My Car Quest

October 14, 2019

Ford v Ferrari At Le Mans In The 1960s: Q & A From A GT40 Author

by Wallace Wyss –

The movie Ford v Ferrari is about to hit the big screen November 15th (except for those lucky enough to see the premiere November 4th) and I imagine there’s some youngins who don’t know diddley-squat about the events leading up to the big victory at Le Mans in ’66. So I am taking it upon myself to answer 14 often asked questions.

1. Why did Ford want to compete at LeMans?

ANSWER: Ford already had factories in Europe but were a fairly anonymous brand associated with cheap cars. The Mustang was about to be introduced and was providing some excitement but Lee Iacocca head of Ford Division wanted to generate more excitement for the Ford name in Europe. Henry Ford II tried to buy Ferrari but got the door slammed in his face so in ’63 gave orders to his minions to build a car that could beat Ferrari at Le Mans.

Ford GT40

Even in ’64 Ford was experimenting with front spoilers at Le Mans (Ford photo).

2. Was the GT40 based on the Lola GT?

ANSWER: No, Ford liked the fact it had a small block Ford so they bought two of the three made to use as test cars to test the components they were making for the GT40. Eric Broadley, head of Lola, didn’t get along with Ford’s racing boss, John Wyer, and left early to build Lola cars.

3. Was Shelby involved from the get go?

ANSWER: Only peripherally. He had talked Ford into ordering his Cobras and putting them in Ford showrooms and was running a race program with Cobras, plus helping to develop the Shelby R model race car when Ford asked him for help on the GT.

4. Why did Ford fail with the GT40 in ’64?

ANSWER: Ford had John Wyer in charge, Wyer having been head of Aston Martin’s race car program. But Wyer didn’t adapt fast enough to modern race car needs, for instance he didn’t get rid of wire wheels fast enough and they snapped spokes. He also rejected some Shelby recommended drivers, who could have won for Ford like Ritchie Ginther. But mostly it was because the Italian gearbox was no good and the first engine Ford selected wasn’t durable enough.

Ford GT40

The Mk. II was more brutal, bigger engine, two sets of side scoops. Tacked on spoiler.

5. Why did Shelby redesign the body of the GT40?

ANSWER: It was copied too much off the Mustang I show car. Since that car had not been driven that fast (just around racetracks for show) no one realized that at 200 mph it would have about 6” of nose lift. So when Shelby took over development on the GT40 the first thing he did was lower the nose and experiment with spoilers front and rear.

6. Why don’t you hear about GT40 roadsters?

ANSWER: They existed. Five of the small blocks and one big block called “Big Ed”. They weren’t any faster, and were a little wet in the rain. Only one ran at Le Mans. The Sebring victory with Big Ed was the only notable victory for a roadster. But today because of their rarity they are priced higher than most other GT40s.

Ford GT40

Yes there were roadsters. Only one won a major race and that was a big block.

7. Why did Ford split the Shelby team in two ’66?

ANSWER: Maybe it was Leo Beebe, HF II’s basketball coach, who he put in charge of Ford’s racing, that thought it would be good to have teams competing within the Ford racing team in ’66. Shelby had drivers Ken Miles and Denny Hulme; Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon; and Dan Gurney and Jerry Grant while Holman Moody, a racing shop from North Carolina, ran three additional Ford GT40s. There were also independent teams running Ford GT40s but only Ford Motor Co. ran the big blocks in ’65.

8. Why Didn’t Ferrari run more race cars on the grid in ’66?

ANSWER: Ferrari had won in ’65 almost by accident with a dealer-owned 250LM, already an obsolete car. So they were a tad over confident, thinking something along the lines of “hell, if we can win with a used car, we don’t have anything to worry about.” Also they had been at Le Mans practice in April and realized the big block Ford GT40s had lots of teething problems. And they had already won Le Mans five times in a row and Ford were the amateurs.

Ford GT40

The victory of Mk. I redesigns in ’68 and ’69 showed the J car was unnecessary. Ford photo.

9. What about that controversial finish in ’66, where Miles was “robbed” of his victory?

ANSWER: From Ford’s standpoint they didn’t anticipate any kickback when they realized in the 24th hour that three Ford GT40s were poised on the edge of victory and knew a three abreast finish would make a good news photo so they sent instructions to their drivers, including Miles, to slow down so they could all run three abreast across the finish line. But what happened next made Miles very unhappy. Since the McLaren/Amon car had started further back on the grid 24 hours before, it was judged having driven a further distance so Miles had to eat it and accept second place.

10. What about the Shelby Lone Star?

ANSWER: That was a car that Shelby developed as a street car. Mid-engined, small block. Very voluptuous, like a Ferrari P3/4 but which Ford had no interest in backing since they were still making Ford GT Mk.III road cars and Ford GT40 Mk. I road cars. And they didn’t like it much that it was called the Shelby Mk. V instead of a Ford.

11. Was Pete Brock involved in the GT40?

ANSWER: He told me he was leaving about the time the GT40 engineers arrived in California. Up until then he’d been the belle of the ball with the Daytona coupe but Ford decided not to back Cobra racing beyond ’65 so Cobras took a back seat and the GT40s were in and Brock was out.

12. Did Ford give any help to the teams that ran GT40s in ’68 and ’69?

ANSWER: Not officially. A Ford engineer told me they sent the Gulf team a complete engine. Ford was glad to see it win without having to spend a penny even though of course since it was developed from the Mk. I, it made the whole J-car/Mk. IV program look as if it had been unnecessary. They should have just developed the GT40 more, as the Gulf team did.

Wallace Wyss Book Cover

13. Do you think the Ford GT program had any lasting effect?

ANSWER: As an automotive marketer (former copywriter for the Corvette), I think Ford dropped the car too soon, and should have kept it going off and on, which they did with the ’05 and ’06 and now the current car. Look at how Bentley, with LeMans wins way back in the 1920s, still has models in 2020 tying in to their LeMans victories. They are milking those victories to the nth degree.

14. Are your books available?

ANSWER: My book SHELBY The Man the Cars the Legend is available from Enthusiast books. The out of print book I co-published Ford vs. Ferrari by Pritchard, and the book I wrote with Brian Winer, Ford GT40 and the New Ford GT are both available from Brian at trueford@aol.com

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

 
 
 
 
 
THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is marketing his artwork of the Ford/Ferrari era of the ‘60s at Le Mans cars. For a list write mendoart7@gmail.com. For info on the book Ford vs. Ferrari, write trueford1@aol.com

 
 
 

 

 

Summary
Ford v Ferrari At Le Mans In The 1960s: Q & A From A GT40 Author
Article Name
Ford v Ferrari At Le Mans In The 1960s: Q & A From A GT40 Author
Description
Frequently asked questions about Le Mans 1966 and the Ford GT40.
Author

Comments

  1. Rob Krantz says

    Thank you for the interesting historical perspective.

  2. Thank you for sharing the historical viewpoint.

  3. wallace wyss says

    I was passing through some old articles on the new Ford GT and was surprised to see Jalopnik did the same thing
    back on June 18, 2016 with a srory by Patrick George headlined

    Ford GT Beats Ferrari Again At Le Mans, America Rules

    But when you read the copy you had to get down a few lines before you found out it was a class win:

    “Eighteen months ago the automotive world was filled with skepticism over rumors that Ford would resurrect the legendary Ford GT, let alone take it racing. It’s now June 2016 and that car is not only very real, one of them just beat Ferrari to win its class in the the 24 Hours of Le Mans 50 years after the original GT40s did the same.”

    So I say again, A CLASS WIN IS NOT AN OVERALL WIN

    When are the pro one brand or another going to quit mis-representing their favorite maqrque’s wins?

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