Ford GT70: The GT40's Rally Car Cousin
Think of it as the proto-Stratos
At the beginning of the 1970s, Ford’s factory rally team found itself in a difficult situation. The first-generation Escort was beginning to slip out of competitiveness, as other manufacturers began competing with full-on sports cars that the Escort had no real hope of matching. The issues with their current entries came to a head at the 1970 Rallye Monte Carlo where, despite the best efforts of Ford’s drivers, the event was dominated by Porsches and Alpines. On the flight home after the event, the team’s morale was low. This prompted discussions between several team members of what Ford could do to try and get back to the very front of the field. The conclusion that arose from the conversations was that Ford themselves needed a specialist machine to take on those of their competition, and so the early stages of the new project were set in motion.
While the existing Escort was fairly strong in rallies that required a tough, rugged car, it had no answer for the sheer pace of the Alpine A110 and Porsche 911. To combat this, Ford’s new specialist car was to be used for the tarmac rallies that were becoming increasingly common, whereas the Escort would return for harder-going rallies. The new car was dubbed the GT70, following the naming convention of the earlier GT40 with the ‘70’ representing the year of the project’s initiation. Len Bailey was the man charged with designing the chassis for the GT70, who already had connections with Ford having been heavily involved in the GT40’s design process. The design brief for the GT70 required the car to be capable of being fitted with several different sizes and configurations of engine, as well as being both strong and as light as possible.
In an attempt to match their competition, Ford used a mid-engine, rear-wheel drive layout for the GT70. The bodywork was all fibreglass, and the total weight of the GT70 was only 765kg. Originally the engine of choice was a 2.6 litre V6 taken from the Capri RS2600, though in this form it was tuned to produce up to 240hp. Over the course of the GT70’s development several gearboxes were used, though all were five-speed manuals. In an attempt to ensure costs remained reasonable, the company parts bin was dived into whenever possible.
The first functioning prototype took only nine months to be completed, and made its public debut at the 1971 Brussels Motor Show. In order to enter competition the GT70 would need to be homologated, and so a production run of 500 cars was planned for the project. This was a little more than the minimum required: Group 4 homologation required 400 cars to be built in a 24-month period. Over the next couple of years there would be a total of six GT70s built.
Of the six, three would see use in competition during development. The first of these ran in the 1971 Ronde Cevenole Rally in France, but had frequent mechanical issues. Another was entered into the 1971 Tour de France Automobile, but failed to finish after colliding with a bridge. The last of the cars to see competitive action was run by Ford France, and saw the most usage. This example had its engine replaced with a 1.6 litre Cosworth BDA inline-four, and was raced in the 1972 and 1973 French Tarmac Rally Championships. In this guise the GT70 had noticeably improved handling, but still suffered from minor issues that prevented it from fully achieving its potential.
Each of the other three GT70s served different purposes. One had a Ghia designed body fitted, which was displayed at the 1971 Turin Auto Show; though this example did not feature any running gear or an interior. Another was simply used as a press car, and the last was intended as a development car for potential future usage of the GT70 in circuit racing, though this didn’t progress particularly far.
The Ghia designed prototype GT70
In the limited running the GT70 achieved, it suffered from several issues. The V6 engine was said to wreak havoc on the centre of gravity of the car, the interior was poorly laid out for racing situations and the frame wasn’t quite suited to the demands of rallying. These issues could have been corrected, however other factors at play prevented this. Rule changes in the World Rally Championship, an improvement in the performances of the Escort and the amount of work required to make the GT70 into a viable production car all contributed to the abandonment of the project in 1973.
After the cancellation of development, the GT70 largely went dark for almost 30 years. It was briefly used to help promote new Ford engines during the 1970s, but until 2002 that was pretty much it. At this point, Ford announced it had commissioned the restoration of the GT70 that had been run by Ford France. After the project had ended the car had been shipped back to the UK and placed in storage, with the engine and gearbox being stripped out and sold off. For the restoration this meant a new engine was required, so a 2.0 litre Cosworth BDG inline-four was sourced, producing around 200hp.
The restored example is reflective of the car’s state at the end of its development in 1973, but received a few safety tweaks such as an improved roll cage. Following the completion of its restoration, the GT70 then appeared at the 2002 Goodwood Festival of Speed. At least one of the other GT70s still exists in the UK, and is still road-registered: it now resides in a Ford showroom. Whether the GT70 ever would have brought Ford success is up for debate, but with how dominant the Lancia Stratos would prove to be shortly after, it’s hard to imagine the GT70 wouldn’t have at least had an impact on the world of rallying.