Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson

Clarkson on: the Ford GT40

Back in 1962, Enzo Ferrari was trying to sell his company and Henry Ford was in the frame to buy it. The talks were going well and a deal was only days away when the old man decided that his pride and joy would wither and die under the weight of Ford's global bureaucracy.

Mr Ford was livid and told his Brylcreemed designers to build a car that would make mincemeat out of the Ferraris at Le Mans. He was going to teach that Eye-tie Dago a lesson he wouldn't forget.

The bunch of fives came in the shape of the GT40 which, in various guises, won the 24-Hours four times.

Now, ever since I was old enough to run round in small circles, clutching at my private parts, I have been a huge fan of Ferrari and especially the 250 LM. But here was a Ford that was beating it.

The GT40 became my favourite car and I would plead with my dad to buy a Cortina, to replace the last one he'd crashed. Ford need the money, I'd argue, to build more GT40s.

I had three Dinky toy GT40s and my bedroom wall was plastered with pictures of them. I even sat in one once, when I was eight or so, and decided there and then it would be the car I'd have one day.

Like the Lamborghini Miura, which was also built to spite Enzo Ferrari, it came from a time when car design was at its peak. Look at a McLaren or a Diablo today and tell me they have the sheer sexiness of a '60s supercar.

"There have been loads of good-looking cars since the 1960s but none had quite such dramatic lines as the GT40"

There have been loads of good-looking cars since but none had quite such dramatic lines as the GT40 - I'm talking about the racers, not the elongated and muted MkIII car.

I was at the Goodwood Festival of Speed earlier in the summer and, though there were many stunning cars squealing up that hill, I maintain that the GT40 was best. Yes indeed, the best-looking car of all time.

And fast, too. 0-60mph took 5.4 seconds and you could get the needle round to the 170mph quadrant on the M1, should you choose. There were no speed limits then, because homosexuality hadn't been invented.

It was also a proper engine. I've always subscribed to the view that there ain't no substitute for cubes and here was a car with 7,000 of them in a rumbling V8 package.

And there it was, in the grounds of the Elms Hotel in Abberley, fuelled and ready. The keys were in my hand, the sun was shining, the temptation to run round in circles was large. I was going to realise a 30-year-old dream and actually drive a GT40; and I didn't really care that it was a 300bhp, 4.7-litre, Mustang-engined road car with a boot.

Ford had only made seven of the things before the American magazine Road and Track said it was a badly made crock of donkey dung and the plug was pulled. And I, the man who loves the GT40 the most, was going to use it to tear up some tarmac.

Actually, I wasn't. For the first time in 10 years of road--testing cars, I had to admit, after desperate struggling, that I am just too tall. And no, it wasn't a Mansell whinge about being uncomfortable. I was simply unable to get my knees under the dash, my head under the roof or my feet anywhere near the pedals.

If you'd put a pint in front of John McCarthy when he stepped off that plane from Beirut and then peed in it when he was about to take a swig, he would have been less disappointed.

But now I'm glad. Yes, I'm happy that Ford made the car only suitable for hamsters and other small rodents. I'm happy that my trip to Worcester was a waste of time and that I had to rewrite the item I'd written for the programme. I'm delighted that I shall go to my grave never having driven a GT40. Because the dream will never be tarnished with a dose of reality.

Vanessa Redgrave was my childhood film star idol and now I've learned she is the sort of woman who probably doesn't shave her armpits. Then there was the Ferrari Daytona, another car I'd wanted to drive since I was old enough to use crockery, but which actually feels like it should sport a Seddon Atkinson badge.

So, if you're a child longing for the day when you can get behind the wheel of a McLaren or a Diablo, may I suggest you stand in a bucket of Fison's Make it Grow. Because by the time you're old enough they will have been made to feel old and awful by the hatchback you use every day.


Jeremy Clarkson, Column

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