The GT40 took the Le Mans competition and the world by storm with its racing prowess in the late 1960s. But perhaps the most surprising thing about the original GT40 racecars was their striking styling.
Surprising because the cars were engineered to do one thing:
win Le Mans. That they did, and in uniquely American style. The mechanicals came first, aerodynamics and air-management came second, and the design followed. But the cars struck a dynamic pose with curves and scoops and wheel wells wrapped around the mechanicals.
When the Living Legends Studio began work on the GT40 concept, virtually every model was examined. But, in the end, the design that resonated with designers was the Mark II for its simultaneous statements of two seemingly diametrically opposed concepts - elegance and power.
'Designing a modern interpretation of a classic is more difficult than designing from a clean sheet of paper,' says J Mays, Ford Motor Company vice president of Design. 'Much like designing a reissue of a TAG Heuer Monaco watch, we've had to strike a delicate balance in creating a slightly updated GT40 that features modern technology.' Designing a Legend
When Ford designers began to conceptualize the GT40 concept, they knew they could go one of two ways. They could do a completely revolutionary design that drew on cues of the past, but interpreted them in a modern surface language. Or they could do a more honest-to-the-original, literal interpretation with modern dimensions. Both were modeled. The latter won.
'We felt it was important to build upon the great heritage of this nameplate,' says Doug Gaffka, director of Ford's Living Legends Studio. 'It would have been much easier to pull off a radical design because lines and proportions are not as pre-defined. But the bottom line is, if you're doing a GT40, it had better look like a GT40.'
And so began the design process. Gaffka chose Camilo Pardo to be chief designer of the GT40. Pardo was a natural choice given that he had been painting classic GT40s in his downtown Detroit studio for years. Two of his GT40 paintings have been hanging in the executive offices of Ford Motor Company World Headquarters for three years.
Pardo's first attempt at the GT40 concept was what Mays calls 'generically modern.' The first clay was paraded throughout design ranks and test-marketed in front of outside focus groups. The car used harder edges in place of curves. The surfaces, even the proportions, were abbreviated. The nose was 'sawed-off' to create the necessary short overhang of a modern car. Something about it just didn't seem right to the design team.
'The priorities were all inverted with that design,' says Mays. 'We had to start over from scratch to bring out the essence of GT40. The key was to accept that a GT40 should be a GT40 and that we should reject the idea of modernity for modernity's sake.' A new approach to a classic
Pardo's team began by borrowing a vintage car and rolling it into the studio for inspiration. GT40 number 1030, a sky blue Mark I owned by a collector in Massachusetts, became a fixture in the studio. The owner took Pardo and team on hot-laps at Ford's Dearborn Proving Grounds, across the street from the studio, to give them the full GT40 experience.
It was around this time that Pardo began his ritual of screening the 1966 film 'Grand Prix' and other period car racing films in his office each day. The team took a 'deep dive' into the culture of the period filling the studio with images they felt reflected the 'mod' theme of the era.
'Freeing ourselves of the fear of creating a car that looked too much like the original was a liberating experience for the team,' says Pardo. 'But staying true to the original themes in a clean, modern design made this the most difficult project I've ever been involved with.' Exterior
The GT40 concept is an 'organic and geometric' design achieved by creating smooth, natural intersecting surfaces accented by simple, subtle lines that appear and then seem to disappear depending on one's viewing angle and available light sources. There is no beginning and no end to the car. It is designed around its wheelhouses, from the center outward.
Every intersection of surfaces was a carefully thought-out design challenge; from the way the front fenders sweep into the nose to the way the C-pillars land on the rear deck. An accent line that surrounds the design serves to bring all the elements together.
'A casual observer might not notice it,' says Pardo. 'But without it, the effect would be entirely different, sort of incomplete.'
A key to moving the design forward was coming to grips with breaking one of the tenets of modern design - the short overhang.
Once the power of the design was put back into the nose of the car, other constraining design paradigms began to fall. The effect was the creation of a '60s racecar theme with a modern attitude delivered through precision lines and materials.
'We call it a fist-in-a-velvet-glove effect,' says Pardo.
The geometric reorganization of the prominent GT40 headlamps adds the modern effect. The headlamps symbolize the car's heritage as a 24-hour endurance runner, but are key in creating the car's contemporary image through the use of a combination of fiber optics and HID projection beams.
At 182 inches long, 77 inches wide, and 44 inches tall, the GT40 concept makes an aggressive visual statement from every angle. The original car received the numeric part of its name from its actual overall height. Achieving 40 inches for the concept was never desired. The GT40 concept was designed as a modern road car that would provide the presence of the racer and the comfort of a grand touring sportscar. Proportionally bigger than its predecessor in every dimension, the challenge was to increase the size without sacrificing the overall effect.
The front cowl is a microcosm of the designer's challenges throughout the car. The cowl is an exercise in complex surface development that flows from the sweeping, bulging curves of the fenders to the deep-cut, angular cooling vents. As in the original, the cowl is front-hinged and opens to reveal a small storage area and a stadium view of the polished front suspension components.
The wide windscreen stretches from front corner to front corner at the A-pillar base and tapers slightly toward the roof creating a wide, Mark I-style tumblehome. The windscreen is dramatically raked back from the leading edge to the roofline.
The doors cut into the roof of the vehicle just as they did in the original, which was necessitated by the vintage car's outboard fuel cells and need for the drivers to step into the vehicle during the famed Le Mans running starts.
The GT40 concept offers excellent ingress and egress with the wide-opening doors and two center-mounted fuel cells that allow the driver and passenger seat positions to be moved outward, closer to the sides and shallow sills. The two racing fuel cells, sourced from ITW, run longitudinally down the center tunnel and are filled by polished fuel caps at the base of the windshield.
Along the sides, just behind the doors, are the vents and scoops that allow the mid-mounted engine to cool and breathe. Again, the vents and scoops are a study in design continuity. All the air collectors on the vehicle's perimeter are scooped, protruding out like jet fighter intakes. All the intakes on top surfaces, the front and rear cowls and C-pillar, are vented, diving down into the body.
'There's a pure rhythm to the design from the headlamps to air intakes to the ducktail finish,' says Pardo. 'It's a holistic approach that creates a design around the functional components. Everything seems shrink-wrapped around the mechanicals.'
The two-piece rear canopy is hinged at the rear, as on the original. While most vehicles are designed to look great with all the access panels shut,Source - Ford Media