It happens every so often in life, when you look into things a little deeper and find that two people, companies, or places, are actually connected in more than one way. It may be something you never expected, but as soon as it is pointed out, it becomes readily apparent. And so it is between McLaren and each generation of the Ford GT.
Ford, McLaren and the 24 Hours of Le Mans
Of course, it famously starts with Bruce McLaren's watershed victory at Le Mans in 1966, driving that iconic black GT40 MkII with the Kiwi painted on the back. It was actually McLaren's sixth attempt at the 24 hour classic - starts in 1959 (Cooper Monaco), 1961 (Maserati T63), 1962 (Maserati T151), 1963 (Aston Martin DP214), 1964 (Ford GT40) and 1965 (Ford GT40) all bore no fruit, and until his victory year, he had actually failed to even finish the race. Mechanical failures had let him down on each previous attempt, which must have made that 1966 victory even sweeter.
Ford, McLaren, and Formula 1
McLaren's relationship with Ford went further than just the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and as part of his deal, McLaren had negotiated Ford to provide his Formula 1 team with a vehicle. In that same 1966 season, McLaren's open-wheelers were transported around Europe behind a Ford Fairlane station wagon.
In a recent interview for McLaren Automotive, team mechanic Howard Ganley recalls their unlikely arrival to the 1966 Monaco Grand Prix. The car was wearing a special white livery for the race, designed for the McLaren squad to appear as the Japanese 'Yamura' team in John Frankenheimer's classic Grand Prix, which was being filmed at that year's race.
”There were no motorways then,” Ganley recalls. “The trip down to Monaco took ages.”
“It took two days to get down there. We parked in Casino Square. And I remember someone looking at the car and saying, ‘It must be a Chequered Flag Formula Junior car’ – their cars were also white with a dark stripe. The whole thing was quite funny, an entire F1 team was stuck on the back of a trailer.”
Of course, that would only be just the beginning of Ford and McLaren's partnership at the highest levels of open-wheeler racing. Through their deal with Cosworth and the famous DFV engine, Ford would go on to power McLaren Formula 1 cars from 1968 until 1982, including the McLaren team's first Formula 1 victory with the M7A at the 1968 Belgian Grand Prix.
The highlight of the McLaren-Ford partnership was undoubtedly Emerson Fittipaldi's 1974 World Championship victory, driving the M23. It was the McLaren team's first World Championship, and it was powered by Ford.
McLaren and the 2005 Ford GT
The McLaren connection to the relaunched Ford GT of 2005 is a little more esoteric, but is undeniably there. 2009 Formula One World Champion Jenson Button took delivery of his personal GT in 2005, keeping it for six years before moving it along. While he drove for BAR-Honda when he signed the delivery forms at Swiss dealer Grimms in Geneva, he still owned and regularly drove the GT when he won the World Championship for Brawn GP in 2009, and kept it when he moved to McLaren in 2010. For that year and into 2011, Button was both a McLaren Formula One driver and a Ford GT owner.
He must have had some influence with Ford management - not only did Ford Great Britain allocated him one of just 101 cars to be officially delivered into Europe, his example was one of just five to be marked 'VIP' by the Ford National Sales Company.
McLaren and the 2016 Ford GT
Zak Brown is one of the most interesting figures of the Formula One paddock. Through his highly successful motorsport agency, JMI, the racer turned dealmaker has been responsible for some of the most iconic and enduring sponsorship partnerships in motor racing history. More recently however, Brown has gained attention as Executive Director of McLaren Technology Group Ltd.
And the GT link? Brown was one of 7,000 applicants to buy the 2016 Ford GT, and was one of just 500 selected to actually get one in 2017. It's rather interesting that for whatever reason, Ford management decided to sell a GT to senior member of the McLaren management team. Ford were making a big deal of their 2016 Le Mans comeback, on the 50th anniversary of Bruce McLaren's win, so maybe this was a subtle way of returning the favour?
Of course, Brown's GT has gone into one of Europe's truly great collections of racing and road cars. The GT is not only rubbing shoulders with road cars like the McLaren 675 LT Spyder (of course), Ferrari 275GTS, Lamborghini Countach, Porsche 959, Ferrari F40 and Bugatti EB110, but important racing cars such as the 1970 World Championship winning March 701, the 1980 World Championship winning Williams FW07B, the Daytona 24hr and Sebring 12hr winning Porsche 935, 1984 Lancia LC2, Ayrton Senna's first Formula One car, and Mika Hakkinen's British Grand Prix winning McLaren MP4-16A.