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JUN 12, 2015

PHOTO ESSAY: Follow The Evolution of the Ford GT Through The Years

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One of the first two Ford GT 40 Mark I's, built by Lola, was flown to New York for a press conference and for inspection by Ford executives. Upon approval, it was immediately returned to England to be prepared for Le Mans practice on April 16, 1964. The car, called the GT 40 because of its 40-inch height, immediately drew attention from competitors. “Strangers with stopwatches could be seen checking the Ford’s performance.” (Source: Ford: The Dust and the Glory, 1901-1967). Ford brought three Ford GT 40s for its first attempt at Le Mans. While one led laps early in the race with driver Richie Ginther at the wheel, it was actually the Cobra that would finish highest – fourth after three Ferraris. The challenge was set.

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In 1965, Texan Carroll Shelby took over the development of the Ford GT40 after persistent problems with transmissions felled the first attempt at endurance racing and caused many of the original people involved to quit. Control of the effort as a whole, as well as the design center and build site, shifted from overseas to the United States. Shelby was already known for developing his breakout Shelby Cobra, which married lightweight European construction with big American power. The cars were fitted with the same engine as the Cobras – the famous 427.

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Ford and Carroll Shelby continued development on the GT40 Mk II throughout 1966. Victories at the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring allowed Ford to field three teams (Shelby American Inc., Holman & Moody, and Alan Mann Racing) at Le Mans in 1966. 

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Shelby-American Inc. fielded three cars, each with driving icons behind the wheel. Ken Miles/Denis Hulme in the No. 1, Bruce McLaren/Chris Amon in the No. 2, and Dan Gurney/Jerry Grant in the No. 3.

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Near the end of the race, Ken Miles and Denny Hulme were in the lead, followed closely by Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon (on the same lap). Holman & Moody’s Ronnie Bucknum and Dick Hutcherson were in third place, but 12 laps behind. The three cars crossed the finish 1-2-3 in the closest finish in Le Mans history (difference of 8 meters).

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Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon are led to the rostrum in their Ford GT40 Mk II to celebrate Ford’s first Le Mans victory.

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Ford and Shelby-American Inc. brought the new GT40 Mk IV to Le Mans in 1967 with an all-new chassis designed and built in the United States.

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Dan Gurney and Le Mans rookie A.J. Foyt entered the event as Ford’s only American duo and one of four Ford GT 40 Mk IV entrants.

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Gurney and Foyt dominated the field at Le Mans, leading all but the first 90 minutes of the race.

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Foyt crossed the finish line with Dan Gurney rushing to join his teammate on the car. This remains the only all-American win at Le Mans (American-built car, powered by an American engine, under an American team and driven by American drivers). 

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In 1968, Lucien Bianchi and Pedro Rodriguez won Le Mans by five laps in their Ford GT40 Mk I (Chassis 1075).

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Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver held onto their short lead ahead of Porsche to secure Ford’s fourth win at Le Mans in four years with the same Chassis 1075 that had won the year before.  This marked the first time an individual car won Le Mans twice.