COSTA MESA, Calif. – It’s rare that a small, local car club in Southern California has the clout to pull off a world-class car show focused solely on Ford-powered vehicles. But that is exactly what the Cobra Owners Club of America Orange County (COCOA) did back on June 11. What started out as a discouraging wet, rainy morning in Orange County slowly developed into a day that would be remembered for a remarkable automotive event.
Nestled in front of the Westin South Coast Plaza Hotel in Costa Mesa, surrounded by tall trees and gently rolling mounts of lush grass, were some very significant Ford vehicles positioned center-stage. Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Ford Motor Company’s 1967 win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans by Dan Gurney and A.J. Font, the COCOA’s 21st Annual Show applauded the history of the GT40. Ford Communications Consultant John Clinard was appropriately the official Grand Marshall for the show. John is well-known on the West Coast for his tenure at Ford, having over 45 years working in a variety of enthusiast communications and PR programs for Formica. John has won the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Motor Press Guild and Packard International, as well as the Lee Iacocca Award (in 2014).
One of the stars of the show was Allen Grant’s historically significant Lola GT Mk6. In 1963, Lola Cars owner Eric Bromley designed an experimental GT monocoque chassis and fitted a small-block Ford V-8 and a transaxle behind the driver. With an attractive low-drag coupe body, the Lola GT was immediately competitive but suffered from inadequate development time. At the same time, Ford was on a quest to defeat Ferrari in endurance racing and Bromley’s little GT had the perfect prerequisites for developing the now-legendary GT40.
In 1965, Grant – who worked for Carroll Shelby racing Cobra Daytona Coupes – saw the Mk6 in Lola’s shop which at the time was being shared with Ford Advanced Vehicles, Ltd., developing the GT40 in England. Only three Lola GT Mk6’s were built. Grant had one with no engine or transaxle shipped back to the States. In 2016, Grant completed a full restoration of his Lola GT Mk6, and brought it to the show to share center stage.
After developing the GT40 for racing, Ford also built seven GT40 Mk III’s for road use. With a detuned 4.7-litre, softened shocks, a reconfigured nose for four headlamps and an extended rear body to accommodate a luggage compartment, Ford had difficulty initially in gaining much public interest for purchasing the Mk III’s. The Petersen Automobile Museum graciously brought their GT40 Mk III to be displayed for this show.
In 1967, Ford moved the development of the GT40 to the States from England. The new car was designed by Ford’s own studios and built at Kar Kraft in Brighton, Michigan. The chassis was now honeycomb aluminum panels bonded together to form a lightweight but rigid “tub,” designated as the J-car (also known as Mk IV’s) to meet the new Appendix J regulations of FIA in 1966. Car collector Tom Malloy owns GT40 J-11 Mk IV and presented his car in the 1967 Le Mans-winning livery of the Gurney/Foyt GT40 J-5 Mk IV. In 1996, Malloy’s GT40 J car ran 220 mph at Bonneville with a 7.0-liter Ford V-8.
Ford the 2005 model year, the Ford Special Vehicle Team began delivering a modern-day Ford GT, penned by Camilo Pardo. This 550-horsepower, mid-engine two-seater sports car with a top speed of 205 mph became an instant success for Ford. Pardo brought his personal, uniquely liveried Ford GT to add to the display of several other Ford GT’s in attendance at the show, including Dan Gurney’s personal red Ford GT with the “Gurney Bubble” on top.
In order to go full circle from the concept Lola GT6 to the current Le Mans-winning Ford GT, Ford Motor Company sent a full-race prototype FIA GT3 2016 Ford GT powered by a 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V-6 engine for display. Liveried in America’s Red/White/Blue, the race-prepared Ford GT was a symbol of Ford Motor Company’s astonishing victory 50 years later to once again beat Ferrari in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
At any car show the cars are often the stars, but the real star of this automotive gathering was Dan Gurney, an international icon of automobile racing. Along with Dan were his sons, Alex and Justin, and Dan’s wife, Evi. They brought Dan’s own Ford GT and his Superformance Cobra Tribute to CSX2128 (which Gurney raced the original in 1963). Dan had a grin on his face all day as he was shown around by John Clinard examining all of the special cars on display. The highlight of his afternoon had to be when Gurney was given celebratory Champagne and sprayed the crowd from the podium, exactly 50 years to the day when he had celebrated his 1967 Le Mans victory with co-driver A.J. Foyt, back on June 11, 1967. How appropriate it was to see Dan given a bottle of Champagne, these 50 years later, and have him open the bottle and spray everyone in the crowd once again!
This may have been the first time (and may possibly be the last time) that the GT40 concept car, the prototype Le Mans-winning Ford GT and all of the GT adaptations in between, have been seen together at the same show. Adding to the magic of the day was the presence of the Gurney family to help celebrate a memorable 50th Anniversary of Dan’s winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans in an American-built, American-prepared, American-driven race car – making that win the sole all-American victory for Ford Motor Company in Le Mans history.
The gathering of all of these cars was truly an astounding accomplishment spearheaded by COCOA President Bob Stockwell and Vice President Hank Jesch, along with many of the club volunteers.
FORD PERFORMANCE PHOTOS / COURTESY RANDY RICHARDSON