Mans. The car proves fast but fragile in both.
1965: The programme steps up a gear; now run by Shelby American, the first production cars are built in Slough. The GT40 claims its first race victory at Daytona and a 7-litre car is unveiled. Six cars are entered in the Le Mans 24 Hours – but none finish.
1966: A 1-2-3 win at Le Mans is compounded by victories at Sebring and Daytona.
1967: JW Automotive takes over Ford’s Slough facility, to focus on building road-going cars. The J model racers continue to be built by Ford in the US, and it would be these which would take on Le Mans. Ford decides to quit while at the top, but in private hands the GT40 goes on to win in 1968 and again in 1969, with the Gulf Oil-sponsored ‘Mirage’ cars.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
Summary and prices
Like any car of this type, value really depends on a multitude of factors, including race history and provenance. If you want one of the original Le Mans winners, than you could very well be looking to spend upwards of £5m, but any original GT40 today is valued at more than £2m.
Thankfully, there are a number of excellent alternatives for a more modest budget. That’s not to say that a good recreation is cheap, be prepared to fork out upwards of £100,000 for something approaching a convincing replica. You can also have a lot of fun for less with a fibreglass car, which can be found from around £25,000.