1968 Ford GT40

Road rage

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 58, Spring 2019

Page 55

Revenge is a dish best served fast: Poppy McKenzie Smith describes the supercar born out of Ford and Ferrari's feud

The Ford GT40 is a Le Manswinning supercar born out of one of motorsport's legendary grudges. In the early 1960s, Enzo Ferrari was in dire need of investment, so he engaged in serious and costly negotiations with Ford. By mid-1963, a deal had been all but struck.

Ford spent millions on inventory checks and legal preparations, and the contract was ready to sign. Suddenly, realizing that the deal meant he would no longer be il commendatore of his much-loved racing team, Enzo had a change of heart. He pulled out of the deal, leaving Ford severely out of pocket. Enraged, Henry Ford II decided to hit Enzo where it hurt most – on the race track. When Don Frey, who had been leading the negotiations for Ford, returned to Detroit empty-handed, he was told "go to Le Mans, and beat his ass". Ferrari had dominated the Le Mans 24hr race for years and Ford knew, to take revenge on Enzo, he had to steal that crown.

Despite being an American concern, Ford developed the GT40 (so nicknamed for the mere 40 inches at which the lowslung racer stands) with the help of British motorsport legends such as Roy Lunn and Tony Southgate, as well as New Zealander Bruce McLaren. They created a car capable of 200mph – though after about 170mph it would try to become airborne – but victory was slow to arrive. The car's first major outings were a disappointment, due to mechanical issues.

Disgruntled, Ford handed development of the GT40 to his fellow American Carroll Shelby. Shelby swapped the 4.2-liter V8 for a 7.0-liter version, and the GT40 in its second incarnation scored its first win at Daytona in 1965. Ford's hopes were dashed, though, when the GT40 lost at Le Mans to Ferrari, who secured their ninth championship. It was not until 1966 that the victories really began to come. With that huge V8 pumping out 475bhp to propel the car at 200mph, the GT40 won at Daytona and Sebring.

Finally, the unimaginable happened. In May 1966, 100 staff, nine cars, seven spare engines and 21 tons of parts were disgorged at the fearsome Le Mans circuit. They battled for 24 hours through the pouring rain. When dawn broke, the overheating Ferraris were nowhere to be seen, but the GT40s were holding their own in 1st, 2nd and 3rd so convincingly that Ford ordered them to slow down to achieve a joint finish – harder than it sounds at threefigure speeds. He didn't get the photo finish he hoped for, but Ford had won at Le Mans and proved to Enzo that he wasn't to be messed with. He would take the coveted top spot there in 1967, 1968 and 1969. Part of the crack British team developing the GT40 was the late, great Terry Drury, who worked at Ford Advanced Vehicles. He also regularly raced the GT40s.

After a nasty crash at the Monza 1,000km, Ford sent Drury a replacement chassis, so he could take part in the Targa Florio. But Drury had managed to repair the crashed car, so he kept the chassis 'just in case'. It sat in his garage for years; then he began to construct a brand new but entirely original GT40 around the spare chassis. Having worked with Ford, he had a ready supply of factory parts to use. This 'new' GT40 – offered by Bonhams at the Goodwood Members' Meeting in April – was finished just a few years ago and will soon be started up for the first time after a build that lasted nearly three decades. Terry Drury, much like Ford, realized that the best things are worth waiting for.

Poppy McKenzie Smith is Motoring Press Officer.

Sale: Goodwood Members' Meeting Goodwood Sunday 7 April at 2pm
Enquiries: Tim Schofield
+44 (0) 20 7468 5804
tim.schofield@bonhams.com
bonhams.com/motorcars

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