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
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