Test Drive Tuesday review: 1964 Ford GT40 Mk1
You simply don’t say no to Henry Ford. That’s what Enzo Ferrari discovered in the early 1960s when after pulling out of negotiations concerning a partnership between the two legendary automakers he found himself losing the brightest jewel of his crown: the 24 hours of Le Mans.
To show Ferrari how wrong he was to refuse his proposal, Ford decided to use all of its might to crush the red cars at the biggest race of the world. And out of an Anglo-American partnership with Lola was born the GT40. Based on the Lola Mk6, a Ford-powered Le Mans racer, the GT40 crushed everything in its way in endurance racing from 1965 to 1969, including four back-to-back wins at Le Mans. Following a regulation change in 1968, a slightly modified version of the Mk1 won both the 1968 and the 1969 races.
The Mk1 was propelled by a 390bhp V8, and weighed as little as 900kg. It was fast, then.
I had all that in mind when I started it for the first time. That, and the fact that it had 50 years old tires and brakes. Needless to say I was a bit tense.
And once again, I was proved wrong.
The GT40 is a car that just doesn’t do oversteer. And I first I was a bit puzzled by that, because when I think about Le Mans monsters of the 1960s, I imagine nearly-undrivable monsters and very little in the way of actual grip. But what I failed to do was to look at those rear tires: they are just colossal. When you look at the car from the back, it’s almost cartoonish. But the front tires don’t match. So what you actually get is faultless traction and a front-end that doesn’t have much bite. Actually, you'll understand better how it's like to drive if you think of it as a modern sports car: very fast, but not much tires nor brakes.
I’ll admit it, this doesn’t quite suit my driving style: I like a scalpel-like front-end, even if that means little corrections mid-corner to keep the rear in line. And so I had a hard time understanding how to drive the car at first. I was pathetically slow in it. I didn’t crash, because the understeer is pretty safe and preventive, but I was miles behind the opposition on my first few races. Then I understood that you have to brake deeply into each corner, try and make the huge posterior move a bit, and then use the amazing traction to get out of the corner. Most of all, you have to be soft in all your inputs: old cars don’t really like to be treated violently. And I got a bit better. A bit.
I also understood that Laguna Seca didn’t really suit the car. There, you’re constantly fighting the lazy front-end, and it spoils the fun quite a bit. But take it to tracks like Watkins Glen, or Daytona RC, and it feels much better. And period-correct, which does add to the immersion. As of today, I’m still not entirely sure about the pure driving aspect of this car. Understeer just isn’t my thing.
But you’d miss a lot if you stopped here. Because what this car is, is a time machine. The glorious noise, the gorgeous outside looks and beautifully recreated cockpit will have you day-dreaming about being an endurance hero in the sixties. You can almost smell old race-petrol in the cabin. When I drove it at Watkins Glen to record a reference time, I drove it for one hour non-stop. Even though my best time was recorded in about 5 laps. It’s just a very cool experience to have, if you like retro-racing. I wish I had a manual shifter, because heel-and-toeing in this thing would definitely make my life brighter.
The GT40 is one of these rare car of which I can say: forget about how it drives, just drive it.
Here is the link to the Test Drive Tuesday Leaderboards: https://goo.gl/ATr6mF