The 1969 Le Mans 24HR race was the stuff of legends. Before the race even started, many had bagged Porsche to win outright victories with its impressive (yet controversial) fleet of 908 and 917 long-tails. Ford had already performed a hat-trick at Le Mans with their 3rd victory in-a-row from the previous year’s 1968 race, so Porsche (along with Matra and to some extent, Ferrari) were adament in knocking Ford off of the top-spot for outright victories in 1969.
Ferrari entered two 312P Berlinettas (essentially F1 cars dressed-up in different bodies) driven by Perdo Rodriguez/David Piper (#18) and Chris Amon/Peter Schetty (#19) but unfortunately both failed to finish the race – the Amon/Schetty car being forced to retire on the very first lap after John Woolfe crashed his Porsche 917 (sadly, killing him) which subsequently dislodged its fuel-tank, of which the Ferrari drove straight over top of and exploded in the process.
The race came down to the final laps with Jacky Ickx (in the same Le Mans-winning Ford GT40 from the year before) doing lap-after-lap battle with Hans Herrmann in his Porsche 908, both of them exchanging the lead position on each lap. At the final turn, Jacky was able to take advantage of the Porsche’s ailing brakes and out-breaked Hans in his 908, coming out ahead in the final turn and winning Le Mans 1969 by mere seconds.
I’ve always loved the fact that Jacky Ickx made a subtle statement against the traditional sprint-to-your-car-and-get-in-and-go start of the Le Mans by merely strolling over to the GT40 when the flag dropped. He then calmly got in, buckled himself up and casually drove off… and, of course, in last place.
*** There’s a great DVD out there from Duke called ‘Le Mans 1969 – La Ronde Infernale’ that I highly recommend for your motoring DVD library, by the way. In the meantime, here’s the uploaded YouTube version of it… Enjoy.
When Ford unveiled their modern-day re-interpretation of the 1960’s Le Mans-dominating/Ferrari-slaying GT40 back in 2004 (reborn as the ‘GT’), it bowled over the crowds with its beautifully similar lines and near-identical dimensions to that of the iconic original. It was little bit wider, a little bit taller (by 3 in.) and a little less lairy than that of the be-scooped, original raucous racer, but there was no doubt that Ford had nailed a winner with its supercharged 550 bhp V8 leviathan (650 bhp with some tasty Ford-sanctioned upgrades).
Accolades and group-test awards came pouring in. It even managed to bag Evo Magazine’s coveted Car of the Year acolade back in 2005, beating out the likes of a certain Ferrari F430 for the crown. Seeing as how production of Ford’s GT ended just over 5 years ago with 4,038 being made, your chance to bag one now with relatively low miles on the clock will be a relative dawdle… though, if I’m to be honest, I’d be sorely tempted to track down one of the rarer light-blue and orange GTs painted in those race-bred Gulf colours…
For those that hanker after an exquisitely-built near-identical replica of the 60’s original GT40, there’s always the South African-based Superformance who will build you one to your own personal spec and desires. I’ve always enjoyed this Fifth Gear vid of Tiff Needell blasting around South Africa in the Superformance GT40…