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The Ford GT40: The Underdog Racer That Took on Ferrari and Won

In the annals of automotive history, few tales are as captivating as the birth of the Ford GT40. Born out of a fierce rivalry between two giants of the industry, this remarkable machine went from being an underdog challenger to a dominant force on the world’s most prestigious racing stage. Join us as we delve into the evolution and development of this iconic race car, and discover how it became a symbol of American ingenuity and determination.

Ford’s Legendary GT40

The Winds of Change: Ending the Racing Ban

Picture this: it’s the early 1960s, and the American Automobile Manufacturers Association has put the kibosh on any involvement in motorsports. Talk about a buzzkill, right? But hey, you can’t keep a good gearhead down! The younger generation, those spunky “baby boomers,” had a need for speed that just wouldn’t quit.

Enter Lee Iacocca, Ford’s president and resident visionary. With the backing of Henry Ford II himself, Iacocca gave the no-racing policy the boot and launched the “Total Performance” marketing campaign. It was a declaration of war against the stagnant status quo, and it set the stage for Ford’s epic entry into the world of international sports car racing.

Cobras and Negotiations: The Prelude to Greatness

Before the GT40 could even rev its engine, Ford needed a wingman. Enter Carroll Shelby, the man behind the legendary Cobra. When Shelby pitched the idea of cramming a Ford V8 into a British sports car chassis, the bigwigs at Ford were all ears.

But wait, there’s more! Ford had its sights set on a partnership with the Italian powerhouse, Ferrari. Imagine the shock when Enzo Ferrari himself pulled the rug out from under the deal, refusing to let Ford dictate where he could race. Well, that just wouldn’t do! Henry Ford II vowed to “kick the ass” of his Italian rival at Le Mans, and thus, the GT40 was born.

Carroll Shelby and oneof his legendary Cobras

The Prototype Takes Shape

Rapid Development: The Special Vehicle Operations Team

With a hefty $17 million budget and a ticking clock, Ford assembled the Special Vehicle Operations team to bring the GT40 to life in time for the 1963 Le Mans race. No pressure, right? The team hit the ground running, scouring the racing world for the perfect partner.

After some speed dating with Lotus and Lola, Ford settled on Eric Broadley’s Lola chassis design.

Celebrate The Ford GT 40 with an Original Race Australia T-shirt.

Cutting-Edge Design: Wind Tunnels and Computer-Aided Wizardry

The GT40 wasn’t just a pretty face but a marvel of modern engineering. The team harnessed the power of wind tunnels and computer-aided design to sculpt the car’s sleek aerodynamics. They even threw in some nifty features, like a ventilated driver’s seat, to keep those speed demons cool under pressure.

Wind tunnel testing was used for Ford GT40 Design

Rushing to the Starting Line: The Heathrow Unveiling

With the clock ticking down, the GT40 prototype (GT/101) was hustled into production. In a grand unveiling at Heathrow Airport in April 1964, the world got its first glimpse of the machine that would take on Ferrari. But the fanfare was short-lived; the car was promptly whisked away to the US and back for its public launch.

Trials and Tribulations: The Rocky Road to Le Mans

The GT40’s debut at the 1964 Le Mans trials was, well, let’s just say it was a learning experience. Handling issues and bodywork damage left the team scratching their heads, but hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day!

Undeterred, the crew got back to work, slapping on a full-width spoiler to tame those high-speed wobbles. The GT40 was shaping up, but there was still plenty of work to be done before it could go toe-to-toe with Ferrari at Le Mans.


  1. Q: Why did Ford decide to enter the world of international sports car racing? A: Ford’s decision was driven by the growing demand for performance cars among the younger generation and the desire to shake up the stagnant status quo of the American auto industry.
  2. Q: How did the Ford GT40 project come about? A: The GT40 project was born out of a bitter rivalry between Ford and Ferrari, after negotiations for a partnership broke down. Henry Ford II vowed to beat Ferrari at Le Mans, and the GT40 was the result of that determination.
  3. Q: What made the Lola chassis design stand out to Ford? A: Ford chose the Lola chassis design due to Eric Broadley’s more cooperative approach compared to Colin Chapman’s strong ego at Lotus.
  4. Q: What innovative features were incorporated into the GT40’s design? A: The GT40 featured cutting-edge aerodynamics developed through wind tunnel testing and computer-aided design, as well as unique elements like a ventilated driver’s seat for improved comfort.
  5. Q: How did the GT40 perform in its early trials? A: The GT40’s early trials, particularly at the 1964 Le Mans event, were marked by handling issues and bodywork damage, highlighting the steep learning curve for the new Ford racing program.


The story of the Ford GT40 is a testament to the power of determination, innovation, and sheer grit. From its humble beginnings as an underdog challenger to its rise as a dominant force in international racing, this iconic machine carved its name into the annals of automotive history.

Through the tireless efforts of the Special Vehicle Operations team, the GT40 evolved from a rough prototype to a refined racing machine, ready to take on the best in the world. Its journey was not without its trials and tribulations, but each setback only served to fuel the fire of Ford’s determination to succeed.

As we look back on the development of the Ford GT40, we can’t help but be inspired by the ingenuity, passion, and perseverance that brought this legendary car to life. This story continues to captivate enthusiasts and inspire new generations of automotive dreamers, reminding us that with the right combination of vision, skill, and unwavering commitment, even the most formidable challenges can be overcome.

So, here’s to the Ford GT40, the underdog racer that took on Ferrari and won, and to the remarkable men and women who made it all possible. May its legacy forever be a source of inspiration for those who dare to dream big and push the boundaries of what’s possible.