In 2019, the American blockbuster Le Mans ’66 (also known as Ford vs Ferrari) told the story of one of the most dramatic racing battles of all time. But there’s an important detail missing from the Hollywood biopic. Ford’s GT40 - one of the most successful racing cars of all time - was born on a trading estate in Slough.
By 1965, Ferrari’s reign as Le Mans champions looked irrepressible. Italy had dominated the decade, taking home consecutive wins for the last six years. Henry Ford II thought he had a solution – buy Ferrari and its assets, unlock a new range of blue-oval branded sports cars, and take home the glory by winning at Circuit de la Sarthe.
It’s no secret that Enzo Ferrari pulled the plug on negotiations at the eleventh hour and, not content with merely scuppering Ford’s grand plan, the Italian colossus reportedly managed to personally insult Henry II in the process.
The film portrays American designer Carroll Shelby and his driver, Ken Miles, as the men tasked with regaining the pride of Ford Motor Company on the world stage by beating Ferrari at its own game. The Ford GT40 is the star of the show – but there was little mention of the car’s Berkshire beginnings.
It's history can be traced back to 1963, with developments commencing at Lola Cars in Slough, the premier chassis supplier of the era. Founder Eric Broadley’s team were tasked with the design work and built a brand-new car around the Ford 289ci V8 engine.
The result was the Lola Mk6 GT, a thoroughly impressive mid-engine racer with many design elements being familiar to GT40 fans. It utilised the finest engineering processes available at the time, featuring an advanced aluminium monocoque and the engine/gearbox as a stressed member. Other recognisable touches also made it onto the finished GT40, including the Kamm-tail and guillotine door design.
Ford Advanced Vehicles were highly impressed - the company bought the design from Broadley, who continued development work alongside Ford’s Roy Lunn and Project Lead John Wyer, of Slough-based JW Automotive Engineering, for a short time.
It would be unfair to say the GT40 – the car which realised Henry II’s dream of a 1-2-3 finish at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans – was solely developed in Slough… But credit should be given to the Brits who helped to break Ferrari’s winning streak. Not only did the GT40 snatch the glory at Le Mans ’66 – it went on to win the next three consecutive races too.
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