GRR

Was the Ford F3L more beautiful than the GT40?

28th August 2018
Bob Murray

Some call it P68 – for prototype 1968. Others know it as F3L – Ford 3-Litre. Whatever you call it, this Group 6 endurance sportscar from Alan Mann Racing and Ford of Britain quickly showed it was made of the right stuff. Stuff such as a Len Bailey design and Cosworth DFV V8…

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A sportscar powered by a Formula 1 engine, the F3L might not have won, but in every race in 1968 it was on pole, led the race or set the fastest race lap. At Spa that year Aussie Frank Gardner put it on pole in a time that would have made it third on the grid – in the Formula 1 Belgian Grand Prix…

Super-quick, awesome looking but prone to mechanical failures in period, the hectic but short-lived career of this ultimate development of the Ford GT40 makes for a fascinating British sportscar story.

And it is a story whose latest chapter will unfold in the Bonhams marquee at the Revival when one of the two Alan Mann Racing team cars will be auctioned. If someone doesn’t buy it and take it historic racing soon the world will be a sadder place. Guide price is £500-700,000.

In historic racing the car promises to be a force. We are already picturing it at the Members’ Meeting up against the stiffest opposition – such as the GT40s, Ferrari P3/4s and Lola T70s that in period it proved more than a match for.

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The ex-David Piper F3L in the sale is no stranger to Goodwood. Alan Mann Racing, based in Byfleet, used the Motor Circuit for testing after the closure of the circuit for competition in ’66. Here, the F3L is said to have posted a blistering (if unofficial) lap time of 1 minute 16 seconds. More recently Richard Attwood, one of the car’s drivers in period, has driven it up the hill at the Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard.

Richard, rising F1 star in 1968, was among the drivers to show what the F3L could do. In the RAC Tourist Trophy at Oulton Park in ’68 he qualified it on pole ahead of Jo Bonnier’s 5-litre Lola-Chevrolet T70GT in what was considered a dazzling performance in the dazzling red-and-gold-striped car. Other drivers to take a turn in the F3L were Bruce McLaren (pole on the car’s debut at Brands Hatch, ahead of the works Porsches), Frank Gardner (pole in the Spa 1,000km), Mike Spence, Denny Hulme, Chris Irwin and Pedro Rodriguez.

Mechanical woes, engine shortages and then the turning off of the money tap by Ford of Britain called a halt to the project. It had begun as a follow-up to the GT40 programme after Ford in the US pulled out of prototype sports car racing in 1967, having proved its winning ways at Le Mans. F3L was born as a slippery prototype sports car with body designed by Len Bailey (of GT40 fame) and power courtesy of the dominant engine in Formula 1 at that time, the Cosworth-Ford DFV.

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Only three F3L coupes were made and the car for sale is chassis 002. It is one of a pair of cars saved by Tom Wheatcroft for his museum after Ford had a garage clearout and threatened to take them, and all the F3L spares, to the dump. That was when the F3L’s reputation was at its lowest.

Today F3L 002 is not just shiny and new again after a no-expense spared restoration, but is said to be the most developed and quickest of all the F3Ls. When owned by David Piper it was rebuilt with key changes that included spoilers for more downforce, a glass-fibre rather than aluminium body, lengthened wheelbase and the making of the engine a stressed part of the structure, something that Cosworth didn’t allow for racing in period.

All of which are said to make quite a difference to the  car’s reliability and its handling – which had been described as “spooky” by one driver in period. It had a tentative first outing in July 2008 with John Young driving and car and engine have completed around eight hours use since, including racing at Spa and Jarama.

With current FIA HTP papers and a spares package included, this great British trier whose career was cut short is ready to hit the tracks again… and perhaps this time show what it is really capable of.

Photography courtesy of Bonhams and Motorsport Images.

  • Ford

  • F3L

  • Bonhams

  • Revival

  • Revival 2018

  • 2018

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