It came to define corporate involvement in motor sport. After Enzo Ferrari famously rebuffed Ford’s early 1960s buyout bid, the Blue Oval responded with a money-no-object scheme to give II comandatore a good drubbing at Le Mans. Enter the GT40. Former Aston Martin team boss John Wyer oversaw the models ill-starred maiden tilt in ’64, only to become increasingly side-lined by more mundane duties. Productionising the MkII road car was never going to contain him.
Once free of Ford’s restrictions, and armed with Gulf’s patronage for ’67, Wyer instigated the construction of an entirely new variation on the theme, the Len Bailey-penned Mirage M1 being essentially a GT40 with a smaller greenhouse. Regulations changed, so the squared reverted back to the more familiar outline; it scooped the ’68 World Sports Car title with Lucien Bianchi and Pedro Rodriguez chalking up another win at La Sarthe for the old-stager.
‘The GT40’s main weakness was its weight: it wasn’t designed by the race-car engineers. However, in time sturdy construction became a strength,’ says John Horsman. ‘One severe issue in the early days was the cylinder head gasket. Ford never resolved what was a serious problem, which ruined many a private owner hopes. It was solved by gasket maker Coopers Mechanical Joints, just around the corner from JWA in Slough. Its compression ring, sitting in a groove in the top deck of the bock, sealed the combustion gases, while the aero Permanite head gasket sealed the cooling system. The groove had to be exactly the right depth, then it all worked well. Our change to stiffer Gurney-Weslake aluminium cylinder heads also helped. ‘The 1967 M1 Mirage was a little lighter. Due to regulations that allowed a reduction in minimum windscreen width, the frontal area was also reduced. We never did a back-to- back test, so its hard to give a true comparison of the M1 body’s worth over the regular GT40’s. In addition, we ran a 351ci engine in the M1, in place of the 289/302ci GT40 power plants. Even using the original cast-iron heads on the 351 in 1967, the M1 won the 1000km of Spa and Monthlhery and the nine hours of Kyalami.’
By 1969, the GT40 was truly obsolete. Yet as the Le Mans rolled around again, the Anglo-American challenger was still in with a shout, the result being the closest (unstagged) finish in the events history as a Jacky lckx battled veteran Porsche driver Hans Herrmann to the flag. And this was the same year that lckx famously sauntered to his car in protest over the traditional sprint, a practice the Belgian second straight win for the team, for Gulfs chances of Le Mans hattrick now relied on something altogether more extreme.
The ROFGO Collection GT40 is chassis 1084, which finished forth in the 1968 1000km of spa and second in the Six Hours of Watkins Glen with Paul Hawkins and David Hobbes.