Whoever would have thought it?  Thirty-eight years after Ford had commenced work on the GT40, they started over, with a car destined – we think – to be a GT40 for the 21st century.  Perhaps we should have read the signs.  Already there was the GT90, a supercar that had everything except practicality and feasibility of production.  We had the 2001 Thunderbird, a modern re-incarnation of the original T-bird of the mid-fifties, and we had the ’94 Mustang, the design of which incorporated a host of styling cues taken from the original Mustang of 1964.  Ford had got a serious case of nostalgia.

Having put the Mustang and Thunderbird behind them, Ford’s Living Legends design studio set to work on recreating what we all know is the greatest Ford of them all – the fabulous GT40.

The Living Legends design studio continues ongoing work on the Mustang, Thunderbird and others, including feasibility studies on concepts in whole or in part.  The studio’s personnel includes Doug Gaffka, appointed studio director in July 2000 and given the task of overseeing the creation of a new spate of production and concept cars. Gaffka is a 24-year veteran designer with Ford who has influenced a wide array of Ford cars from the Mustang to the Taurus. Gaffka's most visible recent work is in his contributions as chief designer on the 2002 Thunderbird.

Chief designer of the GT40 is Camillo Pardo, who began his career in Ford's Advance Design Studio where he focused on visionary designs of the future, from form-fitting interior components to future car aerodynamic studies. Pardo's handiwork is also featured on the latest Mustang SVT Cobra.

The GT40 project was born in Design Studio II.  To get to work on the GT40 each morning, Pardo and his team have to pass through as many as four security checkpoints.  His office is located in the studio, a mere 20 steps from the clay models of the GT40.  His office door must be kept closed most of the time because it allows passersby in the outer hallway, who have access through the first level of security, to see into the secret studio where the new GT40 was designed; this area is decorated with original Le Mans race photos of the sixties, combined with technical drawings and, on one moveable wall, a lifesize photo of an original GT40. Racing stripes are everywhere.

There are clay models, too. One is a first-attempt, an sharp-edged machine which Ford thinks of as modern, but which has not a little of the 1970s in its shape. Pardo remembers beaming with pride over it, until the first review by J Mays, FoMoCo’s VP, Design. Thankfully, after the review, Mays quickly sent the team back to the drawing board with instructions to be more true to the original design.  Pardo keeps it around to ensure that the team never repeats the same mistakes. The other car is the clay model that represents the final product. Pardo thinks it's perfect.  Mays agrees; true GT40 aficionados will probably think it’s almost perfect – but then, you can’t improve on the perfection of the real thing, can you?

Well, maybe you can...

The Return of a Legend

by John S. Allen

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and all that – and if you thought that the original GT40 was beautiful, then you’ll probably think much the same about the new one.  The GT40 we have known since the mid-sixties now has to line up against a new incarnation, which is unquestionably more in the style of the 21st century, and the original car suddenly looks, er, old.  That doesn’t mean better, or worse, just… older.  Which you prefer is up to you, but don’t be surprised if a lot of people for whom the Mark I holds no attractions positively drool over the GT40 for the 2000s.  What is truly astonishing is that Ford could take a design which first saw the light of day in April 1964, and, 38 years later, produce a slightly revised version which looks absolutely breathtaking.  That speaks volumes for the timelessness of the original car’s shape.

However, enough of this digression – back to that studio.  In one bay are several variations of seats, and an instrument panel. In another bay is a "package study buck." It is a life-size wire-frame vehicle with seats, an engine and chassis components squeezed into its silhouette. This is a step rarely taken on a concept car, but Ford believed that the GT40 had to be done differently to be true to its namesake.

Pardo’s team began work on the GT40 concept by borrowing an original production car, a light blue Mark I, GT40P/1030, and rolling it into the studio for inspiration.  Owned by a collector in Massachusetts, 1030 became a fixture in the studio. The owner took Pardo and team on hot-laps at Ford's Dearborn Proving Grounds, across the street from the studio, to give them the full GT40 experience.

So, now we have a new GT40.  But, is it a car worthy of the name?  Is it really a GT40, or merely a Johnny-come-lately impostor?"  Ford is convinced it’s the real thing.  “GT40 is the ultimate Living Legend”, claims Mays. “It's a true supercar with appeal equal to that of the greatest sports cars in the world, but with the addition of a heritage no one can match.  Essential elements of the original - including the stunning low profile and mid-mounted American V-8 - continue in this latest interpretation of the classic."

Arguably, the car has every right to the name “GT40”.  Ford owns the name, after all, and just as we never expect a road car’s name to be limited to one incarnation, why should we expect the GT40 title to be so limited?  A Mustang of 2002 is no less a Mustang than is one from 1964, even though nothing bar the name and badge survives from the first to the last.  Should it be any different for the GT40?   Incidentally, we haven’t yet been told whether or not the new car will receive the designation Mark VI (which would be logical), but the first two prototypes do have serial numbers which follow on from the last of the Mark Vs…

The GT40 concept was designed as a modern road car that would provide the presence of the racer and the comfort of a grand touring sports car. Proportionally bigger than its predecessor in every dimension, the challenge was to increase the size without sacrificing the overall effect.  The concept is more than a foot and a half longer and stands nearly four inches taller. Does that mean it should be a GT44?  According to Ford, its new lines draw upon and refine the best features of GT40 history and express the car's identity through modern proportion and surface development.  Whether those proportions and surface development are quite as appealing as are those of the original car, is, as already stated, a moot point which only you can decide.

The new GT40 concept adopts the familiar, sleek silhouette we are used to, yet every dimension, every curve and every line on the car is a unique reinterpretation of the original. The GT40 concept features a long front overhang reminiscent of 1960s-era racecars. But its sweeping cowl, subtle accent lines and fibre-optic headlamps strike a distinctly contemporary pose. The geometric reorganization of the prominent GT40 headlamps adds to the modern effect. The headlamps symbolize the car's heritage as a 24-hour endurance runner, but are key in creating the car's contemporary image through the use of a combination of fibre optics and HID projection beams.

The front fenders curve over 18-inch wheels and Goodyear white-lettered tyres. In the tradition of the original cars, the doors cut into the roof.  Prominent on the leading edge of the rear quarter panel are functional cooling scoops that channel fresh air to the engine. The rear wheel wells, filled with 19-inch Goodyear tyres, define the rear of the car, while the accent line from the front cowl rejoins and finishes the car's profile at the integrated "ducktail" spoiler.  The two-piece rear canopy is hinged at the rear, as on the original, although only the upper part of the body actually opens. While most vehicles are designed to look great with all the access panels shut, the effect resulting from opening all the doors and cowls on the GT40 is, as with the original, part of the design in and of itself.

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