The Ford GT 40 Story

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Scott Benjamin: Hey, Ben.

Ben Bowlin: Hey, Scott.

Scott Benjamin: I got some news for you.

Ben Bowlin: What's going on?

Scott Benjamin: We have got a piece of listener mail here that I find very interesting.

Ben Bowlin: Well, let's not wait.

Scott Benjamin: Let me read it to you because it comes from a fan that wrote to us. His name is Michael from Charleston, South Carolina.

Ben Bowlin: Hi, Mike, Michael. Some people don't like it if you call them Mike instead of Michael.

Scott Benjamin: Oh, okay, gotcha. I thought maybe I stuttered.

Ben Bowlin: No.

Scott Benjamin: Let's see. "I thought of a couple of automotive things I've been curious about. The first is the origins of the Ford GT 40. I've heard the story of this car, and it always leaves me wanting more." And the other one was one that we're already talking about doing a podcast about, if we haven't already, F1 car and Indy car differences? Maybe. I think we may have talked about it a little bit, but anyways, this Ford GT 40 thing really peaked my interest because it always makes my list of top 10. Whenever we do a top 10 favorite cars, top 10 sports cars, whatever, it's always on there.

Ben Bowlin: And I was so excited to hear about that first suggestion, that I almost did not hear the second one, which is a good idea, but man, let me just tell everybody listening, Scott and the Ford GT 40 go back. At least the way our show is concerned, you've always loved this line.

Scott Benjamin: Yeah, I do. You know what - can I say this about the photo shoot thing?

Ben Bowlin: Yeah.

Scott Benjamin: We had a little photo shoot here recently and I brought in some models, and what was one of the models?

Ben Bowlin: It was a GT 40.

Scott Benjamin: That's right, with Gulf colors. It had the blue and orange Gulf colors, and I've got a couple of those in my collection. I love that car. I think it's beautiful.

Ben Bowlin: Oh, man, the only way I would like that scale model more is if it was the real car.

Scott Benjamin: If it was one-to-one scale and drivable?

Ben Bowlin: Yeah. Or we could still qualify it as a scale model.

Scott Benjamin: Yeah, sure, one-to-one scale. That's a good idea.

Ben Bowlin: So the GT 40 - Scott, I'm not going to run my mouth too much on this, but I need to check with you on a couple of things, on the storied history of this automobile.

Scott Benjamin: Sure. Well, tell me what you know.

Ben Bowlin: Well, I know that the Ford GT 40 was, of course, made by Henry Ford, directed by Henry Ford, and from what I understand, Mr. Ford, as he often does, had a dream and his dream was to do very well in a certain race. Can you maybe breakdown - the cool parts?

Scott Benjamin: I'll give you the straight scoop on this one. How about that?

Ben Bowlin: Yeah. Just the straight scoop.

Scott Benjamin: You want me to just let it fly from the beginning and we'll see where this takes us, and you can stop me on the way, okay?

Ben Bowlin: All right. Sounds good.

Scott Benjamin: But I'll just go right through the progression of this whole vehicle from beginning to end, and when we wrap up, that's it because it has a very crisp ending, I'll say.

Ben Bowlin: Ooh, you ain't lying.

Scott Benjamin: Okay, here we go. So the Ford GT 40 story, this is for Michael in Charleston, South Carolina, and me, too, because I like it. What this really comes down to, and it's a funny way to think about it, but it's really the ultimate "I'll show you" move by Ford Motor Company. You'll understand in a moment because a lot of people have probably heard that there was a Ford - Ferrari thing going on in the 1960s, and it's true.You've got to remember that Ford was building cars since 1903, really since 1896 if you want to count his initial prototype car, the quadricycle thing. That's the founding of the company in 1903, but the Model T didn't come out until about 1908, so you're saying here's a company that came around in 1908. He's been successful since 1908. Ferrari, in 1947 coming along, that's an upstart company. That's upstart since we're talking about something that happened in the early part of the 1960s because Ferrari came about as just a company that wanted to build racecars.They wanted to build outstanding road cars, racecars, and build enough road cars to be able to race in different series around the world. So to Ford, this is a newcomer. They're about 13, 14 years old, pretty new company, so he had the bold idea - actually, in about the '50s, Ford Motor Company wanted to kind of end their - I don't know how I want to say this - there's a ban on racing. They had joined a ban for direct involvement in racing that was instituted, so American manufacturers wouldn't participate in racing directly and they had joined that.

Ben Bowlin: So that meant that Ford could not - not only could they not build racecars themselves, but they couldn't directly sponsor other races?

Scott Benjamin: Yes, that's right. So by 1962 and this was when - actually, instead of Henry Ford, this is Henry Ford II now running the company, so really it's Henry Ford II's - he's the one prompting all of this, okay?

Ben Bowlin: Is he still crazy like a fox?

Scott Benjamin: You know, not as much as the old man. Not as much because we know some of the background on that. That guy is, although brilliant, a little bit nuts, right? It's fair to say it, really.

Ben Bowlin: We have a podcast called "Henry Ford is Weird" for anyone who wants to get more details.

Scott Benjamin: Yeah, and it's for good reasons.

Ben Bowlin: So this is the sequel - Henry Ford 2.

Scott Benjamin: Okay, so under this, he withdrew his company's ban on racing. He said we're out of it; we're going to go for this because he was just excited about racing. He created a group called Ford Total Performance. Ford Total Performance had the main goal or the main idea to win a very specific race that you mentioned earlier. They wanted to win an endurance race called the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and it has a much longer name than that, but I'm just going to say 24 Hours of Le Mans.Of course, that's been around since 1923, so it's a very prestigious race. Of course, very difficult endurance race - high speeds, overnight, long, long track. And by the 1960s, when this is all happening, Ferrari is really the top end of this endurance racing series. They're the one to beat. They're number one. Of course, remember they're relatively new at the time.

Ben Bowlin: Young Company and they're a specialized company.

Scott Benjamin: Exactly. Now, Ford's got this interest in racing, and they say, well, we want to be the best, of course. You don't enter racing to lose. So they say, "Let's buy Ferrari because we don't have a car right now that's a mid-engine car that can compete with the likes of Ferrari in a race like that. We just don't have anything that matches what we need to meet in this series," so the obvious solution to them was to buy Ferrari.

Ben Bowlin: It sounds weird, but let's think it through because it makes sense. It is totally reasonable to decide to buy a company when it's going to be so much more expensive for you to have to build your own racecar from scratch.

Scott Benjamin: Yeah, think about the Fords of the early '60s. They needed to build a mid-engine car that could do 200 miles per hour and average 120 miles per lap for 24 hours at a time.

Ben Bowlin: And they just didn't have that.

Scott Benjamin: No, they had nothing close to that, even. Ferrari did, and they said, "Well, here's this new company again. We're going to make them an $18 million deal. We're going to say we'll buy you for $18 million."

Ben Bowlin: Can I just get your company basically?

Scott Benjamin: Yeah, that's right. They were in talks with Enzo Ferrari, the owner of Ferrari, and they were considering it for a brief time. Very suddenly, Enzo Ferrari decided the name isn't for sale. We're going to stick with this. We're going to do it ourselves, so he gave up $18 million, which was a good move in retrospect. He gave that up and said, "You know what? We're going to continue to do what we do; you go what you do and good luck with your own race team." So he just didn't want to dilute the name, I guess, at that point. You can call it that. Good news.

Ben Bowlin: What's the good news?

Scott Benjamin: Ford had a plan B on the backburner.

Ben Bowlin: And the name of that plan B was - I'll go ahead and tell you what I think I should call it - Vengeance.

Scott Benjamin: Yeah, that's exactly right. It was vengeance, right. What had been going on behind the scenes was that Ford was developing a racing program or development team on its own, and they took what was a concept car at the time - Ben, I'm going to hand you a photo and the rest of our listeners can look it up - take a look at that.

Ben Bowlin: Oh, wow.

Scott Benjamin: That is a car, and I want everybody else to look this up because this is what originally prompted the whole F-40 design. This is the Mustang I concept car that came out in 1962, so it's the Mustang concept. If you recall, the Ford Mustang didn't come out until 1964 with a production version. That was the concept vehicle for the Mustang. To me, it looks nothing like what the Mustang does, but it was a mid-engine sports car, and this is the beginning of what Ford needed in order to make this whole thing work.So they based the GT, what they called the Ford GT at the time because it wasn't called the GT 40, it was called the Ford GT on the Mustang I concept car. And it had shared bodywork - sorry, they also paired up with a guy from Lola, who had a vehicle that they called the Lola GT, which they've still got Lola GTs floating around here and there, but that's GT for "grand touring," of course. The guy's name is Eric Broadley. Roy Lunn, I think is his name, is the one who designed the Mustang I concept car.But they shared bodywork with the Lola GT, which is this real long, sleek, wide body, and they were able to use the Mustang I chassis and other running gear in order to make this work. Of course, they've got extremely deep pockets because it's a big American manufacturer at the time.

Ben Bowlin: It's the world's largest car company.

Scott Benjamin: Huge company at the time. It still is, but at the time, they've got a lot of money, so they can throw a lot of money in the development of this, and it was quick. So by 1964, they introduced the Ford GT to the public at the New York Auto Show.

Ben Bowlin: Oh, wait, before we get right there, I was under the impression that Henry Ford II, angry about the deal with Enzo Ferrari, c ame back and didn't just say, "Let's make a race car," he said, "Let's make the race car that beats Ferrari at Le Mans," because what I love, the reason I'm pulling my cut-rate Wrath of Khan impersonation there, is because it's such a spiteful move. The Ferrari guys, they just said, "Look, we just want to do really well with these cars in this one specific way. We don't want you to change us."

Scott Benjamin: And they did.

Ben Bowlin: And they did, but that was despite the efforts of Mr. Ford, who said, "Oh, you want this one thing? Then it shall be mine."

Scott Benjamin: Yeah, that's right. I'm going to take it away because that's what he did. It was a spiteful move. He said, "You know what? If I can't have your company and your success, that part of your success, I'm going to do it on my own and I'm going to do it quickly, and make you see the error of your ways. You should have joined up forces with us."

Ben Bowlin: And I'm not trying to make him seem like a villain by any means.

Scott Benjamin: No, not at all.

Ben Bowlin: I think it's very funny, but I also think we're very lucky that he held a grudge because - I'm sorry for that aside. Let's go back to 1964 when one of the most awesome racecars came out.

Scott Benjamin: No, I don't mind the aside at all because that's what this whole thing is about. I love this era in racing, in that it's a "I'll do you one better," and that was constantly going on. It was going on between Ford and GM. I'm sorry - it was going on between Ford and Dodge on the racetracks.It was going on - of course, GM was involved as well, but there was just this intense motor sports battles that started to happen after this once they lifted this ban on racing, and it was really kind of cool because this is where a lot of the muscle car development and the sports car development, and the real performers, the handling vehicles that they have now, all of that came from this era. They learned an awful lot in a short amount of time because they had to. Racing forces development of things like that faster. It makes it quick.

Ben Bowlin: Nice, Scott. That was quotable.

Scott Benjamin: Oh, thank you.

Ben Bowlin: I like that.

Scott Benjamin: Thank you. Anyway, let's get back to 1964.

Ben Bowlin: Ah, yes. Time travel.

Scott Benjamin: So in 1964, let's see -

Ben Bowlin: They unveiled it.

Scott Benjamin: Yeah, they unveiled it in 1964 in New York to the public and the press, and of course, everybody went crazy over it. They practiced with it in 1964. They had a Mark II version of this thing, and they added the 40, so that it's now a GT 40 because it was unveiled as a Ford GT. They added 40 to it, which is really nothing more than the car's height in inches, so it's 40 inches tall, which gives you an idea of the stance of this thing. It's a really, really low, wide car. Gorgeous car, in my opinion!

Ben Bowlin: I think you're right. I agree. Well, I have the same opinion, I guess.

Scott Benjamin: Yeah, it's a beautiful racecar. So they went to practice in 1964. This is practice for endurance racing. They had poor weather, aerodynamic problems, that led to two crashes and they got very little information about this. So this is an accelerated development program, right?

Ben Bowlin: Yeah.

Scott Benjamin: So by June of 1964 and that's when Le Mans is run, all but one -

Ben Bowlin: There were three in there, right?

Scott Benjamin: They all went out. I believe they all went out in 1964. I don't know how many there were in the first race, but went out to numerous, various failures is what it says in most articles, without getting into detail about each one. They brought in, at that point, Carroll Shelby, widely known motor sports guy. They brought him in for reliability, and the way that he increased reliability in these cars was he added a 7-liter engine, so that's the Ford 427 that we all know and love, or most of us know and love it, anyways. And by 1965 -

Ben Bowlin: And that's a Mark II, right, with the 427?

Scott Benjamin: Correct. So by 1965, they were slightly better, but still unsuccessful. They were what's considered a strong contender, competition for Ferrari, but really that was in only two seasons and that's really saying an awful lot. You don't just come out of the box with a car that works to beat Ferrari in two years. This was what they considered a strong contender. They were worried about Ford in 1966 -

Ben Bowlin: Which is exactly where he wanted them to be?

Scott Benjamin: Exactly, and they should have been worried because 1966 was a banner year for Ford and the GT 40. In between there, they had a wind tunnel that they were able to test on a dynamometer. It simulated a 48-hour test of Le Mans, so they were running double the time and knowing that their car is reliable enough to make it 48 hours versus 24 hours, and in a similar situation as Le Mans course. So they knew they had the reliability thing down.So then we get into 1966, and I'm going to call that a magic year for Ford. It really was because this is when everything came together. There's a lot of different endurance races, and they're still around. All three of these that I'm going to mention are still around. They won in Daytona, the 24 Hours of Daytona. They won in a 1-2-3 sweep, the Ford GT 40 did, which is impressive.

Ben Bowlin: It's more than impressive; it's quite rare.

Scott Benjamin: Oh, exactly, and they won in Sebring, a 12-hour race, which is another endurance race, and again, a 1-2-3 sweep. So then comes Le Mans in June of that same year, 1966, guess what?

Ben Bowlin: I'm going to go ahead and guess that Ford wins.

Scott Benjamin: 1-2-3, just like the previous two races.

Ben Bowlin: Oh, was Ferrari number four?

Scott Benjamin: I don't even know. I'd have to look back at - because I was focused on this, but maybe. They won by such a significant amount that year, they were in such a lead at that point, that they were actually told to slow down, so that they didn't break anything just inadvertently driving because they were able to have that cushion to say, "Let's back it off a little bit and just make sure we cross the line 1-2-3."

Ben Bowlin: Can I add something in there?

Scott Benjamin: Yeah, please do.

Ben Bowlin: So the car that grabbed the first place spot in '66, I believe was a J car, is that correct? It's one of the types they worked on. This one was a little bit different because they really had taken lessons learned from the other Marks in the wind tunnel, and this car weighed less than 3,000 pounds.

Scott Benjamin: No kidding?

Ben Bowlin: It was like 2,600-something, so that's in addition to being like positively skimpy in the weight ratio, it was still hundreds of pounds less than the Mark II. And those improvements, I think, are really why they had such a strong showing, an unprecedented showing.

Scott Benjamin: Sure, they were rocket fast. These are big cars, and to be able to cut down weight like that, and of course racing is all about reducing weight and reliability, of course, but yeah, for them to be able to cut hundreds of pounds off of a vehicle, that's incredible. And yet keep it safe, and they were able to do that with new technology, like you said. It comes along and they use it, and it's often lighter and better.

Ben Bowlin: Most of our safety technology descends from racing, doesn't it?

Scott Benjamin: Yes. Yes, it does. A lot of what you see on your car comes from racing, more than you would think.

Ben Bowlin: We also have an episode about that.

Scott Benjamin: Very good, Ben.

Ben Bowlin: I gotta stop plugging our own episodes. Anyway, so banner year, man. Take us back.

Scott Benjamin: And speaking of soft drinks, if you'd like a soft drink, why won't you head down to the concession stand - no, I'm just kidding. You need to plug the podcasts as much as possible.

Ben Bowlin: Do you think so?

Scott Benjamin: Yeah, why not? We're getting to the point where we've got so many people need to look back at some of the older ones.

Ben Bowlin: We're honestly getting to the point where I have to look through our notes to make sure that I don't already have notes from related things. You guys should see Scott's desk. He has this meticulously filed away.

Scott Benjamin: Yeah, meticulous is not the word for it.

Ben Bowlin: It's a foolproof system. I should know because I'm foolish. Anyway, so take us back, man. Henry Ford II, riding high.

Scott Benjamin: Yeah, in 1966, this is the top for them, really. They won what's known as the Triple Crown of endurance racing. It was all three of those. It was Daytona, Sebring, and then Le Mans. That's only their third season of competition, which is just remarkable. Like I said, it's the ultimate "I'll show you" move to Ferrari. They had to have been just super angry at this point.Can you imagine the company that wanted to buy you, who is now - it would have been a tidy sum of money, as well, and here they are finishing 1-2-3 in the series that you compete in, and you had formerly done so well in, and now they're topping you in only three years.

Ben Bowlin: Astonishing.

Scott Benjamin: It is. It really is. It just shows you what being able to throw a whole bunch of money into development and research does. So in 1967, things weren't really terribly different. They brought in an all-new Ford GT 40, which is the Mark IV, into competition just to prove that 1966 wasn't just a fluke, I guess, is what they said. For the first time, it was an all-American car. This car was built in Dearborn, Michigan, entirely, so it wasn't just - people had some criticism for this.They said they were driving English cars with - they said they were funded by deep American pockets, I think is how it was put in the article that I read. They've got a U.S. engine, the 427 that they'd been using or other variations of that at that point. I don't know what '67 they ran, but as is usually the case, there's one group of cars that's running away with everything, and they adapt the rules to make that not so anymore because they want to keep a level playing field for everybody.

Ben Bowlin: Keep it competitive.

Scott Benjamin: Yeah, keep it competitive, and in a way I understand this, and in a way I don't. I think they need to let them be a little bit creative, I think, but you can be creative after that. After the 1967 race, where again GT 40 took the victory -

Ben Bowlin: And there weren't very many Mark IVs built.

Scott Benjamin: No, well, how many?

Ben Bowlin: Like six, I think.

Scott Benjamin: Six, really?

Ben Bowlin: There were less than 12.

Scott Benjamin: Wow, talk about rare. Can you imagine finding one of those in an auction, or something?

Ben Bowlin: I can kind of imagine it, but only vaguely.

Scott Benjamin: And we talked about the production vehicles that they had to make in order to race these cars to begin with, and there were only 31 street cars, I think, originally. They must have been back in '64. Anyways, we're getting off the track here. But in '67, the FIA capped, which is the sanctioning organization, FIA, they capped engine displacement at 5 liters.Ford's running a 7-liter engine at that point, so they reduced the liter capacity, but the Gulf Oil cars returned with the Mark I GT 40s, or GTs, I guess at that point, and they had a win in 1968 and '69 again, and this is Gulf Oil, you know the ones we talked about with the light blue and orange. A lot of people know the paint scheme, the Gulf Oil cars. And then in 1969, so they're continuing to win still, even though these restrictions are placed on this thing. 1969, they call that one of the most exciting endurance races in Le Mans history because here you are racing 24 hours. The margin of victory - two seconds.

Ben Bowlin: Between?

Scott Benjamin: Ford and number two. I don't know who that was. Yeah, I'll have to look that up and find out who they beat.

Ben Bowlin: So they started losing their edge?

Scott Benjamin: Well, yeah, I guess so at the end, but they still won. It's still a victory in 1969, but that kind of ended the run of victories for Ford in that series. That was fine with them because by 1969, the thing had 425 horsepower, it was clocked going 217 miles per hour on the back straight of this course, which is called the Mulsanne Straight, I think, and pretty much they had done everything that they had wanted to.It prompted new GT racing rules, of course, because it was just dominating the series, and unfortunately, that's what ended its own success. Once you get to the point where you're in control of the series, you know that the sanctioning body is going to say, well, let's take another look at this and make sure that it is competitive for everybody. We don't want them to get discouraged. We want it to continue on. What can we do to level it? And that's what they did and that's when the GT 40 went away, 1969.

Ben Bowlin: And on that note, we have to say that the lesson is ending, but just to put it in perspective, a car so good that the rules had to change. A car so good that even now, after 1969, decades later, the world is just replete with enthusiasts and people who love this vehicle, who want one, who buy replicas, who advise each other on how to repair them and get the best performance.

Scott Benjamin: Oh, there's some great replicas out there. They're beautiful, beautiful replicas and the Ford GT that is offered by the manufacturer, that's gone now, but there are plenty of them out there. They're a high-dollar car, of course, compared to a replica in some cases. Some are more expensive, but the originals, oh my gosh. If you can find an original in an auction somewhere, or you'll see them in museum, they're beyond most people's wallets.

Ben Bowlin: I bet our boy Jay Leno has a few.

Scott Benjamin: I bet he does.

Ben Bowlin: He's probably got at least one.

Scott Benjamin: He's probably got one, yeah, somewhere.

Ben Bowlin: He's probably got the one - it's his daily driver.

Scott Benjamin: That's probably right. Hey Ben, you're not going to believe this.

Ben Bowlin: What is it?

Scott Benjamin: We've got a brand new app that's coming out very soon on the iPhone. It's called the app, and basically, it just gives you access to all of the content that you can get on our website - articles, videos, everything.

Ben Bowlin: Scott, I think I know what you're talking about. This app, I love it because it goes out on the iPad, the iPod Touch, the iPhone, and here's the kicker for me - it's free.

Scott Benjamin: Free is always good.

Ben Bowlin: Free as the wind.

Scott Benjamin: And you can listen to CarStuff, the latest podcast. You can check out our blog, Twitter, Facebook, all that stuff while you're on the go.

Ben Bowlin: Okay, so check out the app and tell us what you think.

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