While Ford makes its official return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the GT class, 50 years after the first overall victory of its GT40, the Detroit manufacturer also has a history in prototype racing in the famed French endurance classic. (En Français)
The Ford C100, a sports prototype initially built to Group 6 regulations before evolving to Group C, was intended to take on the likes of Porsche, Lancia and Rondeau but never fully lived up to that full promise.
It made its debut at Brands Hatch in 1981, followed by Le Mans the next year, with two Zakspeed-run cars on the grid under the Ford-Werke AG banner. However, neither the Manfred Winkelhock/Klaus Niedzwiedz or Klaus Ludwig/Marc Surer-driven cars made it to the finish.
Winkelhock had his moment of glory by having led at one stage, only to be forced to retire with clutch issues.
Make no mistake, the Ford C100 program was very much a European effort, but under the consent of Detroit. It had marked the Blue Oval’s return to La Sarthe for the first time since 1973.
Len Bailey, who was involved with the Ford GT40 program in the 1960s, was brought in to design the car, which was originally intended to debut at Le Mans in 1981 before facing production delays.
However, Bailey left at the end of the year, with Zakspeed hiring Tony Southgate future develop the C100 for the 1982 season, which proved to be a big task. It included making the chassis stiffer and lighter, repositioning the steering as well as suspension updates.
Winkelhock and Ludwig took the car to class victory at Silverstone in 1982, with an 8th place finish overall, before claiming pole at the Nurburgring, where they retired with gearbox failure.
In addition to its works WEC program, the C100s also competed in the German-based DRM championship.
Further redevelopments of the cars were made for 1983 before evolving into the Zakspeed C1/8, which proved to be more successful than Ford’s short-lived European factory effort.