RACING HERITAGE: GT40 CONCEPT BUILDS ON A PROUD HISTORY

The original GT40s were engineering and design marvels demonstrating Ford’s dedication and perseverance. In a few short years, under the direction of Henry Ford II, the company built a program from scratch that reached the pinnacle of international motorsports competition – and stayed there for four racing seasons.

That innovation was born of inspiration from the company’s founder, Henry Ford, who, before founding the Ford Motor Company in 1903, raced to world championship victory in 1901. His car, the 1901 Sweepstakes – an ash-framed wheeled sled with a massive 8.8-liter engine mounted amidships – was not particularly pretty or fast by today’s standards. It also handled poorly: the steering had to be manually "unwound" after each turn, as the geometry necessary for self-centering hadn't yet been conceived.

Henry Ford and his machine managed their first racing victory on October 10, 1901, beating the favored competition at the "World Championship" at Grosse Pointe Race Track. Ford's average speed in the 10-mile even was 44.8 mph.

Sixty years later, Henry Ford II watched the Europeans dominate racing worldwide. Ford Motor Company had joined a 1957 Automobile Manufacturers Association agreement prohibiting direct involvement in racing, and the ban quickly took its toll on Ford's image and its ability to engineer performance. Thus in 1962 Henry Ford II decided to withdraw from the already-dissolving pact, and the company launched a massive racing campaign that would take the 1960s by storm.

A key component of "Ford Total Performance," as the effort was called, was the quest to win the famed 24-hour Grand Prix d'Endurance at Le Mans. Perhaps the world's most significant – and glamorous – motorsport contest, Le Mans in the early 1960s was showing signs of becoming a Ferrari showcase, as the Italians had become the leaders in a number of endurance classes and events.

The Challenge and Prestige of Le Mans

Le Mans, France is the quiet capital of the agricultural region West of Paris – for 51 weeks of the year, anyway. Each June, the motoring world descends on the city for the annual 24-hour competition. The race has been a tradition since 1923, when Andre Lagache and Rene Leonard managed 1373 miles in their 3-liter Chenard & Walker, averaging 57 mph. The Dan Gurney/A.J. Foyt team, winning the 1967 Le Mans in their 7-liter GT40, covered nearly 3252 miles at an average speed of over 135 mph. Impressive as these figures are, Le Mans has always been more than a speed contest in the traditional sense. Victory there is the ultimate proof of reliability and performance, and a public testimony of engineering excellence.

To compete seriously at Le Mans, Ford needed a 200-mph mid-engined car that could maintain a 120-mph average lap speed after 24 hours, and it needed one quickly, so Ford boldly vied to buy Ferrari outright. Things were going fairly well in the $18 million deal when Enzo Ferrari abruptly decided that his company was no longer for sale.

GT40 Beginnings

Ford had a backup plan. While the Ferrari negotiations were underway, Dearborn brass took steps to create their own racing program, ultimately forming the Britain-based Ford Advanced Vehicles division. Through the 1962 Mustang concept, Ford had already developed a relationship with Roy Lunn, an Englishman who started his career at Ford of Britain but came to the United States in 1958.

Because Lunn and his team would ultimately develop the GT40, one can think of Mustang I, a mid-engined sportscar that spawned the classic production vehicle, as a precursor to GT40 in a philosophical rather than technical sense. Aluminum-bodied and lightweight, the two-seater was equipped with a 1.7-liter V-4 and some running gear from period Ford Cortinas. Aside from the mid-engined layout, it bore little resemblance to the Le Mans racers that would soon make Ford proud, but Mustang I was still essential to the GT40 program; it proved to Ford management that an international collection of engineers could form a successful product development team.

After working on the Mustang I, Roy Lunn, along with Ray Geddes and Donald Frey, turned toward the racing effort. They found that the "Grand Touring" car Ford conceived to win at Le Mans had much in common with the new Lola GT, a low-slung coupe developed by Eric Broadley in Slough, England, not the least of which was the American V-8 mounted amidships – a rarity for European cars of the time.

Displayed in January 1963, at the London Racing Car Show, the Lola GT was hardly complete, but it formed an excellent foundation for the development of the Ford GT40. Essential elements like the monocoque center section, the broad side sills (they doubled as fuel tanks) and the aerodynamic profile, made their way to the GT40, and Broadley, short on funds, was eager to join the Ford team.

"FORD GT"

In April 1964, paint still drying after a transatlantic flight, the strikingly modern "Ford GT" wowed the motor press in New York. Compared to the Lola, it was longer, wider, sleeker, and fantastically over-built, with an extremely rigid steel center section and unstressed front and rear fiberglass body panels. Behind the cabin, Ford fitted its all-aluminum 4.2-liter "Indianapolis" V-8 and a 4-speed Colotti transaxle; the car featured a computer-designed double-wishbone suspension and 11.5-inch disc brakes at each wheel. Needless to say, with these specifications and its elegant, modern styling, it was received with great excitement in New York.

Ford's new endurance racer was called simply "Ford GT." The letters come from the European "Gran Turismo" or Grand Touring, a term coined in the inter-war period, when extended automobile travel became (for the wealthy at least) a glamorous activity. Thus the GT racecars – and to some degree the GT40, which was built to compete in the prototype class – had at least a pretension of luggage space and often a spare wheel. The number 40 was added retrospectively with the introduction of the Mark II, and signifies nothing more than the car's height in inches.

Two weeks after the introduction, barely driven, the car appeared at Le Mans for pre-race testing. Things did not go well for the greenhorn Ford: the challenging course and poor weather conspired with aerodynamic problems, resulting in two damaging crashes and thus little useful practice for the drivers and the engineers.

The GT40 Mark II and First Victories

By the time of the race in June, the stability problems mostly solved, the cars were competitive against the Ferraris but retired of numerous failures that only further development would work out. For this, Ford brought Carroll Shelby on board to oversee the racing program. He began work on installing the more reliable 7-liter stock-car engine in what would be known later as the Mark II. It proved to be considerably faster than the Mark I, and although 1965 was another unsuccessful year at Le Mans, GT40 had become, in just two seasons, a strong contender.

Ford tested the GT40 Mark II extensively – both in the wind tunnel and on a special dynamometer that simulated a 48-hour run of the Le Mans circuit – and at the start of the 1966 season, GT40 began a four-year domination of endurance racing.

In the 24 hours of Daytona, Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby headed a 1-2-3 sweep for Ford. The Sebring 12-hour also saw a trio of Fords take the checkered flag in sequence.

Ford led at the start of the 1966 Le Mans, and had been nearly unchallenged as darkness fell. By dawn on Sunday, their leads were so significant that they were ordered to slow down for reliability's sake. By noon, 10 of the 13 Fords entered, many of them sponsored by private teams, had been eliminated, and the three remaining cars cruised toward a 1-2-3 victory and Ford's achievement of the "triple crown" of endurance racing – in just its third season.

Dearborn's Own Mark IV

Proving that the victory over Ferrari and the others was no fluke, Ford entered and won Le Mans in 1967, this time in all-new car! The GT40 Mark IV was an all-Dearborn creation, born to some degree in response to criticism that the earlier cars were simply English machines funded by big American pockets. So different were the Mark IVs, for example, that they were constructed of aluminum honeycomb bonded with the latest aerospace techniques, instead of steel.

The 1967 Le Mans hosted GT40's most dramatic duel with Ferrari. Ford led early but lost three of its seven cars to nighttime crashes; the Gurney/Foyt car continued, though, beating the 2nd and 3rd place Ferraris by only four laps. Moreover, the "lazy liters" 427 engine in the winning Ford earned the coveted "Index of Thermal Efficiency" award for highest performance on the least amount of fuel – an achievement which the Europeans considered as important as overall victory.

Not surprisingly, the FIA quickly capped engine displacement at 5 liters, but the European component of "Ford Total Performance" was far from complete. Under Gulf Oil sponsorship, the Mark I GT40s returned to win Le Mans in 1968, and then again in 1969. That final Le Mans for GT40 was one of the most exciting in the history of endurance racing, with a margin of victory of just two seconds after 24 hours of intense competition!

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DESIGN: FORD MELDS PAST, FUTURE TO CREATE NEW GT40 CONCEPT CAR

The GT40 took the Le Mans competition and the world by storm with its racing prowess in the late 1960s. But perhaps the most surprising thing about the original GT40 racecars was their striking styling.

Surprising because the cars were engineered to do one thing:

win Le Mans. That they did, and in uniquely American style. The mechanicals came first, aerodynamics and air-management came second, and the design followed. But the cars struck a dynamic pose with curves and scoops and wheel wells wrapped around the mechanicals.

When the Living Legends Studio began work on the GT40 concept, virtually every model was examined. But, in the end, the design that resonated with designers was the Mark II for its simultaneous statements of two seemingly diametrically opposed concepts – elegance and power.

"Designing a modern interpretation of a classic is more difficult than designing from a clean sheet of paper," says J Mays, Ford Motor Company vice president of Design. "Much like designing a reissue of a TAG Heuer Monaco watch, we’ve had to strike a delicate balance in creating a slightly updated GT40 that features modern technology."

Designing a Legend

When Ford designers began to conceptualize the GT40 concept, they knew they could go one of two ways. They could do a completely revolutionary design that drew on cues of the past, but interpreted them in a modern surface language. Or they could do a more honest-to-the-original, literal interpretation with modern dimensions. Both were modeled. The latter won.

"We felt it was important to build upon the great heritage of this nameplate," says Doug Gaffka, director of Ford's Living Legends Studio. "It would have been much easier to pull off a radical design because lines and proportions are not as pre-defined. But the bottom line is, if you’re doing a GT40, it had better look like a GT40."

And so began the design process. Gaffka chose Camilo Pardo to be chief designer of the GT40. Pardo was a natural choice given that he had been painting classic GT40s in his downtown Detroit studio for years. Two of his GT40 paintings have been hanging in the executive offices of Ford Motor Company World Headquarters for three years.

Pardo’s first attempt at the GT40 concept was what Mays calls "generically modern." The first clay was paraded throughout design ranks and test-marketed in front of outside focus groups. The car used harder edges in place of curves. The surfaces, even the proportions, were abbreviated. The nose was "sawed-off" to create the necessary short overhang of a modern car. Something about it just didn’t seem right to the design team.

"The priorities were all inverted with that design," says Mays. "We had to start over from scratch to bring out the essence of GT40. The key was to accept that a GT40 should be a GT40 and that we should reject the idea of modernity for modernity’s sake."

A new approach to a classic

Pardo’s team began by borrowing a vintage car and rolling it into the studio for inspiration. GT40 number 1030, a sky blue Mark I owned by a collector in Massachusetts, became a fixture in the studio. The owner took Pardo and team on hot-laps at Ford’s Dearborn Proving Grounds, across the street from the studio, to give them the full GT40 experience.

It was around this time that Pardo began his ritual of screening the 1966 film "Grand Prix" and other period car racing films in his office each day. The team took a "deep dive" into the culture of the period filling the studio with images they felt reflected the "mod" theme of the era.

"Freeing ourselves of the fear of creating a car that looked too much like the original was a liberating experience for the team," says Pardo. "But staying true to the original themes in a clean, modern design made this the most difficult project I’ve ever been involved with."

Exterior

The GT40 concept is an "organic and geometric" design achieved by creating smooth, natural intersecting surfaces accented by simple, subtle lines that appear and then seem to disappear depending on one’s viewing angle and available light sources. There is no beginning and no end to the car. It is designed around its wheelhouses, from the center outward.

Every intersection of surfaces was a carefully thought-out design challenge; from the way the front fenders sweep into the nose to the way the C-pillars land on the rear deck. An accent line that surrounds the design serves to bring all the elements together.

"A casual observer might not notice it," says Pardo. "But without it, the effect would be entirely different, sort of incomplete."

A key to moving the design forward was coming to grips with breaking one of the tenets of modern design – the short overhang.

Once the power of the design was put back into the nose of the car, other constraining design paradigms began to fall. The effect was the creation of a ‘60s racecar theme with a modern attitude delivered through precision lines and materials.

"We call it a fist-in-a-velvet-glove effect," says Pardo.

The geometric reorganization of the prominent GT40 headlamps adds the modern effect. The headlamps symbolize the car’s heritage as a 24-hour endurance runner, but are key in creating the car’s contemporary image through the use of a combination of fiber optics and HID projection beams.

At 182 inches long, 77 inches wide, and 44 inches tall, the GT40 concept makes an aggressive visual statement from every angle. The original car received the numeric part of its name from its actual overall height. Achieving 40 inches for the concept was never desired. The GT40 concept was designed as a modern road car that would provide the presence of the racer and the comfort of a grand touring sportscar. Proportionally bigger than its predecessor in every dimension, the challenge was to increase the size without sacrificing the overall effect.

The front cowl is a microcosm of the designer’s challenges throughout the car. The cowl is an exercise in complex surface development that flows from the sweeping, bulging curves of the fenders to the deep-cut, angular cooling vents. As in the original, the cowl is front-hinged and opens to reveal a small storage area and a stadium view of the polished front suspension components.

The wide windscreen stretches from front corner to front corner at the A-pillar base and tapers slightly toward the roof creating a wide, Mark I-style tumblehome. The windscreen is dramatically raked back from the leading edge to the roofline.

The doors cut into the roof of the vehicle just as they did in the original, which was necessitated by the vintage car’s outboard fuel cells and need for the drivers to step into the vehicle during the famed Le Mans running starts.

The GT40 concept offers excellent ingress and egress with the wide-opening doors and two center-mounted fuel cells that allow the driver and passenger seat positions to be moved outward, closer to the sides and shallow sills. The two racing fuel cells, sourced from ITW, run longitudinally down the center tunnel and are filled by polished fuel caps at the base of the windshield.

Along the sides, just behind the doors, are the vents and scoops that allow the mid-mounted engine to cool and breathe. Again, the vents and scoops are a study in design continuity. All the air collectors on the vehicle’s perimeter are scooped, protruding out like jet fighter intakes. All the intakes on top surfaces, the front and rear cowls and C-pillar, are vented, diving down into the body.

"There’s a pure rhythm to the design from the headlamps to air intakes to the ducktail finish," says Pardo. "It’s a holistic approach that creates a design around the functional components. Everything seems shrink-wrapped around the mechanicals."

The two-piece rear canopy is hinged at the rear, as on the original. While most vehicles are designed to look great with all the access panels shut, the effect resulting from opening all the doors and cowls on a GT40 is part of the design in and of itself.

Opening the rear canopy gives a visceral pleasure to the automotive enthusiast, exposing the heart and soul of the car, its MOD 5.4 V-8 engine. The 500-horsepower engine is fitted with twisted lengths of stainless steel header pipes, a polished aluminum supercharger, braided stainless steel fuel and cooling lines with anodized aluminum fittings, and capped with beefy valve covers that proudly read "Powered By Ford."

The GT40 concept features one-of-a-kind six-spoke aluminum wheels with a modern interpretation of the original car’s "knock-off" center caps that were a staple of racing in the era. The GT40 name is etched into the center of each of the chrome "knock-offs." The front tires are 18-inch Goodyears, while the rears are 19 inches to exaggerate the rear-end rake.

The car is finished in a high-gloss medium sunset yellow lacquer and several coats of clear lacquer, polished to a deep gloss. The bold double black racing stripes reminiscent of those that were on the GT40s of the 1960s sweep over the hood, roof and tail. Two more stripes streak along the rocker panel and announce the famous GT40 name in what Pardo calls a "mod" font.

Interior

On the GT40 concept, the cockpit seating, surrounding controls and instrumentation are redefined with modern precision and comfort added to the mix. Yet strapped into the GT40 concept’s driver seat with a five-point safety harness and reaching for the wheel, one gets an instant surge of adrenalin in appreciation for what it must have been like to barrel down the Mulsanne straight at 200 mph.

The new GT40 is a left-hand-drive two-seater featuring leather-wrapped, custom Recaro bucket seats. Aluminum grommets that allow occupants more ventilation are embedded into the stitching. For easy access, the adjustable handle to control seat position is located on the front of the seat, rather than below.

A console runs the entire length of the GT40 passenger compartment. It houses the six-speed, short-throw shifter, CD player, and a leather-wrapped armrest to store "extras" that can’t be allowed to clutter the cockpit.

The interior color theme is two-toned: black and silver. The console, sill plate, handbrake lever, shifter, safety belt buckles, and pedals are aluminum.

The comprehensive array of analog gauges on the instrument panel include: tachometer, speedometer, oil temperature, oil pressure, ammeter, water temperature and fore and aft tank fuel level. In addition, toggle switches to control vehicle systems line the instrument panel. All are strategically and intuitively placed, as they were in the original, so the driver doesn’t have to take his eyes off the road for an extended period.

Looking through the rearview mirror, the driver has a clear sightline of the road behind the car. The interior backlight is mounted horizontally to the bulkhead and serves as a sound barrier between the cockpit and the powertrain. From inside, peering through the bulkhead window, or from outside looking in through the backlight, one can admire the powertrain display, an integral part of the GT40 concept design.

"There is no luggage space behind the seats and no room for a set of golf clubs anywhere in this car," says Mays. "It’s a car designed for the driver who carves asphalt in his spare time."

ENGINEERING: GT40 PERFORMANCE HARDWARE SHOWS POTENTIAL FOR FUTURE LEGENDS

A supercharged MOD 5.4-liter V-8 engine, an aluminum spaceframe and a competition-tuned suspension provide the performance credentials of Ford's GT40 concept.

More than a styling exercise, the mechanical execution of the GT40 concept is as much a part of the car’s essence as is its design. And, while much of the hardware has been custom-fabricated for the show car, one can only imagine how easily it could be brought into production, either in GT40 form or on another Ford Living Legend.

To ensure that the vehicle’s mechanicals met with the expectations that would be required of a vehicle bearing the GT40 name, Ford turned to Special Vehicle Team Engineering. SVT engineering chief John Coletti and vehicle engineering manager Fred Goodnow led the project from its inception.

The Performance Vision

Ford SVT Engineering took its lead from Ford North America Product Development Vice President Chris Theodore's vision of three essential GT40 attributes – that it go fast, handle exceptionally and look great.

The GT40 concept is intended to be a world-class road-going car, with a refined interpretation of American performance.

As the original GT40 proved, a well-engineered but relatively uncomplicated vehicle could and can still compete with the best vehicles in the world, can do so more reliably, and can provide a more entertaining driving experience. To that end, some advanced performance technologies were deliberately left off the GT40, with the primary emphasis on the traits that best capture the spirit of the Le Mans champion.

Supercharged MOD 5.4L V-8

More than three decades ago, when the European competition was busy building complicated, high-strung V-12s, Ford proved that a simpler, more traditional V-8 approach could provide competitive power, a tremendous torque advantage, and the reliability needed for endurance racing.

Today’s MOD 5.4-liter V-8 builds on that heritage. In this application, the largest V-8 in Ford's modular engine family produces 500 horsepower at 5250 rpm and 500 foot-pounds of torque at 3250 rpm. Both figures are comparable to those of the 7-liter engine that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966 and 1967.

"The Ford MOD engines are great performance engines that allow so much versatility for us as engineers and for our customers who love to modify their cars," says Coletti. "This application really demonstrates its awesome potential."

The all-aluminum MOD V-8 has been fitted with high-flow, four-valve cylinder heads and dual overhead camshafts. To bear the stresses necessary to produce 500 horsepower, Coletti used a forged steel crankshaft, shot-peened H-beam connecting rods from Manley, and forged aluminum pistons from Karl Schmidt Unisia. The engine uses a modified Roots-type supercharger from Eaton with an intercooled intake.

Behind the 9-inch heavy-duty McLeod clutch, the SVT team installed a special transaxle to accommodate the mid-engine layout. Sourced from RBT, the close-ratio six-speed uses internal components from transmission manufacturer ZF. It is fully synchronized and features an integral limited-slip differential.

All-new Aluminum Chassis

Rather than modifying an existing platform for the GT40 concept, SVT chassis engineers created an all-new aluminum spaceframe. Constructed of extruded sections and aluminum panels, the spaceframe provides a rigid foundation for the engine and driveline while permitting the use of the specially fabricated composite body panels. The spaceframe consists of a central cabin section, a front suspension sub-section, and a rear powertrain-chassis cradle, bolted together for rigidity.

While the original GT40s owed their chassis stiffness to a pair of beefy sills that doubled as fuel reservoirs, the new concept relies on a single center tunnel for its backbone. While greatly improving entry and exit, it has the added benefit of providing a structurally secure location for the fuel supply.

The concept's suspension has been fabricated almost entirely from scratch. The layout, front and rear, uses unequal-length control arms and a push-rod/bell-crank system to interface with the horizontally mounted spring-damper units. Mounting the spring-damper units horizontally allowed the designers to achieve the characteristic low-slung GT40 profile.

At the wheels, engineers chose Alcon 6-piston monoblock calipers and dinner-plate-sized cross-drilled discs for excellent stopping power from high speeds.

The wheels themselves – 18 inches at the front and 19 inches at the rear – were custom-fabricated for the concept car and are wrapped by substantial Goodyear raised-white-letter tires. In an age when concept-car tires have been likened to giant black rubber bands, the GT40 concept is proud to have a relatively tall 45-series sidewall – a throwback to the original car.

"We could build a 200-mph supercar and fill it with a range of cutting-edge technologies, but it wouldn't be Ford GT40," says Coletti. "But rest assured: If this car meets an Italian exotic on a winding road or finds itself at a stoplight next to an American muscle car, it will have no trouble defending its honor."

GT40 CONCEPT TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

Aluminum spaceframe, unstressed composite body

Dimensions

Length: 181.6 in (4613 mm)

Width: 76.8 in (1950 mm)

Height: 43.5 in (1106 mm)

 

Wheelbase: 106.7 in (2710 mm)

Track width, front: 64.4 in (1636 mm)

Track width, rear: 65.0 in (1650 mm)

Engine

5.4-liter, DOHC 32-valve, supercharged and intercooled MOD V-8

Aluminum block and heads

Horsepower: 500 @ 5250 rpm

Torque: 500 lb-ft @ 3250 rpm

Bore: 3.55 in (90.2 mm)

Stroke: 4.17 in (105.8 mm)

Compression ratio: 8.5:1

Horsepower/liter: 88.9

Fuel requirement: 91 octane

Fuel capacity: 28.4 gallons

Transmission

RBT 6-speed transaxle

Ratios:

1st 2.86:1

2nd 2.06:1

3rd 1.47:1

4th 1.18:1

5th 0.958:1

6th 0.740:1

Reverse               2.86:1

Final drive ratio: 4.22:1, limited slip

Suspension

Front: Unequal-length control arm, push-rod/bell-crank system with longitudinal/horizontal spring-dampers

Rear: Unequal-length control arm, push-rod/bell-crank system with longitudinal/horizontal spring-dampers

Brakes

Alcon 6-piston monoblock calipers

Ceramic-based "Ceratec" friction material, 11.5 in2 (74 cm2) per pad

Cross-drilled Alcon discs, 15.0-in (380 mm) diameter, 1.5-in (32 mm) width; 48 curved-vane design for enhanced cooling, lightweight aluminum hats

Wheels and Tires

Front  Rear

Wheels: 18" x 8" 19" x 10"

Tires: 245/45R18 285/45R19

SOURCE: Ford