This weekend, Ford will launch an all-out assault on the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Four GT race cars and 12 drivers will try to hand the Blue Oval a win in the GTE Pro class on the 50th anniversary of Ford’s first Le Mans win. And this is the car that earned Ford that first win back in 1966.
Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon drove this black-and-silver GT40, chassis P/1046, to first place at Le Mans 50 years ago. After years of private ownership that included some racing in special events for vintage cars, it was treated to a full restoration by classic-car dealer RK Motors Charlotte in a process that was thoroughly documented via a series of videos. The car was shipped to France to be on hand for the 50th anniversary of its moment of glory.
The GT40 was designed for one purpose: to beat Ferrari. After Enzo Ferrari reneged on a deal to sell his company to Ford, an enraged Henry Ford II decided to beat Enzo at Le Mans, which Ferrari was dominating at the time. It took Ford two years, but in 1966 GT40s finished first, second, and third. Ford went on to win in 1967, 1968, and 1969, while Ferrari never won again.
That was only after abysmal 1964 and 1965 seasons, though, and many upgrades to the GT40. The Le Mans winner runs the larger 7.0-liter V8 used in later cars, good for 485 horsepower and 475 pound-feet of torque. The name GT40, by the way, comes from the car’s height of 40 inches. That’s so low that driver Dan Gurney couldn’t fit in the car until a hump for his head was added to the roof. It’s now known as the “Gurney bubble.”
Chassis P/1046, which wore the number 2 in competition, only became a Le Mans winner because of some strange circumstances. Late in the 1966 race, it became apparent that a GT40 was going to win. Ford arranged with race officials to have the three leading cars cross the finish line at the same time, assuming the result would be a tie. The first-place driver, Ken Miles, was ordered to slow down so the number 2 car could catch up. After the cars crossed the line, officials declared that since car 2 had started further back (20 meters, to be precise), its drivers were actually the winners because they’d covered a longer distance.
Ford may not get the chance for another publicity stunt this year. The GT is a brand new car which, as the company learned in 1964, isn’t optimal. It also faces battle-hardened competition in the form of Corvette and Porsche teams, plus old nemesis Ferrari. The pressure is on in what is the most important Le Mans for Ford since chassis P/1046 took the checkered flag 50 years ago.