Can you imagine the impact of this GT40 in 1966?
It takes a lot to stop you in your tracks at the London Classic Car Show, but this 1966 Ford GT40 Mk1 road car did just that. Sitting in the Duncan Hamilton Rofgo stand alongside a Jaguar XJ220, it was utterly spellbinding.
For obvious reasons, the racing cars are highly glorified today. They were the ones that raced wheel-to-wheel, that earned the trophies, suffered the battle scars and ended up as arguably the most iconic cars of the 1960s.
But that also means that they are the most familiar today – they end up in the movies and at the big historic race meets, and people replicate them all the time. We’re not saying that’s a bad thing – quite the opposite. But if anything, it cranks the sheer drama and tension of an unadorned road car right up.
Just look at it. If anything, those Mk1 curves look even more muscular and aggressive in a single colour. And those wire wheels with knock-off spinners really date the car to the sixties, but they lend it an air of subtlety that’s somewhat missing when the fat racing Halibrands are fitted. You see the wheels and instantly think classic car, but the sucker punch comes when you see the Perspex windows and peer through the air intake to see those eight un-filtered velocity stacks just sitting there.
The GT40 road car is like seeing Michael Phelps in a dinner suit. Even though he’s dressed like everyone else, you can still pick that he’s an Olympian.
The idea of a GT40 road car was certainly an afterthought. Was it an attempt to sprinkle some of the glamour of Le Mans onto Ford’s otherwise pedestrian range? Or was it just a simple cash grab? Either way, it’s clear that little effort went into producing the road car, which is what made them so intoxicating.
Wire wheels, a plain paint job, and a little extra leather padding spread around the cockpit is about as far as the changes extended. The cars were a little tamer mechanically than the Le Mans contenders, but the base package was the same and you could likely specify a full racing setup from Ford Advanced Vehicles in Slough, should masochism be your thing.
The term ‘racing car for the road’ is often inaccurately used, but the GT40 Mk1 road car was an actual racing car for the road, the likes of which we just don’t see today.
That 1966 road car at the London Classic Car Show shouted above all of the cars it shared its stand with – the XJ220, a Shelby Mustang, a Porsche 962 Group C machine and a BTCC Sierra Cosworth. If it still has that much impact among such storied counterparts today, what must it have been like in 1966?
This was the era of the Ford Capri and Anglia, the Vauxhall Viva and Victor, the Hillman Hunter, the Rover 3500, the MGB and the Humber Hawk. Even at the top end of town, the GT40 would have made almost anything look pretty dull. Porsche’s best was the 911, Ferrari had the 275, Jaguar had the E-Type, and Aston-Martin had the DB5. All lovely and incredibly special cars, but none had even half the sheer drama of a street-parked GT40.
We often view classic cars in a modern context. But just sometimes, it pays to consider how it would have been received in its day, and in this respect, the 1966 GT40 Mk1 road car is unmatched.
Words and London Classic Car Show photos by Andrew Coles
Period photos courtesy Ford Motor Company.