by David Cook, images by David Cook, Doug Breithaupt
One of the most fantastic auto racing stories of the 1960's, the Ford GT40 is still one of the most popular small-scale models made. The story behind the GT40 sounds like Hollywood but no one involved will deny the basic facts: Henry Ford II had tried to buy Ferrari for some time and actually had a contract on the table but at the last minute, Enzo Ferrari changed his mind and refused to sell. Mr. Ford was understandably angry and vowed to vanquish Ferrari from LeMans and other racetracks of the world in revenge.
Of course this was easier said than done but Ford put it's considerable resources to bear on the problem right away. The first move was to ally themselves with Eric Broadly's Lola Car Co. The early fruit of this union was the GT40 Mark I. Powered by 289-ci Ford engines, three of these models were entered at LeMans in 1964 but none finished. The only consolation was fastest lap by driver Phil Hill.
Results improved in 1965 with an early season win at the Daytona Continental with Ken Miles and Indy driver Lloyd Ruby up. Racing operations had been turned over to the experienced Cobra gang at Shelby American. A total of six cars were entered for LeMans by no less than 5 different teams, including two new Mark II models, powered by 427-ci engines used in NASCAR racing at the time. Unfortunately, results were the same as before with no finishes; however pole position and fastest lap again fell to Ford driver Phil Hill.
For 1966 Ford pulled out all the stops! After early season wins at Daytona and Sebring, no less than 13 GT40's were entered for LeMans by seven different teams. First among these were Shelby American and Holman & Moody with three cars each. The result was a smashing victory for Ford, taking the first three positions with the win going to Kiwi drivers Chris Amon and Bruce McLaren. As icing on the cake, no Ferrari's finished in the top ten! With three outright wins and other points-paying positions, Ford also won the International Championship for Makes, ending years of Ferrari domination.
Ford kept up the pressure in 1967, winning Sebring a second time, then entering another 12 cars for LeMans. Again the effort was spread among seven different teams. Primary among these entries was the new Mark IV or 'J' model with improved chassis. Shelby American carried the day again with first and fourth positions, Americans Dan Gurney and AJ Foyt taking the win. Significantly, Ferrari would withdraw from sports car racing after this, choosing to concentrate its efforts in Formula One.
With its mission accomplished and stockholders and accountants crying "enough!"; Ford officially withdrew from the racing scene. The GT40 program was turned over to the man who had been managing it, John Wyer.
JW Automotive entered three cars for LeMans in 1968 in blue Gulf colors
with Ford support. Pedro Rodriguez and Lucien Bianchi drove the GT40 to
its' third win in a row. Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver would provide Ford's
fourth straight win in 1969, again for JWA, the GT40's final victory. While
Ford continued to provide GT cars into the 1970's like the Group 6 car,
none would have the success of the GT40 variations.
Matchbox produced the most memorable GT40 model with it's #41. Originally offered with yellow wheels and solid axles, it was later given Superfast wheels. The example on the far left has had period racing stripes added by a previous owner while the center example is in stock form. The example on the right sports Superfast wheels and these chromed wheels make the car look more race-like.
The popularity of the matchbox GT40 can be seen in the Hungarian (above) and Bulgarian (below) castings produced under license to Matchbox. The top,left example is much like the Superfast GT40 but with a darker blue stripe and newer wheels. The red and blue Hungarian models offer colors actually used on the race cars. The Bulgarian models are not quite as well-made but offer some good colors. The metallic blue is especially good-looking
The Champion GT40 Mk II is French-made and features a plastic body and metal base. The Siku model is not one of their best with strange square headlights and black doors. The orange interior is strange, especially as the motor ends up orange too! The SS casting is very basic but surprisingly well-shaped.
Hot Wheels has been offering a nice selection of vintage race cars and the GT40 is welcome. The blue motor is as bad as the Siku but the paint-jobs look good.
Three Ford GT 'J' Cars have been done. The first is an original Hot Wheel from 1967. The second, is one of Polistil's GT racers and the third is an Aurora Cigarbox.
The Ford GT Mk. IV has also seen three castings. The Ertl casting in white is excellent with opening engine cover. The Hot Wheels version also has a visible Ford V8 and came in many colors. Zylmex also did the Mk. IV but it is not quite as nice as the other two.
The Corgi GT70 is a bit of a mystery. Did such a car exist? It is a rather crude Corgi with a strange un-painted, opening engine cover. The Ford Group 6 by Matchbox represents Ford's GT efforts into the early 1970's. The GT90 by Hot Wheels is a recent Ford concept car with a V12 engine, meant to be a GT40 for the 1990's. Thanks but I'll take the lines of the original GT40 over this edgy design. Fortunately, production of the real car was never seriously considered although a version of the V12 may be used in other Ford products.