I usually refer to Goodwood Revival as the pinnacle in historic motorracing. Nowhere else is the past done better today. But now there seems to be disorder coming up: The featured anniversary of the Ford GT40 is peculiar as the car is actually not 50 this year.
The 2013 Goodwood Revival will feature a race solely for the Ford GT40. That’s fine, but the single-model-race-concept is really something I do not quite understand. For me historic motorracing is about diversity. And the dramatic story of the GT40 is heavily based upon its rivalry with Ferrari in ’64 and ’65. Now THAT is something I would like to see revived. And I would like to see it in 2014, where the GT40 will be 50. So why is Goodwood putting a GT40-show on in 2013?
What Goodwood says is this: “The 2013 Goodwood Revival to Mark the 50th Anniversary of the Ford GT40’s Development”. Well, OK – but wouldn’t it become rather confusing if that was the reasoning behind anniversaries of this and that? The whole World celebrated the E-type in 2011 as the car debuted fifty years earlier – and in my humble opinion that is the way to do it. The only way in fact – because just when did the development of what became the E-type begin? Not many people know – and does it matter? My guess is that many coming British Leyland anniversaries will already be long overdue since that unlucky giant had many cars in development quite often with an extremely long lead time! The Triumph TR7, anyone? But that is another matter, really.
Back to the Ford GT40, then. The matter of its early history concerns me because my favourite incarnation of that iconic car is in fact the first one – then called the Ford GT. Which was quite a failure as a race car, a fact mostly forgotten today. It was not until the GT40 Mk2 of 1966 that Le Mans succes came to Ford, and that great race victory was of course the driving force behind the whole project.
Sure, there was a Ford V8-powered midengined car running at Le Mans as early as 1963. But that car was a Lola: Conceived, developed and paid for by Lola and named the Lola Mk6 GT. Rather confusing, really, as the car was in fact a sport prototype, not a GT-car nor ever thought to be such. But it did have a Ford-engine, superficially resembling the one in the Ford Fairlane. But then again, not quite like that: Even in 1963 the engine in the Lola had an alumunium block, something never to be found in any Fairlanes for the street. Even more importantly it should be noted that the chassis was in fact also aluminium. Now remember that the chassis of the GT40 was steel – and carefully study the differences as shown in the cutaways below.
But sure enough the first GT40 WAS very closely related to the Lola Mk6: Earlier in 1963 Ford had begun their Le Mans-project. And realized they needed outside help. Lotus and Cooper were in the run for the contract but Ford chose Lola that already had shown how to build a promising Le Mans racer: In the 1963-race their car showed good speed, but in classic British tradition it was finished in the last possible moment, driven to the race on public roads (oh, how I love the olden days!) and only just made it to the start. The new Lola Mk6 went as high as fifth place before retiring: Insufficient testing meant the car was geared far to short for the long straights of Le Mans.
The feat did not escape the attention of Ford, and the American giant then hired Eric Broadley of Lola to develop their own machine for Le Mans 1964. AND they bought two of the three Lola Mk6 built in order to use them as rolling test benches for the GT40-project. Naturally Eric Broadley used his Mk6 as a starting point. The real work began after the summer of 1963. Broadley was not pleased when Ford demanded the chassis built in steel, though: The Mk6 had weighed in at just over 800 kilograms and steel would of course make the new car heavier. Counteracting that would be much better aerodynamics with bodywork mostly designed by Ford.
And in my eyes it also became a prettier car: I saw the Lola Mk6 in real life at the Techno Classic in 2012, and it really is a remarkably compact little car, full of mucles and hormones. Obviously rooted in the thinking of former times, rounded forms and all. While the GT40 shares overall proportions especially in its first incarnation it did also add modernism – pointed nose, sharper flanks, abrupt rear: However the GT40 ended up being both more elegant and more brutal, which is quite a feat. And advanced for 1964 it was – which seemed very appropiate for this car, the first out of the newly formed Ford Advanced Vehicles.
But please, Goodwood: The finished car was not announced until April 1964! And indeed it couldn’t even be called “finished” by then as it was in fact heavily modified before racing – and even more so before eventually becoming succesful. The first prototype was flown back and forth between London and New York, and most media sensed that this was really something special. Ford’s Total Performance Programme was dead serious and the new GT had the muscles to back up any claims. But no media could have sensed this before 1964. That the GT40 looked very similar to the Lola Mk6 beneath the skin was not something anybody mentioned – least of all Ford. They had of course taken in Eric Broadley as a consultant to build a Ford, not to build a Lola Mk7. And so he did.
On account of the above facts I think it is rather disingenuous to celebrate the GT40 in 2013.
In May 1964 the Ford GT did its first race at the Nurburgring, and later in that year they ran in the the big one: In Le Mans 1964 they really should have threatened its arch rival Ferrari – but the cars went out again. It was initially mechanics that put an end to the challenges of the Ford GT as the car was indeed faster than the Italian racecars. But just not reliable enough. Also there was a problem with the aerodynamics, which was not settled until late 1965. Only then did the Ford GT emerge as the GT40 we know today.
I much prefer the original version, as already mentioned: Cleaner, shorter and more elegant in my eyes. Too bad the aerodynamics did not quite work! But even then – and I am trying not to sound blasé here: I find the familiar later-GT40-shape as ubiquitous as it is brutally beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, I adore the GT40, how couldn’t you – but please, spare me for more Gulf-replicaes, thank you. As an antidote to that kliché I therefore prefer the small and (almost!) discreet white GT from 1964.
If one of those would turn up at Goodwood I’d be a happy man. But I doubt it will happen, really. The early cars featured an engine of only 4,2 liters, the later 4,7. All were slower than the Big Block-predecessors of 1966 and even the five-liter-cars of 1968 were in another league speedwise. Most folks will recognize a GT40 and call them all that but in reality they were quite different cars. And most importantly: The first one came out in 1964.
So just why has Goodwood chosen to feature the GT40 in 2013 anyway? Well, I can only imagine, but could it be because another Ford vehicle will be fifty in 2014? The Mustang, that is – and THAT is a car that had much influence in Ford history, even more than the GT40. Will 2014 be a Mustang year at Goodwood Revival?
I still hope to be able to visit Goodwood Revival this year, though: It has been thirteen years since I visited last, and judging from what I hear it is still the pinnacle of the calender – especially if you appreciate the total theater that is built up around the Sussex circuit. Which I do. But I also appreciate the diversity of historic motorracing that usually prospers, and while you can not really say anything bad about a GT40 at full song I doubt that a whole grid of those will add anything to the experience. Other than seeming slightly bizarre.
But I will look long and hard for a little white and black one, rest assured. Only please let it finish this time around.