Ford set sportscar racing fans’ pulses racing yesterday when it revealed the identity of the four drivers who’ll spearhead its World Endurance Championship campaign with the all-new GTE Pro-class GT.
The striking-looking racer will take on Aston Martin, Chevrolet, Ferrari and Porsche in the uber-competitive class in the WEC and at Le Mans and the announcement at Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s UK HQ marks a return to top-flight long-distance racing for the Blue Oval in what is the 50th anniversary of its first Le Mans win – in 1966 with the Bruce McLaren/Chris Amon GT40.
While salivating over the GT, various other racing Fords sprang to mind, some weird, some wacky, some wonderful. These are our favourite five fever Fords, with apologies to rally fans: we’ll do Ford’s finest special-stage tamers another time!
Built by Alan Mann Racing to coincide with sportscar racing’s 1968 regulations limiting engine capacity to three litres, the F3L, officially codenamed P68, was far better looking than it was successful. Ford USA had pulled out of top-level sportscars at the end of ’67, leaving privateer AMR to its own devices. Sadly though, the beautiful but recalcitrant Cosworth DFV-powered prototype hasn’t made it onto this list for its racing successes. Its debut came in the first European round of the ’68 World Championship of Makes, the BOAC 500 at Brands Hatch, with a line-up that included F1 aces Bruce McLaren, Denny Hulme, Jochen Rindt and Mike Spence. Eerily, Jim Clark had turned down a chance to join them, opting to race for Lotus in an F2 race at Hockenheim. The F3L did get onto the front row at Brands, but its CV thereafter doesn’t make for great reading. It brought an end to Brit Chris Irwin’s career at the Nürburgring next time out and suffered a series of failures. Designer Len Bailey, who’d been responsible for the GT40 bodywork detailing, explored an open-top Spyder for 1969, dubbed P69. It featured adjustable high aerofoils, but was rendered useless by their ban soon after. And that signalled the end of the red-and-gold beauty, although visitors to Goodwood have been able to marvel at its glorious shape, as well as that legendary AMR livery.
4 Sierra RS Cosworth/RS500
Take a humdrum family saloon, commission legendary Ford-aligned tuner Cosworth to breath on it so it can be raced competitively in Group A touring car circles and watch the wins roll in. That’s exactly what Ford’s motorsport boss Stuart Turner did with the Sierra when he needed to better fly the company’s flag in racing. A two-litre turbocharged unit was fitted, with associated upgrades to the gearbox, suspension and aerodynamic profile (cue huge rear wing), in time for the 1987 season. British Touring Car champion Andy Rouse gave the car a debut win in the opening round at Silverstone, while Swiss privateer team owner Rudi Eggenberger’s Texaco-liveried machines did the business in the European and World Touring Car contests. An upgrade came later in the year, in the shape of the RS500, which featured all manner of engine upgrades to boost power and reliability, and revised aerodynamics. Sierras added wins in the German DTM series, as well as big international events such as the Spa and Nürburgring 24 Hours, the Bathurst 1000 and the RAC Tourist Trophy. Ask a diehard tin-top fan to name their favourite few cars and the Ford Sierra RS500 is sure to be among them.
3 Lotus Cortina
There are few greater sights than Jim Clark three-wheeling a white-and-green Ford Lotus Cortina in a perfect edge-to-apex-to-edge drift during his domination of mid-1960s British Saloon Car Championship racing. The humble Cortina was beefed up by twin-cam grunt, the same close-ratio gearbox as the Lotus Elan, lightweight body panels and differential, as well as a serious suspension overhaul, thanks to a collaboration between Ford’s Walter Hayes and Colin Chapman’s Lotus squad. And the partnership proved to be one of the most successful in racing history. More than 3,000 were built, although only 1,000 were required by the Group 2 homologation regulations. Wins in rallying and particularly in saloon cars, both in the UK and Europe, came easily, with Clark winning the British series in 1964 and Sir John Whitmore taking European glory for Alan Mann Racing the following season. Regulation changes permitting Group 5 cars for 1966, which allowed Ford to add dry-sumps and fuel-injection to the Cortinas, brought more wins at home and abroad. This modified family saloon punched well above its weight, especially against V8-engined rivals in the shape of Ford’s Falcons, Galaxies and Mustangs.
The GT40, so called because it measured 40 inches in height, was produced as a snub to Ferrari, after Enzo had rebuffed Ford’s attempts to buy him out, despite expressing interest initially. Wound up by the change of heart from Ferrari, Henry Ford, who had wanted the company to race in the ultimate sportscar-proving event, the Le Mans 24 Hours, for a few years, pressed the green light. Using an ‘if we can’t join you, we’ll beat you’ approach, the MkI, II and III chassis were built in Britain by Ford Advanced Vehicles in Slough, after an initial collaboration with Lola boss Eric Broadley, while the MkIV was constructed in the USA. The car made its debut at the Nürburgring in 1964, with results during the rest of the season disappointing. As a result, development was moved from FAV, under the control of John Wyer, to Carroll Shelby across the pond. Within a year Shelby had delivered a clean sweep of the three big international sportscar races, at Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans. And the GT40 made Le Mans its own for the next three years, thanks to great names AJ Foyt and Dan Gurney in ’67, Pedro Rodriguez and Lucien Bianchi in ’68 and Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver taking the fourth and final win in ’69. The 50th anniversary of the GT40’s first win will be celebrated at the 74th Members’ Meeting with a staggering line-up of these 1960s V8 rockets doing battle in the Alan Mann Trophy.
1 Zakspeed Capri
Prussian-born, German-domiciled Erich Zakowski may not have enjoyed much success with his eponymous Formula 1 team in the 1980s, but he can be forgiven thanks to his exploits either side of that five-year F1 foray: in Group 5 touring cars in the 1970s with the outrageous Ford Capris and later with DTM BMWs and Mercedes. The brutal and bewinged Capri was a no-holds-barred effort to win the prestigious Deutsche Rennsport Meisterschaft (DRM) – Germany’s top national series that predated the DTM. Visually resembling a Capri on steroids, the car featured a tubular alloy chassis with Kevlar body panels, to which was mated a 1.4-litre twin-turbocharged Cosworth BDA engine and Getrag ZF gearbox. Outrageous inside and out, it needed all the skill of Klaus Ludwig to tame. The German hero, who also won Le Mans three times, took the 1981 DRM drivers’ title in the Würth-liveried machine. The Zakspeed Capri, which we’ve been lucky to have at the Festival of Speed, is the sort of old-school racing car that would never get built these days, so for that reason it’s our favourite fever Ford.
Special Ford Mentions
Special mention must also go to the firm’s touring car greats: the Anglia, Escort Mk1, Falcon and Mustang, all of which won numerous races and titles in British and European Touring Car competition – and starred in plenty of Goodwood events. And we mustn’t forget the fast, futuristic but fragile C100, which started life as a Group 6 prototype and then joined the Group C ranks against Porsche – a scrap in which it looked decidedly second-best.