Win at any cost” was the battle cry adopted by the Ford Motor Company in the early 1960s as the company strove to show the world that it was better than Ferrari. Just as the GT40 competition cars had done in 1966 by winning the French 24 Hours of Le Mans — considered the race of all endurance races — the 1967 Ford Mark IV was created to further the effort and carry the company’s colors to the winner’s circle for a second straight season.
Win at any cost” was the battle cry adopted by the Ford Motor Company in the early 1960s as the company strove to show the world that it was better than Ferrari.
Just as the GT40 competition cars had done in 1966 by winning the French 24 Hours of Le Mans — considered the race of all endurance races — the 1967 Ford Mark IV was created to further the effort and carry the company’s colors to the winner’s circle for a second straight season.
Flush with the sweet taste of victory and a nearly bottomless supply of cash, it didn’t take Ford long to commit. Although the 1966 GT40 Mark II (its official title) had accomplished its mission, there were concerns about the car’s heft as well as its lack of high-speed stability. At the lengthy Le Mans circuit, cars reached more than 200 m.p.h. on the lengthy 3 1/2-mile-long Mulsanne straightaway and it was critically important that they stay glued to the road.
Although the decision was made to continue using the GT40, which was based on a British Lola design and powered by a Ford engine, a new-from-the-wheelsup car would be designed and assembled in the United States for the 1967 season.
In fact, work on the new model, code-named the J-Car, had been in development for some time. During early evaluation, however, an unexplained accident killed Ken Miles, Ford’s chief test driver.
Winning Le Mans for the second time was proving to be costly in more ways than one.
A second J-Car prototype was ordered, but this time there were added safety precautions. A NASCAR-style roll cage was installed along with sturdier seat belts and beefier brakes.
Despite the changes, the JCar was a major disappointment. In December, 1966, while testing the car at the 2.5-mile super speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., the suspension and the cylinder heads on the 500-plus horsepower engine were regularly failing. By contrast, Ferrari’s all-new P4 model was running lap after practice lap with no apparent difficulties.
The J-Car was shipped back for a complete refit while Ford was forced to ready its aging fleet of GT40s for the Daytona Continental, the first endurance race of the ’67 season.
By March of that year the revamped J-Car, by then christened the Mark IV (the Mark III was the street version of the GT40) made its debut. With a new nose and an elongated tail section, the car appeared far more attractive and
aerodynamic than its somewhat frumpy J-Car predecessor. Early high-speed track tests, in which the car passed the 215 m.p.h. mark, confirmed it was, in fact, much faster than the previous year’s GT40.
The Mark IV also proved more durable in its first outing at a 12-hour race in Sebring, Fla., capturing the checkered flag in a machine driven by Australian Bruce McLaren (of McLaren racing-car fame) and local favorite Mario Andretti.
Buoyed by their Sebring success, Ford’s two racing teams, one headed by Cobra creator Carroll Shelby and another by NASCAR race car builders Holman and Moody, prepared a total of four Mark IVs for Le Mans, plus an assortment of GT40s brought along for support. Ferrari countered with four of its P4s, along with several older backup cars. A battle of epic proportions was shaping up.
At exactly 4 p.m. on June 10, 1967, the green flag dropped, the drivers sprinted across the track to their cars and the race was on. By 8 a.m. the next morning, after a protracted night-time battle, a single Mark IV, piloted by Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt, who each drove in four-hour shifts, was well out in front. Eight hours later, after driving 3,250 miles, making 17 pit stops, using 591 gallons of fuel and 20 quarts of oil, a weary A.J.Foyt brought the dirty, but otherwise healthy bright red Mark IV across the finish line, winning Le Mans and beating the second-place Ferrari by about five laps. It was one of only 16 cars (out of 55) to finish the race, but it had finished first in its very last event.
Ford, having proven its Le Mans supremacy twice over, immediately retired from the international endurance scene, choosing to spend its money on other racing pursuits.
Since then, Ford, Ferrari and Le Mans have never been the same.
Could Ford win the race of all races two years in a row?
Fresh from the 1966 GT40 program, Carroll Shelby headed one of two teams that drove the Ford Mark IV at the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race. Shelby’s team was victorious, beating the closest Ferrari by about 20 miles. The second Mark IV finished fourth.
Malcolm Gunn is Wheelbase Communications’ chief road tester and historic writer. Wheelbase is a world-wide supplier of automobile news, reviews and features.