The story of Henry Ford's racing team taking on and beating Ferrari at Le Mans is a well-documented one. But fewer people are aware that the Blue Oval's pursuit of success was at first met with problems and reliability issues, to the extent that a less determined manufacturer might have called it quits. Such was the Henry Ford's desire to top the podium in France, however, that the GT40 project was supported not just by a team in the States, but also one on other side of the Atlantic, which did much of the early development work as Ford Advanced Vehicles.
The earliest prototypes for the GT (it had yet to be nicknamed the GT40) were based on the Lola Mk6, the pretty two-door that was already powered by a Ford V8 and had a cutting-edge technical configuration. It represented something of a head start for the Ford programme, giving FAV a solid base to work on - and dramatically shortening the time Henry would have to wait for Ford to take on Enzo.
Nevertheless, a strong start, the early car's small-block V8 - also used by Carroll Shelby's similarly Anglo-American Cobra - was considered underpowered. Back in the sixties there was only one thing for it and it involved displacement. Lots of it. In this case, the small-block was ditched for a big-block eight, the 427 used by the Ford Galaxie road car but race-prepared so it now had 465hp and was located lower in the car's belly thanks to the swapping of a wet sump for dry. Ford had no gearbox capable of withstanding the grunt so a new four-speed was developed and fused to the 7.0-litre unit.
The creation of the MkII provided Ford with its best shot at taking it to the Italians, especially now Shelby headed the race team's operation Stateside and an efficient development and supply chain had been established between the US and British bases. In the run up to the 1965 24 Hours of Le Mans, the MkII was further developed to integrate a longer, more aerodynamic nose, as well as new fins on the engine cover to clean up air flow over the car's rear. The changes made for a rapid machine, so much so that despite being 100kg heavier its rivals, the Fords topped qualifying. But racing is a cruel mistress and gearbox issues prevented either GT from finishing the event.
As we know, it was in 1966 that things finally came together. A further developed GT MkII took wins in Daytona and Sebring, before the squad turned up to the main event in France with an army of eight GT40s piloted by some of the finest drivers of the day. The job was done and done very, very well, but not even a dominant performance could come without controversy. The team had ordered the leading car of Ken Miles and Denny Hulme to let the chasing car of Kiwi pairing, Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon, through for a photo finish win. Miles, who was in the last stint, showed his anger at the decision by only letting McLaren through with metres to go in order to emphasise that it was him and Hulme who were the true winners. A bitter sweet moment in an otherwise fantastic result for Ford; it secured three more consecutive wins at Le Mans.
Although the GT40 evolved in following years, the MkII remains special not just because it was the first to win, but because of its big block V8, which produced 485hp by the time of the '66 Le Mans, was the biggest to be used. The smaller 4.9-litre was deployed in subsequent years when a displacement limit was introduced to slow the cars down - although the GT40's chassis and the sleek aerodynamic design were too much to contend with even then. Not only did the GT40 halt Ferrari's dominance, it ended it, with the Italian marque never reaching the top position of the overall classification again. Its efforts are now, of course, focussed on the GT category.
Ford has celebrated its Le Mans successes on multiple occasions, with the launch of the two modern GT cars. But no other attempt at a recreation of the 1966 car has arguably been closer than the one made by Superformance under licence of Shelby, a continuation from the original run that was produced in just twenty examples three years ago. The model was made using the '66 GT40P monocoque blue prints, with a 7.0-litre V8 and independent suspension like the classic. Finished in the same colour scheme as the McLaren/Amon winner - black with silver stripes - it also has a Gurney bubble (named as such after it was added for 6ft 4 driver Dan!), riveted seats and a Mota Lita steering wheel.
Today's Showpiece is an unused example; the right-hand drive car (as per the original) does come with a few modern additions, including Bilstein shocks with H&R sprins, as well as Wilwood brakes and an air conditioning system. But as far as Le Mans recreations go, this one is up there with the finest and the roar of the V8 and the vintage surroundings ought to provide a convincing throwback to the swinging sixties. Couple that with Shelby's official seal of approval and you're looking at a delivery mileage car that's up for six hundred thousand quid. A bargain, frankly, when you consider that would have barely paid for the first few weeks of Henry's ambitious programme all those years back.