n the '60s, a dispute between two motor industry titans, Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari, became one of the great legends of motor racing and laid the foundation for all mid-engined supercars.
A new design for an old favourite.
In the first half of the 1960s, Scuderia Ferrari dominated Le Mans, achieving an indelible patina of peak performance and toughness that was the envy of the industry.
Regardless of its motorsport success, Ferrari's business end was struggling financially and in 1963 Henry Ford II approached Enzo in an attempt to buy out the Italian brand. Talks come to an abrupt ending when 'Il Commendatore' realized that his winning Scuderia was an integral part of the deal. A disgruntled Ford directed his racing division to come up with a machine to beat Ferrari - "OK, then we'll kick his ass", is reportedly the expression he used -, thus starting what became one of the great feuds in racing history.
Yet, despite all this motivation, Ford had hardly any real plans or the racing expertise needed to accomplish such a monumental task. So they turned to Roy Lunn to start the new GT programme based on the Lola GT.
What he came up with in June 1963 was the GT40 MkI, a mid-engined racecar that stood a mere 40in high, along with an idea for a road-going version. Apparently, the cigar-chomping Ford execs signed off at first sight. Bruce McLaren was hired as a test driver and by April they thought to give it a go at the tracks. They failed spectacularly with all DNF results, including the Nürburgring 1000km and Le Mans. This led to a change in management. Carroll Shelby and his relentless ambition were apparently just what the project needed. In came the 7.0-litre V8 from the Cobra and a new ZF transmission. Also new, Ken Milles enters the driver's roster.
At Daytona in 1965, the MkII GT40 scores its first win, with Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby at the wheel and a podium in Sebring the month after. Although there were encouraging signs, the rest of the season was pretty bleak, reaching peak fiasco in Le Mans, when all five GT40s failed to finish and had to watch Ferrari take the overall win.
But then came 1966. And with it, the 1-2-3 wins at Daytona and (the controversial) Le Mans. In the following years, the GT40 would win consecutively four out of its six Le Mans entries. And a slew of other GT events around the world that made Ford a world champion for three straight years.
There were design and mechanical failures. There were crashes. People died. But in the end, Ford had made its revolution. It showed the world, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that the common man's car maker could play with the elite and beat them in their prime.
- Large: L: 41-46 UK (7½-11½) US (8-12)
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