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Car and Driver: The Life and Times of the 1966 Le Mans–Winning Ford GT40 MkII


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If nothing else, the new Ford GT program shows the enormous value an automaker can mine from its history. Over time, though, heritage can slip through the cracks. Chassis P/1046, which won Le Mans in 1966, is a prime example. Our testing director Don Sherman, who drove the car 25 years ago, recounts its meandering journey from obsolete parts donor to priceless treasure.


In January 1966, Shelby American’s California shop took delivery of a bare chassis identified as P/1046—the 47th GT40 from Ford Advanced Vehicles’ 87-car production run. The Shelby crew completed this car to campaign it at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans. In the hands of Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon, it qualified fourth in the 55-car field, two seconds behind the pole-winning GT40 driven by Dan Gurney and Jerry Grant.


Before the race was half over, all 14 Ferraris were parked. Overheating stopped Gurney and Grant at about the 17-hour mark. With two hours remaining, the GT40 driven by Ken Miles and Denny Hulme passed the McLaren/Amon car for the lead. But Miles and Hulme were robbed of the win by Ford racing boss Leo Beebe’s attempt to orchestrate a three-abreast finish. Officials awarded the laurels to the McLaren/Amon effort because they had started the race farther back on the grid, and they did, in fact, cross the finish line first.


Chassis P/1046’s glory was short-lived. Following stints as a test mule, it ran in the 1967 Daytona 24-hour race but dropped out, along with four other Ford entries. After a few more test sessions, P/1046 was demoted to parts donor. It was subsequently sold, then handed down through three owners, one of whom had P/1046 prepped for street service with a closed-circuit rearview camera, air-conditioning, and a metal-flake gold paint job with black trim.




In 1983, Wisconsin collector George Stauffer was shopping for vintage Rolls-Royces when he discovered P/1046 stored in a crate in Ghent, Belgium. It had lost its identification plate somewhere along the way, but GT40 expert Ronnie Spain studied the find for several months and concluded it was, without doubt, the 1966 Le Mans winner.


Stauffer restored the car to factory specification and raced it in vintage events for nearly three decades. I was present for one such race, at Road America in 1991, when Stauffer magnanimously offered me seat time in his prize during a lunch-hour touring session, pictured here.


It was hardly the most exciting track outing in P/1046’s illustrious history, but it’s an experience I’ll never forget. The doors cut into the roof, so I parachuted vertically into the seat, although I still had to fold my lower limbs to get over the wide, fuel-filled sill and clear of the steering wheel and shifter. The 7.0-liter V-8, located inches behind my helmet, blasted mesmerizing hard-rock riffs with howling Holley four-barrel accompaniment as I maneuvered into pole position to get clear of a field of casual cruisers.




The cockpit was surprisingly comfortable, thanks to the Gurney roof bubble, liberally ventilated upholstery, and panoramic visibility provided by a wraparound windshield. A fine place for McLaren and Amon to drive long stints. The three-spoke wheel was nearly vertical, within easy reach. There was a raised step to brace my left foot, and the brake and accelerator pedals were situated for never-miss heel-and-toe operation. The tall shifter mounted just inside the sill clicked smartly into gear, a handy blocker guarding against accidental reverse engagement.


The torque-rich V-8 played nicely with the wide-ratio, fully synchronized Toploader four-speed transaxle. On the driving-difficulty scale, I’d rate this track legend comparable to a modern Mustang GT. I found mild understeer turning into tight bends and predictable neutrality with liberal doses of throttle on exit. It’s clear why pro drivers had no difficulty approaching 200 mph down the Mulsanne straight lap after lap. Ford’s 1966 strategy—ample piston displacement, easy-to-manage driving dynamics, and laboratory-proven durability—was perfect for snapping Ferrari’s six-win streak at la Sarthe. I easily blew away my fellow tourers and, after 10 laps, returned P/1046 to my sponsor none the worse for wear.




Good thing, since its stock has continued to rise. Stauffer sold P/1046 to New Yorker Aaron Hsu in 2010 for more than $10 million. Hsu sold it in 2014 for a reported $22 million to race driver and team owner Rob Kauffman. Following yet another restoration, this time by Rare Drive Shop in New Hampshire, P/1046 will be shipped to France to commemorate the golden anniversary of its win.


Imagine slithering into this cockpit in haste at the start of Le Mans. Some drivers reportedly waited to buckle their belts until they were hurtling down the Mulsanne straight.


This story originally appeared on Road & Track.


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