The plan is to have the project completed in time for this year’s Le Mans race in June

Fifty years ago, Ford won the 24 Hours of Le Mans on the back of the original Ford GT40 race cars. This year, the American automaker will make its dramatic return to the world’s most famous endurance race, determined to replicate the smackdown its predecessor laid down on Ferrari, that generation’s dominant team.

But before we start to hype the Ford GT’s return to Le Mans, let’s first take a look back at the car that won the 1966 race. Officially, it was the Ford GT40 Mk. II chassis number P1046 that took the checkered flag that day, earning Henry Ford II the vindication he was seeking in his quest to take the dominant Prancing Horses.

But just as P1046 provided Ford with its historical achievement, history turned out to be less gracious with car. Soon after its win, the race car wasn’t immediately enshrined to a museum as it would had it won in modern times. Instead, Ford inexplicably turned it into a transmission test vehicle, an ignominious fate for a history-making race car.

Today, Rob Kaufman, owner of classic car dealer RK Motor Charlotte, is the proud owner of P1046, having bought it back in 2014 with the intention of bringing it back to pristine condition by scrubbing away all those years of neglect it was subjected to. Kaufman even enlisted the help of Rare Drive, Inc., a restoration firm owned by renowned Ford GT40 historian Mark Allin.

Together, the two firms will take on the task of restoring P1046 and will do so while filming the entire process as part of a multi-part web series, titled “#P1046L: The Legend of Le Mans.” The first episode of the series is the video you can watch above and it details the history of the P1046, from its history-making Le Mans triumph all the way to its present condition. The objective is to have the restoration done by the time the 24 Hours of Le Mans takes place in June 2016. What better way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford’s Le Mans triumph by having the car that won the race make a long-overdue return to the scene of its biggest and most important triumph.

Continue after the jump to read the full story.

Why it matters

First of all, I think it’s an absolute travesty that the Ford GT40 P1046’s life turned out the way it did. I don’t know whose decision it was to turn what is arguably one of Ford’s most iconic race cars into a transmission mule, but whoever made that decision was clearly in the wrong. That’s not how you treat a race car that ended Ferrari’s six-year dominance at Le Mans. It’s just wrong on so many levels.

That said, I’m happy that the P1046 is finally getting the love and affection it has deserved for the last 50 years. I give credit to the people of RK Motors Charlotte and Rare Drive for taking this challenge and restoring the GT40 back to prominence. The fact that it’s being done in time for the 50th anniversary of Ford’s Le Mans triumph makes it even more special.

I just hope that once P1046 is fully restored, everyone will begin to have a new-found appreciation for the car and what it means to the history of American motor sports. Remember, Ford’s the only American manufacturer to win at Le Mans and this was the car that first did it. I would’ve assumed that it would have a higher place in the annals of the most important race cars in American history, but now that it’s being brought back to life, I’m pretty sure that it would be treated far better today than how it was treated back then.

What do you think?
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