Henry Ford II had wanted a Ford at Le Mans since the early 1960s.
In the spring of 1963, Ford reportedly received word through a European intermediary that Enzo Ferrari was interested in selling to Ford Motor Company. Ford reportedly spent several million dollars in an audit of Ferrari factory assets and in legal negotiations, only to have Ferrari unilaterally cut off talks at a late stage due to disputes about the ability to direct open wheel racing. Ferrari, who wanted to remain the sole operator of his company’s motor sports division, was angered when he was told that he would not be allowed to race at the Indianapolis 500 if the deal went through since Ford fielded Indy cars using the company’s engine, and didn’t want competition from Ferrari. Enzo cut the deal off out of spite and Henry Ford II, enraged, directed his racing division to find a company that could build a Ferrari-beater on the world endurance-racing circuit.
To this end Ford began negotiation with Lotus, Lola, and Cooper. Cooper had no experience in GT or prototype and its performances in Formula One were declining.
Lotus was already a Ford partner for their Indy 500 project. Ford executives already doubted the ability of Lotus to handle this new project. Colin Chapman probably had similar views as he asked a high price for his contribution and insisted that the car (which became the Lotus Europa) should be named a Lotus-Ford, an attitude that can be viewed as polite refusal.
The Lola proposal was chosen, since Lola had used a Ford V8 engine in their mid-engined Lola Mk 6 (also known as Lola GT). It was one of the most advanced racing cars of the time, and made a noted performance in Le Mans 1963, even though the car did not finish, due to low gearing and slow revving out on the Mulsanne Straight. However, Eric Broadley, Lola Cars’ owner and chief designer, agreed on a short-term personal contribution to the project without involving Lola Cars.
The agreement with Broadley included a one-year collaboration between Ford and Broadley, and the sale of the two Lola Mk 6 chassis builds to Ford. To form the development team, Ford also hired the ex-Aston Martin team manager John Wyer. Ford Motor Co. engineer Roy Lunn was sent to England; he had designed the mid-engined Mustang I concept car powered by a 1.7 litre V4. Despite the small engine of the Mustang I, Lunn was the only Dearborn engineer to have some experience with a mid-engined car.
Overseen by Harley Copp, the team of Broadley, Lunn and Wyer began working on the new car at the Lola Factory in Bromley. At the end of 1963 the team moved to Slough, near Heathrow airport. Ford then established Ford Advanced Vehicles Ltd, a new subsidiary under the direction of Wyer, to manage the project.
The first chassis built by Abbey Panels of Coventry was delivered on March 16, 1963, with fibre-glass mouldings produced by Fibre Glass Engineering Ltd of Farnham. The first “Ford GT” the GT/101 was unveiled in England on April 1 and soon after exhibited in New York. Purchase price of the completed car for competition use was £5,200.
It was powered by the 4.2 L Fairlane engine with a Colotti transaxle, the same power plant was used by the Lola GT and the single-seater Lotus 29 that came in a highly controversial second at the Indy 500 in 1963. (A DOHC head design was used in later years at Indy. It won in 1965 in the Lotus 38.)