The original Ford GT40 MkI took the world by storm, but the competition was not standing still. Ford knew Ferrari was working on something - ultimately the 330 P3/4. So Ford leadership was not convinced that the British built GT40 Mk1 was going to win LeMans, with its steel monocoque and small block V8. They called Carroll Shelby, and asked him to further develop the existing car. He first fitted a larger version of the small block engine, installed new cast alloy wheels and better brakes. The car was instantly successful. The Shelby-enhanced GT40 won the Daytona 2000 km and its class at the Sebring 12 Hours. Shelby decided to go bigger for Le Mans. He equipped two cars with the Ford Galaxy-derived big block V8. The resulting GT40 Mark IIs were quick, but fragile, and Le Mans was a disaster for Ford once again.
Shelby continued to develop the big block engined GT40 Mk II, but Ford had even bigger plans. Eric Broadley, the genius behind Lola, had said from the start of the GT40 project that using steel for the car's monocoque wasn't a good idea. Ford chose steel because it was much easier to use, especially as they turned out GT40 production cars. Proving true the old Colin Chapman adage about lightness, the additional weight hindered the cars, to the extent that Ford had to run 7.0 liter engines, versus the Ferrari 4.0 liters. The additional power and weight also stressed all the running gear more, proving to be the cause of many of the retirements for the Mk II in its primary season. The team knew the only viable solution was to build a heavily revised version of the chassis.
In late 1965, Ford set out to build that new chassis. The obvious choice was to replace the steel with aluminum, and get a simply lighter monocoque. But there was concern that aluminum wouldn't be strong enough to cope with the power of the big engine, and the strains of racing around Le Mans for 24 Hours. The engineers decided to use an aerospace technology - a honeycomb structure sandwiched between the sheets of aluminium. It was already known to be an exceptionally strong material in aircraft design, but it was a ground-breaking construction method for motor racing. They even sourced the production of the tubs to Brunswick Aerospace.
By using a similar foundational design for the new chassis, many of the Mk II mechanicals could be carried over to the new car. These included the suspension parts, brakes and of course the big block, 427 ci V8. What was new was a Kar Kraft constructed 2-speed automatic gearbox, replacing the four speed manual box. Assembled by Ford in Dearborn, this particular GT40 evolution was skinned in a form-fitting fiberglass body with a high rear deck and an aggressively cut-off 'Kamm' tail. It was considered an experimental car, so became known simply as the 'J-car', referring to the Appendix J of the regulations to which the car was constructed. Weighing in at 2070 pounds, almost 450 pounds lighter than the Mk II, the first J-car was ready for the Le Mans Trials in the spring of 1966.
After the Le Mans trial the first J-car was returned to the United States to serve mainly as a mule for testing different body configurations, with the intent to improve high speed stability. The second J was completed in August and prepared to race in the new Can-Am Series, which would start in September. During a test at Riverside, Ken Miles was killed in a freak accident, with the cause never clearly determined. Immediately after the accident, the construction of a third J car was suspended. the first one was destroyed in a crash-test to help determine the cause of the fatal accident. Late in October the third car and only surviving J-car was finally assembled with a conventional 4-speed manual gearbox replacing the automatic.
Ferrari's announcement of the 330 P4 affirmed Ford's suspicions. So they were highly motivated to make sure the J-car was ready. Once again, Shelby was asked to help develop the car. In January 1967 'J-3' was extensively tested. It is belived that as many as 25 body configurations were assessed in 5 days. Finally a design was found that best combined low-drag with high-speed stability. A fourth car was built with the newly-defined body and sent to Sebring for the J-car's belated competition debut. The J-car became what we now know as the Ford GT Mk IV. The yellow-liveried car, driven by Bruce McLaren and Mario Andretti set pole position with a monstrous 2.6 second margin, and was driven to victory in it's inaugural race.
A week later, McLaren was at Le Mans testing the new one-off MkIV chassis in the official Trials. Even fitted with all sorts of heavy testing equipment, it was clocked at just under 210 mph down the Mulsanne straight. Ford knew they had something. But leaving nothing to chance, they built four completely new chassis for Le Mans. Two (numbers J-5 and J-6) were given to Shelby American for the Bruce McLaren / Mark Donohue and Dan Gurney / AJ Foyt teams. The other two (J-7 and J-8) were entered by Holman & Moody for Andretti/Bianchi and Ruby/Hulme. The four Mk IVs were backed up by another three factory-supported / Shelby prepared GT40 Mk IIs. Ford knew they faced seven highly developed, state of the art Ferrari 330 P3/4s.
The hype going into the 1967 Le Mans race was fever pitch. Ford and Ferrari had been taking constant jabs at one another. The showdown was set.
Right out of the gate during qualifying, the Americans let it be known they were not screwing around. McLaren clinched the pole, ahead of the Chaparral of Mike Spence and Phill Hill. The fastest Ferrari was seventh and over four seconds slower than McLaren's Mk IV. But there's much more to endurance racing than outright speed. In the race Ferrari's rock-solid reliability saw them gradually move up the leader board. One by one the Fords and Chaparrals lost time in the pits or were forced to retire. Hulme had set numerous fastest laps, but his Mk IV was hobbled when co-driver Ruby damaged the oiling system during an off-track excursion. In the middle of the night Andretti crashed. The McLaren/Donohue car lost significant time in the pit after the rear bodywork had blown off down the Mulsanne straight. The lost time meant they would do no better than fourth.
Going into Le Mans,The team had to fabricate a roof bubble to accommodate the helmet of Dan Gurney, who stood more than 6’3" tall. The Gurney / Foyt team outright dominated Ferrari. In one famous incident which took place in the middle of the night, Gurney had already developed a 4-lap / 34 mile lead over the second-place Ferrari, so he geared back to preserve his car. Michael Parkes, driving the second Ferrari 330 P4, came up behind Gurney, and for several laps flashed his lights in Gurney's mirrors until Gurney simply pulled off into the grass at Arnage corner. Parkes stopped behind him, and the two race leaders sat there, in the dark, motionless, until Parkes finally realized his attempt to provoke Gurney wasn't going to work. After a few moments, he pulled around Gurney and resumed the race, with Gurney following shortly. With the cat-and-mouse game done, they both maintained their positions to the finish.
The win remains the sole all-American victory at Le Mans - an American-built car, prepared by an American team, and driven by American drivers - AJ Foyt and Dan Gurney. They led all but the first 90 minutes of the race.
When Gurney walked onto the podium, he was handed the traditional magnum of champagne. He looked down and saw Ford CEO Henry Ford II, team owner Carroll Shelby, their wives, and several journalists who had predicted disaster for the high-profile duo of Gurney and Foyt. Many of the journalists had predicted the two drivers, who were heated competitors in the United States, would break their car trying to better one another. In that moment on the podium, Gurney shook the bottle and sprayed everyone nearby, thus creating the champagne-spraying tradition reenacted in victory celebrations around the world over ever since.
One day after Ford's second Le Mans win, everything had changed. The organizers of the race changed the layout of the Circuit de la Sarthe for 1968. Plus new car regulations for 1968 were announced, which rendered the Mk IV obsolete. Ford brought the Mk IVs back to Holman & Moody and had all four rebuilt to resemble the winning chassis, which according to the ACO was J-6. The cars were painted red and received a 'Gurney-bubble' in the roof to be an exact replica of the winner. For a while these 'winners' were shown at various motorshows. At the end of the year, J-6 was handed to Foyt for his incredible debut at Le Mans.
One could easily think of the Mk IV as 'just' the fourth evolution of the original Ford GT40. But it it much more. It was nothing less than a highly advanced racing car. Particularly with the new-to-motorsports chassis construction, Ford broke new ground - with a technique used pervasively today. But they also did much more than that. They showed that all-American motorsports team could get it done on the international stage.
In celebration of the 1967 Le Mans win, we are very excited to share our latest shirt design. Graphic Designer Brandon Ort put together this fantastic tribute to the 24 Hours of LeMans-winning 1967 Ford GT40 MkIV.
Brandon Ort’s design incorporates the incredible statistics of the LeMans victory. The winning Foyt / Gurney car is printed on a high-quality American Apparel Navy blue crew neck tee.