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Throwback Thursday: 1966 Ford GT40

In the mid-1960s, Ford wanted a serious contender for the 24 Hours of Le Mans and other European racing circuits; they needed a car to go up against Ferrari’s entries, with the word coming directly from Henry Ford II himself.

In ’63, engineers from Ford sat down with a team from Lotus, Lola and Cooper to start drawing up plans for a Ferrari-beater. The first versions of the car (powered by Ford’s 4.2 liter Fairlane V8) performed poorly; after the race season was over, the program was handed over to racing legend Carroll Shelby. Under Shelby’s tuning and management, the team won the Daytona 2000 in 1965 with a GT40. They went on to dominate 24 Hours of Le Mans in ’66, and the GT40 was now a serious contender.

The sleek-looking GT40 was available with Ford’s 255 V8, the 289 V8, 302 V8 or 427 V8, all hooked up to a 4-speed manual transmission; in a car that weighed scarcely over 2000 lbs, you can well imagine that it was a handful to drive. The GT40 was eventually produced in four different versions before it was made obsolete in the late 60s by new models from Porsche and Ferrari.

In the 2000s, Ford introduced a limited-edition Ford GT, a tribute to the legendary race car from the 60s. The GT featured many unique and interesting technologies, including an aluminum body, aluminum engine cover, superplastic-formed frame and four-piston brakes all around. The 550-horsepower V8 in the GT made it a strong performer, but the GT was strictly a street machine and not really comparable to its racing predecessor.

The early-to-mid 60s were an anything-goes time in the racing world, and while the GT40 didn’t enjoy a long lifespan on the racetracks (technology was advancing rapidly in those days), it does have one distinction…the 1967 GT40 represents the first all-American victory in the history of Le Mans, with American tires, engine and chassis and an American behind the wheel.