The origins of the Ford’s GT40 MKIV is marred by tragedy. It began in 1966 with the J-Car just after LeMans. Ken Miles was test driving the car when it crashed on an embankment, bursting into flames. The rest is heavy-hearted history. There were only 10 made, only half of which ever actually raced. However, the MKIV is known for breaking records both at home and abroad. It only ran in two races: the Sebring 12 Hours and the 24 Hours of Le Mans – the most prestigious race events in all of motorsport. It won both.
These victories were no accident. Ford made sure of that. The car was specifically, painstakingly designed for endurance, designed for speed…designed to win. Each element of the MKIV was totally different from other GT40s, starting with where it was made. The MKIV was built from scratch in the United States, unlike its predecessors the MKI and ll cars which were built entirely or partly in Europe. A little “skunk works” company called Kar Kraft built the all-new J series chassis and newly designed long, streamlined bodywork for Ford’s Special Vehicles Activity. The MKIV was easily the most radical variant of all the GT40s.
Other modifications were made as well. A NASCAR-style, steel-tube roll cage was added as a direct result of beloved racer Ken Miles’ tragic death while testing the first J Car. Though it was significantly safer, the roll cage was incredibly heavy which hurt the car’s performance.
This particular beauty, the red MKIV #1, was on the J5 Chassis. Despite its skilled drivers Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt, the red #1 was written off and thought to be least likely to win. To top it off, driver Dan Gurney was 6′ 4″ – too tall to fit in the standard GT40. So, the team built the car body around him, lowering the position of the driver’s seat and making a “bubble” shaped piece for the roof of the car This would become forever known as the “Gurney Bubble”.
Dan Gurney often complained about its weight. It was a massive 600 pounds heavier than their archrival, the Ferrari 330 P4. During practice at Le Mans in 1967, Gurney developed a strategy in an effort to preserve the brakes – highly stressed under the additional weight of the car. He backed completely off the throttle several hundred yards before the approach to the Mulsanne hairpin (a well-known high-crash zone) virtually coasting into the braking area. This technique (also adopted by his co-driver A.J. Foyt) saved the brakes but increased the car’s recorded lap times. Looking on, the Ford team feared that Gurney and Foyt, in their efforts to compromise on chassis settings, had hopelessly “dialed out” their car. However, thanks in part to the car’s incredible aerodynamics, it became the fastest in a straight line that year, topping out at an exceptional 212 mph on the 3.6-mile Mulsanne Straight.
With Drivers A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney at the helm, the red MKIV #1 took the lead within the first 90 minutes and finished an entire four laps ahead of the second-place Ferarri 330 P4.
The overwhelming victory sent the entire team into joyful hysterics. So much so that the pit crew members climbed onto the race-winning car, consequently cracking the bodywork on the nose of the car. That damage to the car’s nose can still be seen on the beautifully preserved car today.
This epic race on Sunday June 11, 1967 is still considered to be the race of the century and this car’s win remains the only all-American victory in Le Mans history.