The Ford GT40-Based Road Car That Could Have Been
Good racing movies don’t happen very often and rarely get as much critical acclaim as those of 2019 Ford vs. Ferrari. Driven by the real drama behind Ford’s historic 1-2-3 sweep at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans, the film gives life to adrenaline and the danger of racing in the 1960s, carefully weaving this action into a focused origin on the characters story of the most emblematic racing car of the Blue Oval: the Ford GT40. Although the film gives a good majority of the facts, it presents to the spectator a condensed version of Ford’s path to victory at Le Mans. And even with two and a half hours of bladder bypass, there was not enough time to mention the GT40-based road car that Ford had envisioned from the start of the program. Wait, a GT40-based road car?
That’s exactly what we wondered as we scanned the digital pages of the GT program book graciously provided by Ford archivist Ted Ryan. The GT program book was a confidential document that circulated internally at Ford and describes the automaker’s plans to beat the Scuderia Ferrari at Le Mans. The document was the result of a nine-day study in the design and research departments and was to “serve as a basis for discussion at the design stages” of the WG program. Key piece of evidence that shows how serious Henry Ford II was about his feud with Enzo Ferrari is the date on the report: June 12, 1963, just 21 days after the failed Ferrari purchase negotiations .
But the GT program book does not only detail the racing car offered at Le Mans. He also presented the idea of a road car based on the same chassis and the same mid-engine mechanics of the Ford GT (which would later be renamed GT40 for its total height of 40 inches). Because “its basic environment is that of a road vehicle”, the road model was designed with certain compromises to make it more accommodating off-road. First, it was six inches taller, a distinction well illustrated by the driver’s oh-so-so 1960s hat. He was also about 10 inches longer and 326 pounds heavier, although still a featherweight at just under 2,000 pounds. A cross-sectional sketch also reveals a spare tire in the trunk and a futuristic bubble awning. In addition, it would have received a suspension more suited to the road, better sound insulation, a V8 of 289 cubic inches from the Fairlane and a unique body.
If this body looks familiar to you, it’s because it’s essentially the concept of the 1962 Ford Mustang I with a roof. You see, the very first vehicle to bear the Mustang name was an ultra-stylish, topless, mid-engine show car. Lee Iacocca and his team, known as the Fairlane Group, eventually opted for a more economical front-end engine configuration for the Mustang, but Ford apparently kept the hope of a mid-engine sports car. The front end of the Mustang I shark nose with retractable headlights is preserved in the sketches of the GT road car, which the document calls only “Sports car project”.
Although there have been more than 100 GT40 road cars built to meet homologation requirements, including the MkIII optimized for the extremely rare road, the sports car project presented in the initial proposal never came to fruition. But the racing car, of course, did. The GT sketches that accompany the sports car project in the GT program book vaguely resemble the car that will eventually race at Le Mans, and this look has been refined when rendered in clay. These photos of the first terracotta model of the GT date from June 19, 1963 and you can start to see a lot more of the GT40 than we know today (with a little Ferrari Testarossa with these side strakes).
So this is it. Ford originally wanted to build a road car yin to its racing car yang. It’s a fun nugget of information that can enrich your perspective the next time you watch Ford against Ferrari.