Since 1960, Henry Ford II wanted a Ford to race at Le Mans. After dealings with Ferrari fell through, Ford decided to produce his own car and began negotiations with Lola Cars manager Eric Broadley. The agreement between the two called for a year long collaboration that included the sale of two Lola MK 6 chassis to Ford. Soon after, Ford hired ex-Aston Martin team manager John Wyer to work with Ford Motor Co engineer Roy Lunn on what was to become the Ford GT.
The original GT40 and MK1, designed by Lunn, was prepared at the specially established Ford Advanced Vehicles in the UK. Abbey Panels constructed the advanced monocoque chassis and the drive train finally chosen was the 289 Ford V8 mated to a Coletti transaxle. During the GT40’s racing history a variety of Ford engines and even a ZF transaxle were used.
The Ford GT made its debut at Nürburgring in May 1964 and followed up the appearance with 24 Hours of Le Mans. The cars failed to finish both races – a devastating blow to the Ford team. Although they were not successful at Le Mans in 64 or 65, their obvious potential led Ford to continue racing them and in 1966, Ford and the MKII made American racing history with a dominating one, two, and three finish over Ferrari at Le Mans.
The Ford GT40 was designed as a high performance sports car and was subsequently a winner of the 24 hours of Le Mans four times in a row, from 1966 to 1969 (in 1967 with a different body type). It was specifically built to win long-distance sports car races against Ferrari (who won at Le Mans six times in a row from 1960 to 1965). The GT40 “GT-40P 1075” was the first car to win at Le Mans twice (in 1968 and 1969). That car used the Gurney Weslake engine with special alloy heads made by Weslake.
The car was named the GT (for Grand Tourisme) with the 40 representing its overall height of 40 inches (1.02 m, measured at the windshield) as required by the rules. Large displacement Ford V8 engines (4.7 L and 7 L) were used, compared with the Ferrari V12 which displaced 3.0 L or 4.0 L.
Early cars were simply named "Ford GT". The name "GT40" was the name of Ford's project to prepare the cars for the international endurance racing circuit, and the quest to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The first 12 "prototype" vehicles carried serial numbers GT-101 through GT-112. The "production" began and the subsequent cars, the MkI, MkIIs, MkIIIs, and MkIVs, numbered GT40-P-1000 through GT40-P-1145, were officially "GT40s".