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1964-1967 Ford GT


1966: A Breakthrough Year for the Ford GT
Mark IIIs were intended to entice the "jet set." Famed conductor Herbert von Karajan ordered this 1968 model.
Mark IIIs were intended to entice the "jet set." Famed conductor Herbert von Karajan ordered this 1968 model.
David Durochik

The Ford GT's brake woes were the most pressing. During tests at Daytona, the 427 GTs worked their brakes to a near-transparent white heat. ("You could see the shadow of the front suspension uprights through the discs," says Negstad.) When the cars were halted, the copper in the brake pads would fuse to the discs, at which point the only way to get the pads off was to break away the aluminum calipers.

New ventilated discs from Kelsey-Hayes finally replaced the Girling components. Pads still wore at an alarming rate, but the brakes worked and the calipers were designed to allow pad changes during pit stops.

Of course the full scope of the work done to get the cars into race-winning form can't be covered in so short a space. The "big money" supposedly flowing from Dearborn wasn't always being used to best effect, and political struggles between the head office, FAV, and the people actually working to develop the cars threatened the program from time to time.

Disagreements eventually led a group of Ford employees, believers one and all in the Ford GT's potential, to set up shop in Detroit-area premises owned by racing enthusiast Nick Hartman. Using surplus equipment gathered from here and there, the new Kar Kraft firm reworked the 289 GT to Mark II specification, built a number of parts for the Mark IIs, including transmissions beefy enough to absorb the power of the 427 engines, and later fabricated chassis tubs and other essential components for the J-Car/Mark IV series cars.

The payoff year was 1966. Daytona saw the driving team of Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby leading the parade, with other GTs finishing second, third, and fifth. Sebring was another convincing win; this time Miles and Ruby led a 1-2-3 finish for Ford.

And then there was Le Mans. Ford brought no less than eight of the 427-powered coupes to France, three each run by Carroll Shelby and John Holman (of Holman and Moody NASCAR fame), plus two shepherded by Englishman Alan Mann. In addition, a number of 289 GTs were entered as insurance -- unnecessary it turned out -- as three 427s gave Ford a 1-2-3 sweep of the race.

Unfortunately, someone on the corporate/public-relations side of Ford managed the near-impossible task of turning a magnificent achievement sour for almost everyone involved. Ken Miles, sharing a 427 with Denis Hulme in place of the injured Lloyd Ruby, had put on a brilliant performance, recording the fastest race lap and pushing his Shelby American entry to a near-unassailable lead. Then, as the final pit stops were being made on Sunday morning, a Ford official -- said to have been racing chief Leo Beebe -- decided he wanted a photo finish, and ordered Miles to slow down and allow the other two surviving 427s to catch up. They did.

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