Bill's GT40 replica
When Enzo Ferrari refused to sell his company to Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford II responded by ordering the creation of the GT40, a car that was built specifically to beat Ferrari at the classic Le Mans 24-hour race. The instantly recognisable sky blue & orange colours of the Gulf oil company were immortalised in motorsports history when the '68-'69 Ford GT40 capped off four straight victories at Le Mans. Later cars such as the Porsche 917 also featured the unique livery, but it's the GT that’s indellibly linked with the famous paint scheme.
The GT stood for “Grand Tourisme”, indicating it’s 24 hour endurance race pedigree, with the 40 representing it’s overall height of 40 inches, (1.02 m, measured at the windshield), as required by the rules. Designed by Englishman Eric Broadley of Lola cars, the big mid-engined Fords were heavier than most of their rivals, losing ground to them on the straights but gaining it again with superior handling through the bends. They produced some nail biting performances – on Sunday, 19th June 1966, a trio of Ford GT Mark II endurance racers crossed a rain-soaked finish line at the famous La Sarthe circuit in Le Mans to take a 1-2-3 finish. In 1969, having covered some 3000 miles of non stop driving around the 8 ½ mile circuit, the number 6 Gulf/Ford piloted by Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver arrived home just 70 metres ahead of the nearest rival, a Porsche. It’s racing heritage, together with stunningly beautiful looks, have made the GT one of the World’s most iconic cars.
Understandably, many replicas have been built over the intervening years, with the GTDs, built in Poole, Dorset, from the early 80s to the late 90s, recognised as some of the most accurate. Bill’s was first registered for the road in 1985 & wore the black & gold John Player Special livery when he bought it some five years ago. The fibreglass GTD bodyshell, with it’s peculiar doors that almost meet across the roof & hinged tail section giving access to the engine, is exact in every detail.
The body sits on a heavy weight steel box section space frame & runs Ford Granada wish bone suspension & steering up front with a Renault 5 gearbox linking the bright orange Image alloy rear wheels to the huge mid-mounted 5 litre Ford 302 V8 with 4 barrel Holley carb. It’s fed by 2, 15 gallon aluminium fuel tanks. Twin servo’d disc brakes all round haul the beast to a halt. Beneath the 60s Ickx & Oliver “moustache” version of the orange striped paintwork, the interior is also faithful to the original with it’s low slung brass eyeleted cream leather seats & gear lever mounted up on the driver’s door sill. Bill’s changed the gear linkage from cable to pushrod to eliminate it’s vague feel & also plans to fit 3 point racing harnesses, but otherwise he’s very happy with it.
Sitting in the passenger seat as he took me for a spin, it felt incredibly claustrophobic in the way that only a race car can. The pedals are ridiculously close together, there’s no power steering, vision is dangerously limited & the windows consist of tiny hinged flaps in the Perspex side panes. Thank God it at least has air conditioning.
The howl of that big V8, sitting just inches behind your head with just a thin wall of fibreglass between the engine bay & the cab, more than makes up for it’s shortcomings though. Bill’s weekend driver is a 2 litre 215bhp sprint car so I can understand him enjoying the GT. It’s as close to a road going race car as you can get. The GT couldn’t melt into the rush hour if it tried. Traffic actually parts to let us pass through. When he hits the throttle the acceleration pins you back in your seat & the outside World slips into slow motion. This really feels like a fast car. I love it. Thanks Bill.