With the 24 Hours of Le Mans last weekend, Racing in America reflects on the 45th anniversary of the Ford Mark IV claiming the second of four consecutive victories for Ford Motor Company cars at Le Mans, arguably the greatest American racing victory on foreign soil.
That day in 1967, the stunning red Mark IV, now in the procession of Henry Ford Museum as part of its Racing in America collection, was driven to the overall victory by A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney. It remains today the only Le Mans overall win by American drivers, in an American-built car, with an American engine (Ford V8), prepared by an American team (Shelby American).
The No. 1 Mark IV, which was capable of speeds as high as 220 mph, led all but the first 90 minutes of the race, and won easily by four laps over the second place Ferrari. The iconic car featured numerous innovations for its day, including its aluminum honeycomb structure, a sunken driver compartment, and a sleek, wingless design that had been extensively tested in the wind tunnel.
“It was a very sophisticated chassis, but not a very sophisticated engine,” said Bob Casey, curator of transportation for The Henry Ford. “The engine they used, a big 427 Ford V8, was based on their NASCAR engine.”
But the car may be best known for the addition of the “Gurney bubble,” a “bubble” on the roof built in to accommodate Gurney’s head, since he stood nearly 6-foot-4.
Gurney and Foyt were known as fierce competitors in the United States, indeed having competed against each other just two weeks before in the Indianapolis 500. But the two American racing legends were brought together by Ford Motor Company and team owner Carroll Shelby to do just what they did.
"For us, it's a great transference to the United States as far as technology, it’s a wonderful story about teamwork, it's a great story about collaboration, and foremost, it's a great story about the process of innovation, all through the lens of American racing,” said Christian Overland, executive vice president of the Henry Ford.
In addition to the stunning victory, the post-race celebration saw the birth of one of racing's finest traditions -- the champagne shower in victory lane.
The Mark IV race car, in honor of the 45th anniversary, recently left Dearborn for a European tour, including the Goodwood Festival of Speed, and is expected back in Michigan in September, when it will be returned to its place on honor on the floor of Henry Ford Museum in the Driving America exhibit.