Image credits: © Ford.

1966 Ford GT40

The look on Bruce McLaren's face as he climbed from his GT40 would be one of stark contrast to the rest of those with the Ford team. It was clear who the winner was, and yet, confusing as well. In the midst of one of the most demonstrative and authoritative victories in Le Mans history, McLaren and his co-driver Chris Amon would find themselves the beneficiaries of a saga that upset the team management at Ford as much as Ferrari's presence.

It was an all-out effort. Tremendous amounts of capital would be thrown into Ford's racing program. In 1963, a deal was on the table and all parties involved had come to an agreement. The production cars would be known as Ford-Ferraris while the racing side of Ferrari's efforts would be known as Ferrari-Fords. The price for this union would be 10 million dollars. All parties were about ready to sign when Enzo Ferrari suddenly stood made a comment to the leaders from Ford and immediately withdrew from the meeting. The Ford executives would be left stunned and would return home without a premier luxury and exotic car company having been signed. Ford would be furious.

Ferrari would rethink the deal and would even try to begin the negotiations anew. To this, Ferrari would receive his answer. Ford would only be interested in beating Ferrari on the racetrack from now on. Both sides prepared for war, spectators and Le Mans enthusiasts prepared for one of the best eras in endurance sportscar racing history.

Rivalries had been a part of Le Mans since the very beginning. Even after World War II, the famed race would see its share of battle between manufacturers. Had it not been for the tragic events of the 1955 Le Mans all indications were that it would have been a Le Mans worth remembering. Of course, the battle between Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz would end up taking a rightful back seat to the numerous deaths as a result of Pierre Levegh's crash into the grandstands.

So, Le Mans has had its share of manufacturers battles throughout its illustrious past. However, Le Mans had never seen a battle like the one that was coming. The amount of resources poured into both Ford's and Ferrari's racing programs would be titanic. And while it would unfortunately lead to excessive costs entering the world of racing, the technology and the passion that would be brought to endurance racing would far outweigh the negatives. As far as the spectator was concerned it was the ultimate battle, certain to be entertaining and drama-filled.

Ford was entering unknown territory. Despite being heavily invested in motor racing, Le Mans and endurance racing was very much a European thing. Therefore, Ford would be entering this challenge of Ford II a little on the back foot. But with the funding being thrown into the program it was likely the Le Mans effort would gain some balance rather quickly.

The program would be run like a military unit. The demands of drivers were quite simple: be comfortable at 200 mph and obey orders. Though simple, with the nature of drivers during that period this would be some serious demands. However, there was a couple of drivers that fit the personality profile Ford wanted almost exactly, and one of them was Bruce McLaren.

Possessing a technical mind and a known ability to drive flat out on the limit with consistent lap times, Ford had one of their developmental drivers. And after bringing Eric Broadley and John Wyer on board, Ford not only had their car, but also its team manager.

The pace of the program would be a fast one. It would be helped by the fact Broadley had already developed a GT car for Lola that was simply known as the Lola GT. What really attracted the Ford executives to Broadley was the simple fact he had designed with Lola GT specifically with a Ford V8 engine in mind as the car's powerplant. This certainly fit Ford's mindset at the time.

Carroll Shelby would be brought in to help with development. Having won the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans, he was fully aware of what was needed to achieve the goal. John Wyer, who had been Shelby's team manager at Aston Martin during the 1959 victory was also fully aware of what a team needed to be successful. And in Bruce McLaren, the program had at least one driver that fully understood the technical and the driving side of the business. It was an all-out mindset.

However, despite the all-out effort, Ford's initial assault on Le Mans would not be at all successful. Oh, the GT40 would prove to be fast and would certainly show signs of being capable, but unreliability would afford Enzo Ferrari a little bit of a grin as his cars would carry on to yet another victory.

The whole of the program would be handed over to Shelby as Broadley would depart to work on his own designs. Wyer would remain but would be demoted somewhat when the whole of the program would be shifted to the United States. Additionally, the GT40 needed a more powerful and reliable engine. All that was available was the hefty 600 pound 427. Still, there were apparent benefits to the engine that were too good to ignore. Nonetheless, when the engine and all of the strengthening was finished, Shelby now had a car weighing in at more than 2,700 pounds.

Unfortunately, so many changes and issues with the new Mark II had arisen that it wouldn't be until the middle of May before Ford would have a couple of cars ready for Le Mans, and this despite being victorious at Daytona and finishing 2nd at Sebring. The lack of preparation would be more than obvious as not a single one of the six cars that would be entered in the 1965 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans would even manage to finish the race. The second Le Mans effort looked more embarrassing than the first.

But the embarrassing loses would only infuse the Ford executives with even more resolve. After the failure of the 1965 Le Mans, the night after the race, the Ford executives assembled the Ford Team and told them flatly, 'Next year we are going to win this race and we might as well start right now.'

Ken Miles had come to be part of the GT40 program and had thrown himself fully into testing duties. Endless hours of track testing at Riverside would take place. The car would undergo numerous hours of wind-tunnel testing and other developmental work would proceed under the direction of Shelby. Engine after engine would be tortuously tested. Reliability was absolutely necessary. Even the brakes would be improved using ventilated, thicker discs.

Even more money had been thrown into the program after the executives insisted on victory. This would put even more pressure on the drivers to perform, but also, obey orders. This would be perhaps the greatest difficulty the drivers would have throughout the 1966 edition of the French endurance classic and would be dutifully demonstrated when Walt Hansgen died in practice at the wheel of one of the GT40s. Walt would lose control of his car at over 150 mph heading into Turn 1. He had been told by Shelby to slow down just prior.

Ford would enter three factory cars under the Shelby American Inc. team name. The number 1 car would be driven by Ken Miles and Denny Hulme. Hulme would be brought in just before Le Mans after Lloyd Ruby suffered injuries in a plane accident. The number 2 car would be driven by a pair of New Zealanders. Bruce McLaren would be joined by Chris Amon. The third entry would list Dan Gurney and Jerry Grant as its drivers.

Ferrari would come to Le Mans with an arsenal of its own. Three 330/Ps and four 365/P2s would be entered in the race. Besides Ford's and Ferrari's entries there would be a number of privately-entered GT40s and Ferraris all up and down the entry list. It was clear who the two dominant manufacturers of the era was.

At the end of qualifying, the first four positions on the grid would be occupied by GT40 MkIIs. Dan Gurney and Jerry Grant would have the pole having set a lap time of 3:30.600 around the 8.38 mile circuit. Ken Miles and Denny Hulme would start in the 2nd position on the grid. The third Ford factory entry of McLaren and Amon would also start on the grid ahead of the first of the Ferraris. The number 2 GT40 would start in the 4th position on the grid.

At the start of the 24 hour race, it would be Graham Hill that would make the best start of everybody and would have a couple of second lead over the rest of the field. Amongst the factory Ford's Gurney was in the lead. The number 2 car of McLaren and Amon would get off to a very slow start and would be quite far down in the running as the whole of the field roared away. The progress of the number 2 car would be hindered off the grid when a collision between a couple of entries happened right in front of the black number 2. Further problems for Ford would come in the way of a delayed Ken Miles. Not only had he also gotten away poorly but he would have to come to a halt at the end of the first lap because he was unable to get his door securely shut.

The slow starts and delays hurt Shelby's directive of being up at the front at all costs in an effort to control the pace and the course of events. As a result, Miles would push his car hard to come up through the field and join Gurney at the front. McLaren and Amon would be dealing with issues of their own and would be unable make its way up through to the front during the early going.

Gurney, being the talented driver he is, would be flying around the circuit but would be doing so in a very controlled and intelligent way. Hill would run into trouble and would hand the lead over to Gurney. Miles, on the other hand, was pushing even harder and was throwing caution to the wind in an effort to catch up to Gurney.

The directive had been for the Ford cars to run up at the front of the field, not to race each other at the front. But despite Gurney setting a new lap record during the middle-evening hours, Miles wanted the lead and would not be denied. While he would put the multimillion dollar GT40 program at risk with his dogged pursuit of Gurney, Miles would take over the lead of the race and would begin to pull away slightly.

Miles continued in the lead of the race when the heavens opened up and the rains began to fall. Ferrari would lose one of its entries when Ludovico Scarfiotti plowed into a couple of cars all turned around in the esses. The rain, torrential at times, would lead to ever more retirements. And before light would even dawn over Le Mans it would dawn on just about everybody that Ford was the expected champion. It had its cars running one-two-three. And if their cars could just hold on until 4pm on that Sunday afternoon, Ford would achieve his aim of beating the dominant Ferrari manufacturer at his own game. Therefore, the race wasn't about the individuals driving the cars, instead, the drivers were role-players in a manufacturer's feud. The once almost family of Ford and Ferrari had become bitter rivals and the Ford drivers were being driven to bring home a victory, not for themselves, but for the company.

It was now Sunday, June 19th, and Miles and Hulme continued in the lead of the race. The car of Gurney and Grant would fall out of contention and out of the race altogether after completing 257 laps. The third car, driven by McLaren and Amon, was still in the running but was a lap down. But then, McLaren and Amon would find themselves back on the lead lap when the number 3 car had to have some brake issues resolved.

The Ford Team had been so focused on just winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans that it wasn't until the early morning hours, with the rain still streaming down and the course incredibly slick, that a meeting would be called to try and figure out which of the two cars would actually take the victory. The French officials had made it clear to the team that a staged victory would actually result in the car of McLaren and Amon being declared the winners because their position on the grid was actually a few yards further back in distance than what Miles and Hulme's had been.

The Ford Team had another issue to consider. At the start of the race the GT40 of McLaren and Amon started on Firestone tires as a result of a contract Bruce had with the tire company. However, it was very quickly noted that the tires were coming apart and the number 2 had fallen well back in the running order. Ford's 'win at all cost' mentality would lead to the decision being made by the team to switch the car from Firestones to Goodyear for the remainder of the race, Ford's interests far outweighing those of Firestone and McLaren's. At that point, as Amon would put it, 'Bruce said to me: 'We've nothing to lose. Let's drive the doors off it''.

The two New Zealanders would put together an impressive performance in their GT40 and would actually take the lead briefly. But then, with the race seemingly in hand for Ford, the directive to slow down would be given. Throughout the remainder of the race the drivers would have to complete laps at a pace of about four minutes. Amon would admit, 'It took me ten laps of concentrated driving to slow down to this speed…It became very monotonous.'

McLaren had been with the GT40 program since its first days. The charge that he and Amon had put together certainly was impressive and needed honoring. But still, Miles and Hulme were in the lead.

It was the final moments of the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans. Three GT40s, two factory cars and one entered by Holman and Moody would hook up together and would drive the final couple of miles in what would become an iconic formation. Henry Ford II looked on eagerly awaiting the fulfillment of his words spoken to Enzo Ferrari. And in the grey overcast could be seen the headlights of three GT40s beaming off in the distance. The checkered flag ready, Ken Miles would actually back off just slightly and McLaren would cross the line with about a car length advantage. The number 2 car of McLaren and Amon would be declared the winners as a result of the 24 Hours of Le Mans being all about mileage covered. But this would certainly be one occasion when the desires of an individual driver to win Le Mans would be placed a distant second behind the desires of the team.

Bewildered and tired McLaren and Amon would be presented with the victor's champagne by Ford II himself. It was clear even McLaren and Amon were unsure of the fact they had taken the victory. However, the win could not have gone to a more deserving member of the Ford Team. Not only had the drive Amon and he put together been a most impressive performance, but Bruce's presence since the very beginnings of the GT40 program had made him the most deserving of the victory.

But of course, as time would tell, it really wouldn't matter who took the victory amongst the drivers because the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans would be a victory for Ford over Ferrari. And this fact could not be more easily understood than by merely peering at that iconic photograph of the finish once again. There were not individuals crossing the line on that rainy day. It was three cars built by the same manufacturer. The names driving were of little consequence and hence could have been the real reason for McLaren's and Amon's look of surprise.

'Le Mans 24 Hours 1966', ( Racing Sports Cars. Retrieved 28 August 2012.

'Ford Celebrates 1966 Le Mans Victory at 2006 Le Mans Classic', ( AutoBlog. Retrieved 28 August 2012.

Hamilton, Maurice. 'The Way it Was', ( Retrieved 28 August 2012.

Fox, Charles. The Great Racing Cars and Drivers. New York. The Ridge Press. Copyright 1972. Print.

Wikipedia contributors, '1966 24 Hours of Le Mans', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 25 July 2012, 20:04 UTC, accessed 28 August 2012

By Jeremy McMullen

Vehicle Profiles

MKI Coupe

Every car manufacturer during the 1960s wanted to beat the race-winning Maranello boys. Ford's desire to do so became even greater when Enzo Ferrari abruptly terminated negotiations to sell his company to Ford. The Ford GT-40 program was a result of ....[continue reading]

MKII Coupe

In 1966, Ford was successful in finally producing an American car capable of winning against international competition at LeMans, where a sister car to this one won handily. This advanced design was English with Ford engine components.....[continue reading]

MKI Coupe

Chassis Num: 1049

This Ford GT40P with chassis number 1049 was originally a road-going car that was quickly converted to racing specifications. The owner was Grady Davis, the vice president of Gulf Oil who was instrumental in creating the relationship between the For....[continue reading]

MK IIB Coupe

Chassis Num: P/1047B

This Ford GT40 MKIIB is a re-creation that was built by a GT40 expert named Bryan Winfield in the mid 1980s. The car contains my original GT40 components, some of which include the dashboard structure, suspension, gearbox and CV joints. There is an o....[continue reading]

MKI Coupe

Chassis Num: GT40 P/1065
Engine Num: SGT 27

The Ford GT40 was a high performance sports car and winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans four times in a row, from 1966 to 1969. It was built to win long-distance sports car races against Ferrari, winner at LeMans six times in a row from 1960 to 1965.....[continue reading]

MKII Coupe

Chassis Num: 1032

By 1966 Carroll Shelby and Holman & Moody were deeply involved in the 'Ferrari-beater' project and it was all coming together rather nicely. The 7-liter Fords dominated the 24 Hours of LeMans, finishing 1-2-3 in what is likely the pinnacle of Ford's ....[continue reading]

Mark 1 Coupe

Chassis Num: 1040

In 1963, Henry Ford II wanted to improve the image of Ford among the younger generation and decided the company should formulate a plan to win the two most grueling races in the world: the Indianapolis 500 and the 24 Hours of LeMans. Ford was also ve....[continue reading]

MKII Coupe

Chassis Num: GT40P/1033

Ford Advanced Vehicles Ltd at Slough, Buckinghamshire, England shipped GTP40 P '1033' to Geneva, Switzerland on January 14th of 1966. At the time of shipping, it was unpainted and incomplete, as it was destined for the Graber coachworks. The car was ....[continue reading]

MKI Coupe

Chassis Num: 1072

Chassis number 1072 is the last GT 40 Mark 1 built in Road Car configuration. It is built with the LeMans style front bodywork and unique to the 1072 are the Mark 3 style side windows.....[continue reading]

MKII Coupe

Chassis Num: 1051

This unit, Registration SNO 250D, was shipped September 13, 1966 and the #P1051's engine was noted as 'High Performance with Webers' and delivered to Ford of U.K., as a press car. It was featured on the 'This car you have to be measured for' Ford GT ....[continue reading]

MKII Coupe

This is one of thirteen MKII 7.0 liter GT40 Fords. With its first overall win in 1966, three MKII GT40s crossed the finish line simultaneously after twenty four hours of flat out racing.....[continue reading]

MKII Coupe

The GT-40 was created at the direction of Henry Ford II to spite Enzo Ferrari. Ford had spent several million dollars in contract negotiations with Ferrari after Enzo offered to sell his company to Ford. Enzo backed out when he was informed that he w....[continue reading]

MK IIB Coupe

Chassis Num: P/1031 - P/1047

This GT40 was delivered to Shelby American in November 1965 and prepared for its first race, the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1966. With Dan Gurney driving, it led for most of that race, but the engine blew on the last corner and, breaking the rules, Gurne....[continue reading]

MKII Coupe

Chassis Num: P/1046

This GT40 MKII, driven by Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon, placed first at the 24 Hours of LeMans in 1966, leading two other GT40s across the line for the famous 1-2-3 photo finish. Following its memorable win, the car passed to Holman & Moody and was e....[continue reading]

MKII Coupe

Chassis Num: P AM2

This GT40 is one of the two lightweight GT40s prepared by Alan Mann Racing in England for the 1966 race season. It debuted at the 12 Hours of Sebring, driven by Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart, but did not finish. Despite promising results at Le Mans ....[continue reading]

MKII Coupe

Chassis Num: XGT-3

This 1966 GT40, one of thirteen GT40 MK IIs, is possibly the most original GT40 in the world. The main reason it has retained its original bodywork is that it is the only MK II never to have raced in period. It is one of the three Alan Mann Lightweig....[continue reading]

MKII Coupe

Chassis Num: P/1061

Just 31 examples of the MK 1 were built specifically for use on the road. They were given similar mechanical specifications to their race-winning counterparts but were fitted with a few more luxuries, including fully upholstered interiors. They had a....[continue reading]

MKI Coupe

Chassis Num: P/1028

The early GT40 road cars were production racing coupes that were slightly converted for the street. They retained mainly of their competition features, including only driver-side seat support, two fuel pressure gauges, battery-mount brackets in passe....[continue reading]

MKI Coupe
MKII Coupe
MKI Coupe
Chassis #: 1049 
MK IIB Coupe
Chassis #: P/1047B 
MKI Coupe
Chassis #: GT40 P/1065 
MKII Coupe
Chassis #: 1032 
Mark 1 Coupe
Chassis #: 1040 
MKII Coupe
Chassis #: GT40P/1033 
MKI Coupe
Chassis #: 1072 
MKII Coupe
Chassis #: 1051 
MKII Coupe
MKII Coupe
MK IIB Coupe
Chassis #: P/1031 - P/1047 
MKII Coupe
Chassis #: P/1046 
MKII Coupe
Chassis #: P AM2 
MKII Coupe
Chassis #: XGT-3 
MKII Coupe
Chassis #: P/1061 
MKI Coupe
Chassis #: P/1028 


The history of the Ford GT40 began as an attempt to beat a certain Italian Automobile Manufacturer at the grueling 24 Hours of LeMans race. Each June, some of the world's best in the automotive industry descend onto a town West of Paris called LeMans, France to compete in a 24-Hour endurance competition. This tradition began in 1923 and since has become the pinnacle of automotive racing that challenges speed, performance and durability. A select group of European marques had since dominated the race such as Porsche, Ferrari, Jaguar, Bentley, and Alfa Romeo. Ford wanted to join this elite group.
During the early part of the 1960's, Ford attempted to buy Ferrari for $18 million to run its international racing program. The purpose was to use the Ferrari company and technology to help Ford achieve a LeMans victory. The negations unraveled and Ferrari walked away from bargaining table in May of 1963. Enzo Ferrari gave no indication as to why he had decided his company was no longer for sale. Ford decided to build their own super-car and beat Ferrari at International Racing.

Roy Lunn was an Englishman who had began his career at Ford of Britain and later came to the United States in 1958. He had played a role in helping to create the 1962 mid-engined Ford Mustang I Concept. The vehicle was an aluminum-bodied, two-seater that was powered by a 1.7-liter 4-cylinder engine.

After the Mustang I, Roy Lunn along with Ray Geddes and Donald Frey turned their attention to a racing program. The car that Ford had conceived was similar to a Lola GT, being low and mid-engined. The Lola was designed and built by Eric Broadley in Slough, England and first displayed in January of 1963 at the London Racing Car Show. Broadley was running low on funds and consequently more than eager to join with Ford.

Borrowed from the Lola GT was the monocoque center section and aerodynamic design. It was longer, wider, and stronger with a rigid steel section. In the mid-section lay an all-aluminum 4.2-liter V8 engine. The gearbox was a 4-speed Colotti unit; the suspension was double-wishbone. Excellent stopping power was provided by the 11.5 inch disc brakes on all four wheels. In April 1964 the GT40 was displayed to the public at the New York Auto Show. Two weeks later the car was at Le Mans being put through pre-race testing. The result of a very rushed program became evident. The car suffered from aerodynamic and stability issues and as a result ended in two crashes.

The GT represented 'Grand Turismo' while the designation 40 represented its height, only 40 inches. The number 40 was added to the designation when the Mark II was introduced.

The Mark II, still built in England, was put through extensive testing which solved many of the stability issues. Carroll Shelby was brought onboard to oversee the racing program. He began by installing a 7-liter NASCAR engine that was more powerful and more reliable. The result was a vehicle that was much more stable and quicker than the Mark I. For the 1965 LeMans, the Mark II proved to be a stronger contender but resulted in another unsuccessful campaign.

The third generation of the GT-40, the Mark III, was introduced in 1966 and only seven were produced. Ford continued to fine-tune and prepare the GT-40 for LeMans. The GT40 led the race from the beginning. This lead continued throughout the evening and into the morning hours. During the morning the GT40's were ordered to reduce their speed for purposes of reliability. By noon, ten out of the thirteen Fords entered had been eliminated. The remaining three Fords went on to capture first through third place. This victory marked the beginning of a four-year domination of the race.

In 1967 Ford introduced the Mark IV to LeMans. It was built all-American, where the previous versions had been criticized as being English-built and fueled by monetary resources from America. This had not been the first attempt for an all-American team using an American vehicle to attempt to capture victory at LeMans. Stutz had finished second in 1928. Chrysler had finished third and fourth during the same year, 1928. In 1950 the first major attempt to win at Lemans was undertaken by a wealthy American named Briggs Cunningham. Using modified Cadillac's he captured 10th and 11th. His following attempts to win at LeMans included vehicles that he had built where he managed a third place finish in 1953 and fifth place in 1954. This had been the American legacy at LeMans.

Of the seven vehicles Ford entered in 1967, three crashed during the night time hours. When the checkered flag dropped it was a GT40 driven by Gurney/Foyt to beat out the 2nd and 3rd place Ferrari by only four laps.

For 1968 the FIA put a ceiling on engine displacement at 5 liters. Ford had proven that Ferrari could be beaten and an American team and car could win at LeMans. Ford left international sports racing and sold the cars to John Wyer. Gulf Oil Co. provided sponsorship during the 1968 LeMans season. The Ford GT40 Mark I once again visited LeMans and again in 1969 where they emerged victorious both times. In 1969 the margin of victory for the GT40 was just two seconds after the 24 Hours of racing.

In 1969 new FIA rules and regulations ultimately retired the GT40's from racing and ended the winning streak.

Around 126 Ford GT-40's were producing during the production life span. During this time a wide variety of engines were used to power the vehicle. The MKI used a 255 cubic-inch Indy 4-cam, a 289 and 302 small block. The 289 was by far the most popular, producing between 380 and 400 horsepower. When the MKI returned during the 1968 and 1969 season it was outfitted with a 351 cubic-inch Windsor engine. The MKII came equipped with a 427 cubic-inch NASCAR engine. The third generation, the MK-III, had 289 cubic-inch engines. The final version, the MK-IV all were given 427 cubic-inch power-plants.

America, more specifically Ford, had proven that American automobiles and drivers were able to compete in all arenas.

After the production of the Ford GT40 ceased, there were several companies interested in creating replicas. One such company was Safir Engineering which purchased the rights to the name. In 1985 the Ford GT40 MKV was introduced and examples would continued to be produced until 1999. Chassis numbers continued in sequence where the original Ford cars stopped. The cars were powered by a Ford 289 cubic-inch OHV engine that produced just over 300 horsepower and was able to carry the car to a top speed of 164. Zero-to-sixty took just 5.3 seconds. Disc brakes could be found on all four corners. The cars were nearly identical to the original.

By Daniel Vaughan | Jan 2007
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