Before Henry Ford II created the Ford GT40, he was in negotiations to purchase Ferrari in its entirety. But Ford had one condition: although Enzo Ferrari would remain at the helm of the racing operation, Ford would still control the money and Enzo was furious about that. Enzo had long been an admirer of Ford, and actually sought out Ford to purchase his automotive business. After three months of debating, the $10 million price tag on the exchange would have the company called Ford-Ferrari, with the motorsports being called Ferrari-Ford.
But that one little clause in the agreement was going to keep Ferrari out of some prestigious races, and Enzo would have none of it. The sale of the century was over quicker than it began, and from that time in 1963 Ford and Ferrari became bitter rivals. Ford decided that if that was how it was going to go down, he would just build a car and “beat his ass.” Ford set his sights on 24 Hours of Le Mans, and went to work building a race car that would take on the winning Ferrari.
Ferrari had a strong home-turf advantage at Le Mans. In its first race at Le Mans in 1949, Ferrari took first place, and then won again in 1954, 1958, and 1960 through 1963. In 1963, Ferrari took the first six places in Le Mans and they were a force to be dealt with if Ford was going to topple the giant. For that measure, Carroll Shelby was brought on board to help Ford take down Ferrari.
At the New York Auto Show in 1964, Ford unveiled a prototype race car called the GT. Due to the 40-inch height, the car later became known as the GT40, and it made its debut at Le Mans with a few problems. Both GT40s had crashed in testing, meanwhile John Surtees was setting records down the Mulsane straight at 194 mph in a Ferrari 330P. It was a dismal debut for Ford, with all three GT40s bowing out of the race in 1964 due to mechanical issues. Shelby’s Cobra, however, came in fourth overall in the GT class, behind three Ferraris taking the top three spots.
The next year, the GT40 had an engine upgrade from the 289 to the famed 427, making 486 horsepower. Ferrari was still running a V12, but at just over half the 427’s displacement it was only putting out 420 horsepower. Still, Ferrari took the checkered flag for the sixth year in a row, while none of the six GT40s in the race would finish. That loss sent Ford back to the drawing board, with a message from the boss instructing the team that they had better win in 1966.
Ford put more resources on the racing program, adding Holman Moody as a second team. Leading up to Le Mans, Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby had taken the win at Daytona and Sebring in a GT40. Ford would enter eight GT40s in Le Mans, with Henry Ford II being the grand marshal of the race. Finally, Ford’s determination to take down Ferrari at Le Mans came to fruition when the GT40 took the top three spots in 1966.
Ford won again in 1967, and with privateers at the wheel the GT40 won again in 1968 and 1969; the former king of the mountain – Ferrari – was finally toppled. After coming off with six straight wins through 1965, they would not win Le Mans again, and the Ford GT40 achieved what Henry Ford set out to do – to beat Ferrari.
Piloted by Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon, the winning GT40 made Ford the first automaker in America to win at Le Mans. That winning GT40 – chassis #P1046 – is being fully restored to all its glory from 1966 by RK Motors Charlotte, and we’ll be bringing the entire restoration to you on a regular basis, with a full feature on the completed car.
RK Motors Charlotte is well known for bringing us spotless restorations that look better than the day they rolled off the showroom floor, and custom builds that defy explanation. They’re excited to bring this historical, 24 Hour of Le Mans winning GT40 back to it’s fully restored condition, just as it was the day it crossed the finish line and toppled Ferrari as the king of the hill. Be sure to check back with us and we’ll bring you the restoration as it unfolds, and the full feature when it debuts at the 2016 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
In the meantime, you can check out the all of the other beautiful cars at RK Motors Charlotte, and even if you’re not taking home chassis #P1046, you’re still going to have the best car on your block.