CARROLL SHELBY & THE FORD GT40 | FOUR YRS OF DOMINATION AT LE MANS

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When Henry Ford II’s quest to buy Ferrari back in 1963 was spitefully squelched by Enzo, the mandate was given to, “Kick Ferrari’s ass.” And not just anywhere– at Le Mans, the world stage of auto racing.  The ass-kicking would finally come in the beautiful & brutish form of the iconic Ford GT40–America’s most incredible racecar ever.

Originally developed in England by Ford Advanced Vehicles Ltd under the direction of Aston Martin’s former team manager, John Wyer, the GT40 failed at Le Mans in ’64 & ’65, as Ferrari finished 1-2-3 both years. With failure no longer an option for anyone who wished to remain employed by Ford, Carroll Shelby was tapped to give the GT40 the necessary bite to beat the Italians.  Shelby’s success at Le Mans in his own Cobras, and again with the GT40, was not about technology, but by being crafty.  He replaced the 289 c.i. GT40 engine with the same powerful, big block 427 c.i. V-8 that powered his Cobras.  The lower revving, larger displacement V-8′s were more able to take the stress of long endurance races than the higher-revving, small displacement engines used by Ferrari.

Shelby not only ended Ferrari’s racing dominance, he exacted sweet revenge for Enzo’s snub– and garnered Ford a remarkable four-year winning streak from 1966 – 1969.

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Two massive American automotive legends — Carroll Shelby and the iconic Ford GT40. Originally labeled GT, ’40′ was added due to its incredibly low 40-inch stance.

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West Sussez, England — A Carroll Shelby masterpiece, 1960s JW Automotive/American Gulf Oil-sponsored Ford GT40  racecar at the Goodwood race track — Image by © Martyn Goddard/Corbis

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1969 Carroll Shelby / Ford GT40 MK 1 racecar (JW Automotive/American Gulf Oil-sponsored) with body panels removed.  This Ford GT P/1075 is one of the few racecars to ever win the 24 Hours of Le Mans back to back– here pictured as #6. — Image by © Martyn Goddard/Corbis

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1965 Ford GT40 MK II — Image by © Boyd Jaynes / TRANSTOCK/Transtock/Corbis

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1965 Ford GT40 MK II, with epic blue & orange Gulf paint — Image by © Boyd Jaynes / TRANSTOCK/Transtock/Corbis

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June 13th 1969, Le Mans, France — Winner of the 24 Hours Le Mans drivers Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver in a Ford GT 40 racecar entered by the John Wyer Team.  This Ford GT P/1075 is one of the few racecars ever to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans back to back. — Image by © Schlegelmilch/Corbis

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June 13th 1969, Le Mans, France — Winner of the 24 Hours Le Mans drivers Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver in a Ford GT 40 racecar entered by the John Wyer Team.  This Ford GT P/1075 is one of the few racecars to ever win the 24 Hours of Le Mans back to back.

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June 13th 1969, Le Mans, France — 24 Hours of Le Mans drivers Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver won in a Ford GT 40 racecar entered by the John Wyer Team.  The JW Automotive American Gulf Oil Ford GT P/1075 (pictured above) is an iconic and record setting racecar–  the first to ever win the 24 Hours of Le Mans back to back, ’68 & ’69.

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The iconic Carroll Shelby / Ford GT40 racecar wrapped in blue & orange Gulf Oil paint scheme.

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1, 2, 3, victory for the Ford GT40 at the 1966 24 Hours of LeMans.

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1968, Le Mans — Two Gulf-sponsored Ford GT40′s running together in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race.

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June 13th 1969, Le Mans, France — 24 Hours of Le Mans drivers Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver won in a Ford GT 40 racecar entered by the John Wyer Team.  The JW Automotive American Gulf Oil Ford GT P/1075 (pictured above) is an iconic and record setting racecar–  the first to ever win the 24 Hours of Le Mans back to back, ’68 & ’69.

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1968, Daytona Beach — Ford GT40 driven by Jackie Ick of Belgium and Brian Redman of England, gained the pole position on the start of the 24 hours of Daytona to be held here 2/3-4, with an average speed of 119.3 MPH during tine trials here 2/2.  Among the favorites in this race for manufacturer’s championship points are six factory-entered Porsches. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

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1969, Le Mans — A Ford GT 40 driven by Jackie Ickx of Belgium and Jackie Oliver of Britain flashes across the finish line yards ahead of a German Porsche to win the 24-hour Le Mans race on June 15. The second-place Porsche, driven by German Hans Hermann and Frenchman Gerard Larousse was followed by another Ford GT 40 piloted by England’s David Hobbs and Mike Hailwood. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

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A worn-out Carroll Shelby getting a few winks rest. After years of trial, toil, and labor he would see his vision of ending Ferrari’s racing dominance realized. The Ford GT40 finally silenced silenced the Italian Stallion.

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The Shelby-American Inc, Cobra Daytona faired better than Ford’s original GT40 Mark I, winning the GT class and finishing 4th (after Ferrari’s 1-2-3) at the 1964 24 hours of Le Mans.  Just six of these stunning specimens of American muscle were made between ’64-’65 as Shelby had turned his attention towards the GT40 project.  Five Cobra Daytonas were made in Italy, and one in the US.  Long thought lost, the #6 American-made Daytona was re-discovered in 2001 in a strange twist.

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14 thoughts on “CARROLL SHELBY & THE FORD GT40 | FOUR YRS OF DOMINATION AT LE MANS

  1. There are quite a few people that would take issue with Shelby getting this level of credit for the GT40s…Holman and Moody and the people at FAV and Kar Kraft among them. And I don’t believe Shelby had anything at all to do with p/1075.

    Cris

    • Yes, they were the leaders in the development of getting the GT40 off the ground, and it was Shelby’s racing gut and Texas-sized brass balls that pushed the GT40 over the top. He was responsible for replacing the 289 c.i. with the 427 c.i. and with that the GT40 gained a major advantage over Ferrari in terms of a lower revving engine at high speeds that could take more stress.

      We weren’t going to beat Ferrari at their own game.

  2. Ford GT P/1075
    “the first car EVER to win the Le Mans 24 hrs BACK TO BACK”

    …always seemed to me to be THE all-time greatest statistic in all of Christendom

    And to think that, with Ickx so much slower than everyone else at the start – by walking not running to the car (his form of safety protest) – that second win mightn’t have happened.

    wow

  3. Caption for 3rd picture from bottom reads “Porches”.

    Obviously a small point on another great article. I have acquired so much knowledge from this site – thank you.

  4. What Cris said. Shelby’s business built some of the GT40s. That’s about it. Eric Broadley and John Wyer deserve much more credit.

  5. Hands down the best looking American car ever conceived. I would kick puppies and punch small children for one of these. No, really… punch them.

  6. I found myself standing in front of that #6 Daytona in Philadelphia (obviously drooling for almost an hour) while I imagined myself thundering down some barren desert road into the horizon. Until reading that Car & Driver story, I was unaware the car had an equally interesting history off the track.

    The Simeone Museum, where the car now resides, claims it to be #1 built as well as the first and last of the Daytonas to race.

  7. True enough, FAV (Ford Advanced Vehicles) first developed the Ford GT based loosely on an Eric Broadly (Lola) concept. The cars were pathetic and Wyer’s efforts at the first race in Nassau were so disappointing Ford turned the cars over to Shelby with only eight weeks before Daytona. Shelby’s crew (with test drivers Ken Miles and Phil Hill) swapped out the engine and completely reengineered the suspension as well as the aerodynamics. When they appeared at Daytona turned out in Shelby blue they were barely recognizable as the same cars. Better yet, they won first time out! The next race in Sebring yielded another first place finish, but it would be two more years before Ford defeated Ferrari at LeMans. By that time Wyer’s outfit had all the Shelby stuff on their cars too.

  8. I still don’t get how the Gulf cars can be considered as Shelby’s doing. They weren’t built by him. P/1076 is the only one that was ever a GT40.
    P/1074 is not a GT40, nor is the double Le Mans winner P/1075.
    These cars were built by JW Automotive as Mirages first. That their bodies look similar to a GT40 doesn’t make the line drawn back to Shelby a clean one.
    Shelby’s gotten enough deserved and undeserved credit over the years. No need to add p/1075 to list of accomplishments.

    Cris

  9. @ Cris, yes, you’re right… 1074 and 1075 were built from Mirage beginnings by JWA. By then I think Shelby was out of the whole deal.

    The story is quite complex with Ford swapping information and equipment between “competing” Ford GT teams: Shelby, Holman and Moody and JWA. Throw in Ford’s Kar Kraft subsidiary and you’ve got a lot of potential for both success and confusion. Luckily for history it was a winner on the track and a great story for all of us.

    Thanks to JP for such a great place to go each day for inspiring topics of all kinds!

  10. as per usual, a fine post.

    interesting side note about carroll shelby that i love: he was a successful racing driver (e.g., winner of the 1959 le mans) and pilot for a number of notable european marques (aston martin, austin-healey, maserati, etc.) before health reasons ultimately cut his racing career short.

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