You thought making a concept car is easy? Think again!

Ford was all about revisiting its illustrious past two decades ago when the Ford GT40 Concept was conceived. However, unlike other throw-back prototypes such as the Forty-Nine, the GT40 Concept actually spawned a production model in the 2005 GT that retained many of the exterior design features of the concept car.

As always, though, the road from the sketchbook of a designer to a finished, full-size prototype, and then to production is long and arduous and, this time, it all started with a look over in the yard of an old nemesis of Ford’s.

If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right

1964 - 1969 Ford GT40 Exterior
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Ford had no business doing endurance races when the Blue Oval got in the thick of it all in the mid-’60s after Henry Ford II was snubbed by Enzo Ferrari. By now, everyone knows the story that’s even bee re-told in a big-screen super-production starring Christian Bale and Matt Damon so it suffices to say that Ford had the might to turn the tides around and beat Ferrari at its own game.

It did so with a car originally developed by Lola Cars in England in conjunction with Ford Advanced Vehicles, a wholly-owned subsidiary led by ex-Aston Martin racing manager John Wyer.
1964 - 1969 Ford GT40 Exterior
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The car’s name was GT40, the first part stemming from the fact that it was inspired by Lola’s Mk. 6 GT sports car from 1962 and the latter referring to the 40.5-inch height of the car. With a gearbox that had the tendency to self-destruct and terrible aerodynamics coupled with poor suspension geometry that made the car’s nose lift at speed, the original GT40 was a dog of a car, so bad that all three factory examples were trashed when they first ran at Le Mans during the Test Day of 1964.

What followed was a truly herculean effort conducted by both Shelby American and Holman & Moody that took over the development of the GT40 and turned it into a winner, first as 1966’s 7.0-liter Mk. II and then as 1967’s Mk. IV. Thereafter, it was up to the privateers to defend Ford’s honor and that’s precisely what happened. It was John Wyer who went guns ablaze in a bid to clear his name and prove the worth of the Mk. I iteration of the GT40 that he helped develop. His team, backed by Gulf Oil’s financial might, tided up the design, stuck fatter tires and a revised engine with Weslake heads to it, and went on to win Le Mans two times on the trot as well as the World Manufacturers’ Championship title in ’68, something Ford had previously done in the GT ranks with the Cobra Daytona Coupe of 1964.

1964 - 1969 Ford GT40 High Resolution Exterior
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The ’68-’69 version of the GT40 is the one most people think of when they hear that legendary combination of the letters G and T and the number 40 and, indeed, it was an original ’60s GT40 Mk. I that was used by the development team over at Ford’s Living Legends Studio as inspiration for the GT of the new Millennium. However, it wasn’t the only vehicular inspiration designers had at their disposal. Ford also got hold of a Ferrari F360 Modena, Maranello’s entry-level, V-8 engined sports car of the early ’00s, and tasked designers to use it as a benchmark in modern mid-engine sports car design.

1999 - 2004 Ferrari 360 Modena High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
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While the F360, the work of a team led by Goran Popović, isn’t necessarily amongst the Ferraris that are being showered with love by the enthusiasts and even Frank Stephenson, the designer of its follow-up, called the F360 "a bit soft, as if they left it in the oven for too long." But, at the time, it was a highly popular model and, let’s not forget, that naturally aspirated V-8 engine made a wonderful noise and Ford wanted a car that oozed character at least as much as the Baby Ferrari did.

The Story Behind the Ford GT40 Concept Shows How Far Ford Had to Go To Get It Right
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In keeping with the themes adopted by the crew at the Living Legends Studio, the GT40 Concept would share virtually no design elements with 1995’s futuristic GT90 that, instead, ushered in Ford’s ’New Edge’ aesthetic. So, the job seemed simple, almost mundane: replicate the classic, timeless design of the GT40 in such a way that it loses none of its cool while also featuring modern enough cues to reach out to the early ’00s crowd that was, probably, bored with looking at whatever Lamborghini had to offer every day.

Camilo Pardo, the GT40 Concept’s and the production GT’s Chief Designer, remembers the development process as being "a rat race of different clay models," that led to the creation of a design pretty much devoid of crowns, so angular, in fact, that there were fears of it deforming at high speeds if it wasn’t a bit more rounded. The final version which went into production is akin to "a well-tuned blade—like a sword; it was perfect," according to Pardo, whereas the ’02 Concept feels old and lumpy in hindsight to the man who did it.

The Story Behind the Ford GT40 Concept Shows How Far Ford Had to Go To Get It Right
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While we can’t say we agree with Pardo on this one, he does come around saying that, when the car was unveiled at the 2002 North American International Auto Show, it "communicated and connected with everybody. It was emotional, they really loved the car." It was also bigger, as Motor Trend wrote back then, dwarfing a ’66 GT40 in all areas including height. As such, if we were to stay true to the naming strategy used for the GT40, the 2002 car should’ve been named the Ford GT44 as it was 3.5 inches taller (and also a noticeable 19 inches longer).

While the concept car boasted with a retro-chic interior lacking in modern creature comforts (apart from a CD player), the car as a whole was close enough to a production model that Ford could put it into production to celebrate its centenary.

In fact, the concept too was drivable and behind the driver and passenger was a John Coletti-tuned, SVT-built DOHC, 5.4-liter, supercharged V-8 putting out 500 horsepower and 500 pound-feet of torque, as much as a Viper of the same vintage.
The Story Behind the Ford GT40 Concept Shows How Far Ford Had to Go To Get It Right
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In the end, as we all know, Ford did put the GT into production and, despite improving Ford’s brand image, it didn’t sell as well as Dearborn had hoped. Admittedly, it did have something to do with the MSRP being double the original $70,000 figure suggested by Ford’s PR at Detroit in ’02 when inquired on the car’s likelihood to enter series production.

After all was said and done, the $150,000 Ford GT (the GT40 name was taken by a kit car maker and Ford couldn’t settle a deal in court to use the name, hence the drop of the ’40’ bit) sold in little over 4,000 copies - well over what Porsche could or wanted to muster with the Carrera GT, for instance, but not good enough in the eyes of Ford executives.

That’s why the GT was discontinued after just two full model years but, happily, the current Ford GT is still going strong some four years after its launch.

Source: Ford Authority

Michael Fira
Associate Editor and Motorsport Expert -
Mihai Fira started out writing about long-distance racing like the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans. As the years went by, his area of interest grew wider and wider and he ever branched beyond the usual confines of an automotive writer. However, his heart is still close to anything car-related and he's most at home retelling the story of some long-since-forgotten moment from the history of auto racing. He'll also take time to explain why the cars of the '60s and '70s are more fascinating than anything on the road today.  Read More
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