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Ford GT40: The Legend Lives on, part 2 preparation for Le Mans

Submitted by on August 10, 2021

Dutchman Hans Hugenholtz captured in chassis AJL988G at the Spa Classic in 2019 / Story & Images by Marcel Hundscheid/Speed-O-Graphica

In our second feature looking back at the legendary Ford GT40, we take a closer look at Ford’s preparations for taking on Ferrari at Le Mans.

In preparation for the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1965, Ford entered a race at Daytona, finishing first and third, and a second at Sebring where they finished second. From there, they were off to the 24 Hours of Le Mans official test days.

As Ferrari dominated, Ford made adjustments to both the engines and gearboxes of their GT40s. In the meantime they developed a 7-liter engine as Roy Lunn had a new version of the GT40 available for testing. Both Ken Miles and Phil Remington tested the ‘new’ GT40 that reached a speed of 337 kmh.

The car was dubbed GT40X, and just four weeks before the 24 Hours of Le Mans two cars were prepared by the team. During practice, the GT40X equipped with the 7-liter engine set the lap record at 3:33. In comparison, the fastest Ferrari needed almost five seconds more for a single lap.

The actual race, however, was a different story and mistakes made in the gearbox led to an early retirement.

For 1966, Ford Engineering, Carroll Shelby and Holman & Moody combined their efforts to develop the 427 GT40 that eventually led into the Mark II. Instead of a 5-speed gearbox, the team decided to use a 4-speed manual transmission as the bigger engine’s torque didn’t require a 5-speed gear box.  A short-nosed body style was adapted as Ken Miles tested the car resulting in an extra 13 kmh top speed.

Ford’s first race of 1966 was the 24 hours of Daytona where they fielded a five car entry. Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby lead the race from the start and grabbed victory, with Ford locking out the podium.

Daytona was followed by the 12 hours of Sebring. Initially it turned out that the 289 GT40s couldn’t match the speed of Ferrari’s single 330P3. However, Ferrari got into transmission problems and retired. The Ford battle commenced between Ken Miles and Dan Gurney until Miles was told to ease off. However, disaster occurred as the engine of Guerney’s car decided to stop a mere hundred meters from the chequered flag. Although Guerney pushed his GT40 across the finish line, he was disqualified as drivers were not allowed to push their cars. Ken Miles grabbed his 2nd victory of the season.

GT40(C) driven by Philippe Gache captured at the exit of the La Source hairpin at the Spa Classic back in 2019.

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