In the spring of 1963, Ford reportedly received word through a European intermediary that Enzo Ferrari was interested in selling to Ford Motor Company. Ford reportedly spent several million dollars in an audit of Ferrari factory assets and in legal negotiations, only to have Ferrari unilaterally cut off talks at a late stage due to disputes about the ability to direct open wheel racing. Ferrari, who wanted to remain the sole operator of his company’s motor sports division, was angered when he was told that he would not be allowed to race at the Indianapolis 500 if the deal went through since Ford fielded Indy cars using the company’s engine, and didn’t want competition from Ferrari. Enzo cut the deal off out of spite and Henry Ford II, enraged, directed his racing division to find a company that could build a Ferrari-beater on the world endurance-racing circuit.
To this end Ford began negotiation with Lotus, Lola, and Cooper. Cooper had no experience in GT or prototype and its performances in Formula One were declining.
Lotus was already a Ford partner for their Indy 500 project. Ford executives already doubted the ability of Lotus to handle this new project. Colin Chapman probably had similar views as he asked a high price for his contribution and insisted that the car (which became the Lotus Europa) should be named a Lotus-Ford, an attitude that can be viewed as polite refusal.
The Ford GT40 was first raced in May 1964 at the Nürburgring 1000 km race where it retired with suspension failure after holding second place early in the event. Three weeks later at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, all three entries retired although the Ginther/Gregory car led the field from the second lap until its first pitstop. After a season-long series of dismal results under John Wyer in 1964, the program was handed over to Carroll Shelby after the 1964 Nassau race. The cars were sent directly to Shelby, still bearing the dirt and damage from the Nassau race. Carroll Shelby was noted for complaining that the cars were poorly maintained when he received them, but later information revealed the cars were packed up as soon as the race was over, and FAV never had a chance to clean, and organize the cars to be transported to Shelby.
The GT40 was originally produced to win long-distance sports car races against Ferrari (who won at Le Mans six times in a row from 1960 to 1965). Chassis # P-1075, which won in 1968 and 1969, is the first car in Le Mans history to win the race more than once with the same chassis, using an American Ford V-8 engine originally of 4.7-litre displacement capacity (289 cubic inches), enlarged to 4.9-litre with special alloy Gurney-Weslake cylinder heads.
Early cars were simply named “Ford GT”. The name “GT40” was the name of Ford’s project to prepare the cars for the international endurance racing circuit, and the quest to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The first 12 “prototype” vehicles carried serial numbers GT-101 through GT-112. The “production” began and the subsequent cars, the MkI, MkII, and MkIIIs, (with the exception of the MkIV, which were numbered J1-J10) were numbered GT40P/1000 through GT40P/1145, were officially “GT40s”. The name of Ford’s project, and the serial numbers dispel the story that “GT40” was “only a nickname.”
Only one of this beautiful and fast racecars will be driving through the first race.