Foraging for Rare Ford GT History in the Archives
Founded in 1903, Ford Motor Company has over a century of history in its rear-view mirror. Imagine the documents, photos, correspondence, styling models and other memorabilia that Ford has accumulated.
The collections are massive. They span more than 1.5 million photographs and negatives, 16,000 cubic feet of corporate records, thousands of films and videos, and a memorabilia collection. The materials are stored in a facility with temperature and humidity controls and more than three miles of shelving. Certain vaults are designed to preserve film and video with lower temperatures. The collection continues to grow with the ongoing Ford business but also as older documents from Ford history are donated or obtained.
The archive staff responds to internal inquiries from their colleagues in Communications, Marketing, Design and Legal functions. The team also responds to external inquiries, including requests to use historical images in books or television shows.
Archives and Heritage Brand Manager for the Ford Motor Company, Ted Ryan oversees the operation. He joined Ford three years ago after stints with The Coca-Cola Company and the Atlanta History Center. He built the Atlanta Braves Museum at Turner Field and curated exhibits on golfer Bobby Jones for the East Lake and Augusta National Golf Clubs.
As Ted goes through his daily job at the Ford, he often finds interesting nuggets. He highlights company milestones and shares many of these nuggets on his personal social media pages (Look him up on Twitter and Instagram at @tedryan64). From time to time, Ford PR will highlight items of interest as well.
He may highlight decades of Ford Bronco history, manufacturing muscle Ford brought to fight World War II, or even Ford’s role in building Mission Control in Houston in the early days of the NASA space program.
Recently, Ted has been finding and sharing Ford GT history (the program started as simply “GT,” before morphing into “GT40” as the common naming convention soon after race cars hit the track). Despite over five decades of distance, rare photos and new documents continue to emerge. The Speed Journal has assembled several of the notable documents and photos below. Thanks and full credit for the documents and photos go to Ted Ryan and Ford Motor Company. Enjoy!
- Four-page memo dated December 2, 1963 from Lee Iacocca to Henry Ford II to update the status of the Ford GT project. Important memos from senior Ford management were called “blue sheets” or “blue letters.” The memo states the program was a replacement for the plan to acquire Ferrari (see below).
- Two pages of specifications and suppliers to build the Ford GT. The list of partners and vendors who were involved in the project is interesting, particularly the number in England (see below).
- Four GT photos (see above) from the December 1963 Progress Report. Three show early clay models that were used in wind tunnel testing. The fourth dated October 23, 1963 was the final fiberglass model that was destined for England for fabrication.
- Four photos of an early GT prototype testing (see above) at Monza in Italy on October 29, 1963. Note the unpainted body and early styling cues that would evolve over time.
Retired Ford engineer, Don Eichstaedt, donated two extraordinary documents last year relating to the GT program. Mr. Eichstaedt worked for Kar-Kraft before Ford. Kar-Kraft was a small company and technically independent from Ford, but Ford was its only client. Kar-Kraft spearheaded many of Ford’s performance and prototype projects. Mr. Eichstaedt oversaw building the Ford GT40 Mark IV race cars to race in 1967, including the LeMans winning Dan Gurney/AJ Foyt car.
- The first document is a 21-page Testing and Development Booklet from the GT and Sports Car Project for the Ford Advanced Vehicles Division. This booklet includes detailed technical specifications and first-person accounts of two tests in April 1964. The first was in England and the second was at LeMans. The booklet summarizes findings and things to work on. Among other things, the tests identified instability at high speeds that needed work before being ready to race.
- The second is a 34-page illustrated parts list for a street version of the Ford GT40 from John Wyer. While the race cars generated headlines, Weyer’s operation produced build street versions of the Ford GT40. For the GT40 aficionados, the diagrams offer a detailed view inside the car and its various assemblies. Only seven cars were built, making them very rare. The document lists parts and includes diagrams of the various parts of the car to illustrate where they fit making for a visual treat.