The Ford GT: The stuff of Le Mans legend

I hope you’re sitting comfortably, gentlemen, because I’m about to tell you a fairytale. But unlike most fairytales, this one comes true.

Our story starts 50 years ago on the 19 June 1966, with a wet morning at Le Mans, France. In the hours before the epic 24hour endurance race, a total of 55 teams anxiously make final adjustments to their cars. Among the 55, were two rather significant ones: Ferrari and Ford. And within those two teams, were two men who shared a bitter rivalry. Their names were Enzo Ferrari and Henry Ford II.

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A couple of years before race day, Henry Ford II discovered that Ferrari was looking for a buyer. Eager to extend his automotive empire, Ford commissioned an audit of the company and its assets at the cost of millions. All looked to be going well until Ford and Ferrari came to blows about who would have control over Ferrari’s race team – Enzo Ferrari wanted to keep his love child close after the sale, naturally. But in the true American way, it was all or northing and so the Italians made a last minute decision to call it off. Ford was furious and so set out to hit them where it hurt: on the track. Henry Ford’s challenger – in case you hadn’t already guessed it – came in the form of the iconic Ford GT40.

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What followed over the next 24hours at Le Mans was total defeat for Enzo Ferrari as Ford claimed the entire podium, placing consecutively first, second and third, while the P3 Ferraris suffered engine failure in their bid to keep up with the American cars. 1966 was the first time an American car had won at Le Mans and what a win it had been.

Fast-forward half a century and we enter the second chapter of our story. We’re on the start line of the 2016 Le Mans 24hour race, just hours before Ford’s latest iteration of the Le Mans legend aims to emulate its grandfather’s success. The new car caused something of a stir when it debuted at the North American motor show in Detroit in 2015. It’s a tribute to the original car with its deep bonnet vents, wrap around windscreen and low-slung profile – the original car stood only 40inches off the ground, hence the name GT40. But the 2016 GT’s flying buttresses, tapered waistline, and carbon fibre make it a supercar of the 21st century.

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With the race underway, you’d be forgiven for thinking the World Endurance Car authorities had scripted it. From dusk, through the darkness, and well into the dawn the Ferraris and Fords waged war  – 488 vs GT. Despite the Ferrari’s best efforts, it was car number 68, driven by Dirk Müller that took the checkered flag in the Le Mans GTE Pro class with the Ferrari 488 GTE snatching a close second. Ford number 69 and 66 followed in third and fourth place, leading to a heavy American presence on the podium – reminiscent of the heady victory in 1966.

Following a long period away from the ultimate race, Ford did exactly what it had promised 18 months ago when the GT’s re-entry into motorsport was announced. It proves the American’s are worthy competitors on the World Endurance Car circuit, exactly 50 years to the day the GT took the checkered flag. Well done, Uncle Sam and here’s to the next 50 years of Ford GT.

All images courtesy of Ford.

rorysmith

rorysmith

Rory is motoring editor-at-large at The Gentleman’s Journal. Most familiar with four wheels but can also be found falling off two.

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