To the casual observer, Ford’s dominance of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the late 1960s can seem almost monolithic. After all, the winning was all done by GT40s, wasn’t it? While the small-block Mark I cars that triumphed in 1968 and 1969 and the big-block Mark IIs—which brought Ford its first overall victory at the Circuit de la Sarthe in 1966—shared real visual and mechanical continuity, the 1967 Mark IV was its own thing entirely.
The GT40 had been an Anglo-American proposition from the start, with roots in Eric Broadley’s lovely little Lola Mark 6, but the Mark IV was to be a star-spangled affair, meant to erase all doubt that American know-how was superior to Italian 12-cylinder prancy-horsey voodoo—that it wasn’t the luck of the limeys that had spurred the Yanks on to victory the previous year. Never mind that the winning car had been driven by a pair of Kiwis named Chris Amon and Bruce McLaren.
The Mark IV, if not made of space-age stuff, was at least made of aerospace-age stuff. Its genesis was what Ford referred to as the J-car, referring to Appendix J of the FIA rulebook, which laid out the specification to which the new racer would hew. The chassis was constructed of aluminum honeycomb with its segments bonded together. The windshield wiper was from a Boeing 707. It wasn’t, however, quite the crash program one might imagine. Ford had begun work on the J-car with Michigan’s Kar Kraft in 1965 after the GT40’s first disappointing outings at La Sarthe. In fact, the car could have competed in 1966. Ford brought a J-car to France for pre-race testing, along with Amon and McLaren, and by the end of the day the new machine was the fastest thing out there. The Mark II, then in its second year of competition, seemed to be a safer bet than unleashing a new beast directly into a brutal environment that had, in short order, twice dashed Ford’s aspirations. In retrospect it was the right call.
Meanwhile, back in the States, development took a tragic turn. During testing at the storied Riverside circuit in Southern California in August of ’66, driver Ken Miles was killed in a wreck. The J-car’s breadvan-like bodywork was then reworked to combat high-speed lift, a reshaping that ultimately resulted in the Mark IV.
When Ford returned to Le Mans in 1967 with four Mark IVs, ready to combat Ferrari’s new and formidable P4, there was at least one American driver in each of the cars. Denny Hulme and Lloyd Ruby failed to finish, as did Mario Andretti and Lucien Bianchi. Mark Donohue and Bruce McLaren placed fourth, and, famously, the Texas/California duo of A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney finished first, the spraying of victory champagne was invented, and to this day the red #1 car remains one of the most famous vehicles to have won the race.
A rules change for 1968 meant that the big-block Mark II and Mark IVs were no longer eligible for competition, so John Wyer dragged out some old Mark Is and managed to pull two more Frankish 24-hour victories out of the old cars before Ferdinand Piëch’s Hail Mary Porsche 917s wrote the next chapter of Le Mans dominance.
But what we have here is not one of the cars that turned wheels in anger in Florida or France during 1967, although it has made the trek to Le Mans twice. Ford had Kar Kraft build 12 Mark IV chassis. In 1970, Harry T. Heinl bought two from Shelby American: J-4, the car that had won Sebring with Andretti and McLaren at the helm, and J-7, the one Andretti crashed at Le Mans. A bare tub, brought to Le Mans as a spare, was part of the deal. Seven years later, the tub wound up in the hands of Brian Angliss (who later went on to own AC Cars), who also had acquired another tub from Ford. Angliss then sold his cache of Mark IV parts to Rod Leach of Hertfordshire, England, who decided to do something with the agglomeration of pieces. Namely, he decided to build a pair of Mark IVs.
The cars were to be numbered J-11 and J-12. The car you see here is J-12. Leach only had one full set of bodywork, so J-12 got the original nose while J-11 got the original tail. A tunnel-port 427-cubic-inch V-8 was sourced for the car, and a correct T-44 transaxle was found new in crate in England in 1984. Ten years after Leach and Angliss began the odyssey, the car was finished in time to make demonstration laps at that year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, two decades after Gurney and Foyt’s victory.
Leach sold the car to the current owner in 1994, and in 2015 the FIA issued it a Historic Technical Passport, which allows it to run in FIA-sanctioned historic races, including the Le Mans Classic, although the car has yet to see competition. And while it may not have raced at Le Mans on the 10th and 11th of June in 1967, at least part of the car was in attendance. And that’s worth something, isn’t it? If it’s worth enough to you, the car will be offered at Gooding & Company’s Amelia Island auction next month.