Costume change: Ford’s little-known Mercury GT40s

When is a Ford GT40 not a Ford GT40? When it’s a Mercury. That’s right, a Mercury.

In the midst of Ford’s “Total Performance” racing dominance in the 1960s—highlighted by the legendary GT40’s 1-2-3 finish at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966—Ford Motor Company’s Lincoln-Mercury Division wanted a share of the spotlight to help promote its new Mercury Cougar. Since the primary goal of Total Performance was to draw customers to showrooms, FoMoCo obliged.

By Halloween 1966, a GT40 was masquerading as a Mercury. Three more would follow.

According to the Shelby American World Registry, the four GT40s—so named because their roof height was 40 inches—included three rebranded Ford Mk IIs and an Mk I.

The four not-Fords

The Mercury GT40 Mk II (actually a Ford GT40 Mk I) at the 1967 Chicago Auto Show.
The Mercury GT40 Mk II (actually a Ford GT40 Mk I) at the 1967 Chicago Auto Show. Courtesy: Jim Pinkerton

The first Mercury GT40, a Mk II (described in a little white lie as a “prototype sports race car”), was actually the same Ford GT40 (chassis P/1015) that placed second at Le Mans only months prior. The car, still painted light blue but wearing the fictitious #10, was revealed to race fans at the U.S. Grand Prix at Watkins Glen in early October. The car looked much different on October 31 for the unveiling of the Mercury Cougar in Carmel, California. According to the Registry, P/1015 “had been repainted red with silver sill and top stripes, a large #3 on the sides, and ‘Mercury’ in script lettering on the sill stripes.”

A second Mercury GT40—P/1053—showed up at the 1967 Chicago Auto Show February 25–March 5. This one, the Mk I, was initially intended for singer Vic Damone, an avid sports car enthusiast. Originally painted Swan White, P/1053 wore #1 and was adorned in Mercury’s red-with-silver racing colors for the Chicago show. Oddly, a sign next to the car incorrectly referred it a “Mercury Mark II GT40,” and described it as “big brother to the GT40 Mk I which first ran at LeMans in 1964.”

The third and fourth Mercury GT40 race cars—P/1016 and P/1047—were more than just showpieces. Given Mk IIB upgrades that included roll cage, aluminum instrument panel, lighter body sections, and fire suppression, they competed in the 24 Hours of Daytona in May 1967, with some big-name drivers at the wheel. (Ford also entered four GT40s, including P/1015, repainted dark blue.) Neither Mercury GT40 managed to finish, however. According to the Shelby American World Registry, the Mk IIs were doomed “by a batch of improperly heat-treated transaxle input shafts,” and only one, a Ford, completed the race.

Mercury runs out of runway

A.J. Foyt drives Mercury GT40 #3, a rebadged Ford GT40 (chassis P/1047), at Daytona in 1967.
A.J. Foyt drives Mercury GT40 #3, a rebadged Ford GT40 (chassis P/1047), at Daytona in 1967. Ford

P/1016, the car that placed third in Ford’s historic 1966 Le Mans victory over Ferrari, wore gold paint, black stripes, and #4. Driven by Mark Donohue and Peter Revson, it completed 236 laps before being forced to quit. A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney, driving P/1047 for Shelby American, managed to nearly double that distance by completing 464 laps, but their red-with-white #3 also faltered.

Just like that, the Mercury GT40 marketing ploy was over. A GT40 never again competed with Mercury on its sills.

Just a month after Foyt and Gurney’s disappointing finish at Daytona, the pair—driving Ford’s new 427-cubic-inch V-8 powered GT40 Mk IV—dominated the ’67 Le Mans race, never trailing after the second hour. The duo set overall Le Mans records for going the fastest and farthest, as well as several class records. Donohue and Bruce McLaren, also driving an Mk IV, finished fourth.

And what about the Ford GT40s that had donned Mercury costumes in the months leading up to Le Mans? They were hit with more bad luck in France. Joe Schlesser and Guy Ligier, driving P/1015—the original Mercury GT40 shown at Watkins Glen and Carmel, and by then wearing #5—crashed 11 hours into the race after completing 179 laps. Ronnie Bucknum and Paul Hawkins, driving P/1047 (wearing #57), competed 18 hours and finished 271 laps before succumbing to a valve problem.

Where are they now?

1966 ford gt40 profile
1966 Ford GT40 (serial number P/1016) RM Sotheby's

P/1015: According to the World Registry of Cobras and GT40s, P/1015 has changed hands a number of times in the private sector. It has appeared at GT40 Anniversary Reunion events at Watkins Glen, commemorations of the GT40s’ 1966 sweep at Le Mans (along with P/1016 and P/1047), and has participated in the Monterey Historics at Laguna Seca.

P/1047: According to the World Registry of Cobras and GT40s, P/1047 was one of three GT40s “taken out of competition in a late-night all-Ford stunt” at Le Mans in 1967. “At some time around that of the race, the ID plate was switched with that of P/1031. The reason for the switch is not completely clear, nor is the exact time of the switch, but it is likely to have occurred during or after the race as pre-race documentation refers to the car by its proper serial number. Whatever the time of the reason, one thing is for certain: the switch has confused historians to this day.”

Around 1972, the car was purchased by Tauto Satori, who later sold it to his mechanic. That’s when, according to the book, its history becomes cloudy. Muddying the situation further, “A Bryan Wingfield/Tennant Panels chassis with a P/1047 ID plate (uncertain if it is 1047’s original ID plate) was purchased by George Stauffer (Blue Mounds, Wisconsin) in ’95. It was finished as an Mk II and painted in the ’66 Le Mans colors of red with white stripes and carry #3.”

Mercury GT40 #4 in action at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1967
Mercury GT40 #4 in action at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1967. Ford
Mercury GT40 #3 (P/1047) in the garage at Daytona.
Mercury GT40 #3 (P/1047) in the garage at Daytona. Ford

P/1047 has been replicated as a die-cast miniature, wearing the same Mercury color scheme.

The actual P/1031-P/1047 GT40 can be found at the Revs Institute in Naples, Florida. Part of the Collier Collection, the car looks as it did while winning the 1967 12 Hours of Reims, wearing powder blue paint, FORD lettering on the sills, and #1.

P/1053: According to the World Registry of Cobras and GT40s, after P/1053 made its first Mercury appearance at the 1967 Chicago Auto Show, it was taken on tour and used in a Ford/Hathaway Shirt promotion that included stops in Philadelphia (with Mario Andretti) and Syracuse (with Cale Yarborough). It went into private ownership on January 15, 1971, when it was purchased by David Schultz of Elmwood Park, Illinois, for $9000 (the equivalent of $55,750 today). The car has changed hands—and paint jobs—a number of times since.

P/1016: Resplendent in gold with pink highlights and the #5—exactly as it looked at Le Mans in 1966—P/1016 was back in the headlines recently when it sold for $9,795,000 at RM Sotheby’s 2018 Monterey Auction. RM played up its Ford history—let’s face it, that Le Mans sweep has some serious sizzle—but it did not mention the car’s ties to Mercury. Not that anyone noticed. Perhaps you didn’t either.

Regardless, now you know the rest of the story from five decades ago, when maybe the coolest Mercurys ever had a brief moment in the spotlight.

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