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Motoring: Ford GT40 - 1965

The Ford GT40 is one of the greatest sports cars of all time. It was built with one objective in mind, to win the Le Mans 24 Hour Race. This it did, no less than four times from 1966 to 1969 and also won the Sports Car Championship for Ford in 1968. The GT40 won just about every major race then on the motor sport calendar and was driven by the top drivers of the time, including several World Champions. It also enjoyed much success with the smaller, private teams.

When the GT40 went into production in 1965, Ford anticipated that some wealthy enthusiasts would buy these spectacular cars for highway touring. A road version announced in January 1966, was called "the most expensive Ford ever". Normally it was fitted with a detuned version of the Ford 289 cubic inch V8 which gave it a maximum speed of 164 mph. From the outside the road version of the GT was identical to the racing model. The interior was much more civilised, with a speedometer, tinted door and rear glass, deep door pockets and improved seats. Flanking the transmission at the rear, under the deck lid, were two boxes for luggage.

31 road versions of the Ford GT40 MK 1 were built by Ford UK. Twenty-six of these were sold overseas, mainly in the United States, earning over $100,000 in foreign currency. The final road version of the Ford GT40 was completed by JW Automotive Engineering at Slough, Buckinghamshire, in May 1969. It was one of seven MK 111 road cars. In 1966 Ford GTs finished first, second and third at Daytona, first and second at Sebring, first, second and third at Le Mans and won for Ford the World Constructors championship for prototypes. Victory at Le Mans and Sebring was repeated in 1967 while in 1968 the Ford GT40 completed a hat trick of Le Mans victories for Ford. This together with first place in the BOAC 500 at Brands Hatch, the 1,000 km at Monza, the 1,000 km at Spa and the Endurance Race at Watkins Glen, won Ford the World Sports Car Manufacturers' Championship for the second time in three years.

P/1046: The 1969 Le Mans-winning GT40

In 1969 the Ford GT took first place at Sebring and Le Mans - the same year that production finished. Exact production figures are difficult to determine. It seems that 111 Mk 1 and Mk 111 GT40's were produced plus 12 7-litre cars - J cars and Mk IV - though there were another ten 7-litre cars which had been converted from existing GT 40's and Mk 1's. The production life of the Ford GT40 was less than seven years, yet in that short span it established itself as one of the immortals of motorsport. The Ford GT40 had the number '40' added to its name because the vehicle is 40 inches high.

In January 1966, Shelby American's California shop took delivery of a bare chassis identified as P/1046 the 47th GT40 from Ford Advanced Vehicles' 87-car production run. The Shelby crew completed this car to campaign it at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans. In the hands of Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon, it qualified fourth in the 55-car field, two seconds behind the pole-winning GT40 driven by Dan Gurney and Jerry Grant.

Before the race was half over, all 14 Ferraris were parked. Overheating stopped Gurney and Grant at about the 17-hour mark. With two hours remaining, the GT40 driven by Ken Miles and Denny Hulme passed the McLaren/Amon car for the lead. But Miles and Hulme were robbed of the win by Ford racing boss Leo Beebe's attempt to orchestrate a three-abreast finish. Officials awarded the laurels to the McLaren/Amon effort because they had started the race farther back on the grid, and they did, in fact, cross the finish line first.

Chassis P/1046's glory was short-lived. Following stints as a test mule, it ran in the 1967 Daytona 24-hour race but dropped out, along with four other Ford entries. After a few more test sessions, P/1046 was demoted to parts donor. It was subsequently sold, then handed down through three owners, one of whom had P/1046 prepped for street service with a closed-circuit rearview camera, air-conditioning, and a metal-flake gold paint job with black trim.

In 1983, Wisconsin collector George Stauffer was shopping for vintage Rolls-Royces when he discovered P/1046 stored in a crate in Ghent, Belgium. It had lost its identification plate somewhere along the way, but GT40 expert Ronnie Spain studied the find for several months and concluded it was, without doubt, the 1966 Le Mans winner. Stauffer restored the car to factory specification and raced it in vintage events for nearly three decades.


Le Mans 1968

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