Henry Ford II’s impassioned drive to bring the company racing glory at Le Mans had a less than stellar beginning, but with four victories at the prestigious 24 hour race and plenty more impressive victories in races around the world, the Ford GT40 has certainly gone into the history books as one of the most significant and successful racing cars of them all. Almost every GT40 to have seen the tack has an enviable motorsports pedigree, but some are more important than others. The Le Mans-winning cars are probably the most celebrated, and one in particular has become a patriotic symbol, the representation of a great moment of American perseverance and ingenuity.
One of the racing cars most closely associated with American racing legend Dan Gurney is the Ford Mark IV chassis J-5 that he and A.J. Foyt took to a historic victory at the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans. Gurney will get a chance to become even more familiar with the car he helped make famous when his All-American Racers shop in California takes possession of the car and the responsibility for its conservation on behalf of The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn.
“I don’t think we could have found a better person or better organization to conserve this very special race car,” said Christian Overland, executive vice-president The Henry Ford. “Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt made this Mark IV famous with their win at Le Mans, and to have Dan, his son Justin, and their employees take on the job of conserving it for future generations seems so right. There is no doubt in our mind they will take the utmost care in this job because of what this car meant to their family’s history.”
Gurney and Foyt teamed with car owner Carroll Shelby to run the Mark IV at Le Mans. Their victory in 1967 remains the only time an All-American built car (built by Kar Kraft), powered by an American engine, driven by American drivers and fielded by an American team has won Le Mans overall.
“I am looking forward to getting re-acquainted with one of the great cars from my career,” said Gurney, chairman of All-American Racers, Inc. “After all those years, we are still loyal to Ford, and our company cars all bear the blue oval.”
“The younger generation of engineers, fabricators and mechanics at All-American Racers is excited and proud to help conserve this car, which is of such great historical significance,” said Justin Gurney, president and CEO, All-American Racers, Inc. “We thank Ford and Henry Ford Museum for entrusting this special task to us.”
Justin Gurney was in Dearborn recently to see the chassis J-5 historic racer, and it will soon be on its way to California to start the project. The Mark IV recently returned from Europe, where it was on display for several events last year marking the 45th anniversary of the Le Mans win. While in transport, the car sustained some minor damage, which will of course be repaired during the conservation.
The famous red No. 1 car, powered by a 7.0-liter Ford V8 engine, was specifically designed for endurance racing. It had a NASCAR-style roll cage around honeycomb panel construction. It was one of only six Mark IV’s built for competition, and this one featured what became known as the “Gurney Bubble”, a small dome on the roof of the low-slung car to accommodate the head and helmet of Dan Gurney, an unusually tall racing driver at 6’3”. The car was known to hit approximately 220 mph on the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans, an incredible speed even by today’s standards. During the race, Gurney and Foyt first took the lead 90 minutes in, and by the end of 24 hours were ahead by four laps.
The Ford will be the second major conservation project in recent years of a historic race car from Henry Ford Museum’s “Racing in America” collection. The Lotus Ford 38/1 Indy car that Jim Clark drove to victory in the 1965 Indianapolis 500 recently went to Classic Team Lotus in England, led by Colin Chapman’s son, Clive. The first rear-engine car to ever win the 500-mile race, Clark’s Lotus 38 is widely considered one of the most significant Indy cars in history. After its conservation through Classic Team Lotus, the car debuted at the 2010 Goodwood Festival of Speed before returning to Indianapolis in September 2010 for a demonstration run by three-time 500 winner Dario Franchitti. The Lotus 38/1 is now on display at Henry Ford Museum.
Like the Lotus, the All American Racers Ford is a fairly unique case of a truly great car that is, in some ways, returning home for a time. Preserving cars like this that truly are icons and retaining their connection to the past is an important mission, and keeping the Ford’s historical integrity is, in this case, a top priority.