June 11, 1967 - This Day in Ford History:
Ultimately the greatest endurance race to ever take place at La Sarthe, was the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans that would determine the World Sportscar Championship. Justifiable titled because it featured many top Formula 1 and American USAC drivers plus factory teams from Ferrari, Ford, Chaparral, Lola, Mirage, Porsche and Matra.
The race itself is a ruthless unforgiving mistress that flogs both man and machine, hour after nagging hour, night and day until tragity summits the weaker entries. Nearly 68% of the 54 exotic machines that year never finished the brutal race.
The ‘67 24-hour race was won – dominated in fact – by the 7-litre Ford Mk IV driven by Dan Gurney and AJ Foyt who led almost all the way and won by three laps over the fastest cars in the world including the factory Ferrari P4's driven by Mike Parkes and Ludovico Scarfiotti.
The Ford GT40 Mark IV was an updated version of the Ford J-Car, which was shelved following the fatal accident of Ken Miles during testing in August 1966. The Mark IV had an all new chassis and body that was designed and built in the United States. Powered by the big-block 427 cubic inch engine from the Ford Galaxie passenger car, the low-drag body was capable of top speeds nearing 220 mph.
Branded as the underdog by the European press that claimed that Gurney and Foyt were American leadfoots who were incapable of conquering Le Mans. Gurney was a top-ranked F1 and sports car racer and Le Mans ‘67 was his 10th start in the race. Gurney was paired with that year’s Indy 500 winner AJ Foyt in one of the new 7-litre Ford Mk IVs entered by Carroll Shelby and running on Goodyear tires. Gurney and Foyt were two of the world’s fastest drivers but Foyt was a rookie at Le Mans and despite Dan’s many successes in European sports car racing, which included finishing fourth overall and winning the GT class at Le Mans in 1964 co-driving a Shelby Cobra Coupe with Bob Bondurant, neither was acknowledged by the European press as long-distance experts. “The idea that we were voted the least likely to succeed was even more of a reason to develop our strategy,” Gurney remarked. “I actually said, ‘I’m not going to run this car hard...we went at it as though it was an endurance contest as opposed to a race.”
The biggest Achilles Heel was the fact that the car was heavy,” Dan observed. “We were told it was over 3000lbs, although the spec sheet said it weighed 2600lbs. It made over 500 horsepower and would go over 210mph on the Mulsanne Straight and when you came to the 90 degree turn at the end of the straight it took some serious braking. If you took a qualifying or sprint-type of tactic you’d kill the brakes. They’d be gone in an hour and you’d have to replace them.
For five hours the high-winged Chaparral 2F driven by Phil Hill/Mike Spence led the chase, before problems developed with its automatic transmission. Then Chris Amon’s Ferrari 330P4 blew a tire and burst into flames, burning to the ground, and the Ford Mk II shared by Denny Hulme and Lloyd Ruby tore a hole in the bottom of its engine.
At half-distance, around four in the morning, disaster struck the Ford team when three of its cars were eliminated in a multi-car accident triggered by Andretti spinning and crashing his Ford after leaving the pits with a new set of incorrectly installed brake pads. Jo Schlesser and Roger McCluskey were following Andretti closely in two more Fords and had to take avoiding action, both of them spinning into the crash barriers. That left Gurney and Foyt with a five-lap cushion over the leading Ferrari P4 driven by Mike Parkes and Ludovico Scarfiotti.
In the middle of Sunday morning there were some worries when the Ford’s roof began to come apart and had to be fixed with duct tape. That aside there were no problems and Foyt finally brought the car home three laps ahead of the Parkes/Scarfiotti Ferrari and 10 laps clear of the third-placed Ferrari P4 driven by Willy Mairesse and Jean ‘Beurlys’ Blaton. The only other surviving Ford, a Mk IV driven by Mark Donohue and Bruce McLaren, finished fourth, 38 laps behind Dan and Foyt.
Thanks for the great Ford history. June must be a good month for Ford in 24 hour events. On June 21, 1907, Ford won another 24 hour race, setting a new world record. That Ford also beat some of the worlds greatest stock cars, including a 60 hp Thomas Flyer and 50 hp Pope Hartford.
In 1923 a Model T, lowered and modified by a mr Montier in France participated in the first Le Mans 24 hour race and got 14:th place.
The class called for max 122 cui so the Model T engine was sleeved down to that size. A special head made it capable of 75 mph at times.
I see on Google News that Ford announced today they're back in the Le Mans race. A colleague alerted me of this YouTube.
These are my personal observations and comments and I do not speak on behalf of the Ford Motor Company.
Rob, I didn't realize there were 24 hour races that early, yes go Ford. Roger,I never heard about this either. Tom, I heard this before, I hope they have the same success.
Twenty four hour races were the most popular auto racing event of 1907, according to this 1908 "Almanac and Encyclopedia" article::
The Ford six held the record until later in the year when a Locomobile beat the record by 11 miles:
A little ore of Ford LeMans history:
We shall return to the most prestigious automobile races in the world with our Ford GT race car, based on the all-new ultra-high-performance supercar that goes on sale next year.
The Ford GT race car will compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans – referred to by many as the Grand Prix of Endurance and Efficiency – starting next year. Revealed today at the famous circuit in Le Mans, France, Ford GT will compete in the Le Mans GT Endurance class for professional teams and drivers (LM GTE Pro).
The new race car – a further proof point of Fords innovation – is based on the all-new Ford GT supercar unveiled in January. Both the production car and race car will arrive in 2016 to mark the 50th anniversary of Ford GT race cars placing 1-2-3 at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans. Ford went on to repeat its victory at Le Mans in 1967, 1968 and 1969.
Thanks Dan. A pic from the Ford site, and the press link
And, I believe it's a six cylinder (V-6).
Rob, maybe they should call it K6. You know, Killer six.
Rob, I just looked at the Ford site, very interesting. I hope they have the commitment to win. When Henry II did it there was more or less a vendetta involved and made the commitment to win at any cost. Thanks for the link.
The 60s were one hell of an era in all forms of auto racing... wish I had been born earlier to see it.
In LeMans racing, I like the Jim Hall Chaparral cars for their innovations in aero design... even though the cars were ugly and had some reliability problems, the Chaparral team was the very definition of outside-the-box thinking and looking for unfair/competitive advantage rather than tried-and-true simple designs a lot of other teams were working with.
I remember the Chaparral cars running in Can Am. Did they ever run at Le Mans? I don't remember that. Jim Hall is a genius.
Chaparral 2F with the pedal-operated movable wing ran LeMans in '67. Not sure of others. I wasn't alive yet to see it, but I like to read about the cars Jim Hall built.