Automaker shifts gears on sports car's famous name after negotiations stall
By K.C. Crain
Automotive News / October 21, 2002
For months, Ford Motor Co. has been trumpeting the rebirth of a famous automotive name: the GT40, a short-lived but legendary sports car that dominated Le Mans in the 1960s.
And suddenly last week the new model, which will arrive in limited numbers in 2004, was simply the GT.
Thirty years ago, nobody at Ford bothered to register the GT40 trademark. And the trademark owner's initial demand, in the $40 million range, led the cost-conscious automaker to drop the "40" moniker and hang onto its money.
"We wanted the (new) car to be called the Ford GT40," says Bob Wood, part-owner of Safir GT40 Spares Ltd. of Cincinnati, which bought the GT40 name in 1999. The company sells replacement parts for the 160 GT40s built from 1964 to 1969.
"Ford was unwilling to negotiate and wouldn't make an offer," Wood said.
Ford spokesman Dan Bedore declined to discuss specifics of the negotiations, saying only that the two parties "couldn't come to mutually agreeable terms."
The name change to GT was announced Tuesday, Oct. 15.
Ford said it would build three copies of the sports car in late 2003 to commemorate the automaker's 1-2-3 finish at the 1966 24 Hours of LeMans as part of Ford's 100th anniversary celebration.
The automaker said it would build about 1,000 GTs annually starting in 2004, at a price of "substantially less" than $150,000.
A hairpin turn
In its press release, the automaker downplayed the name change, stating that the official name of the original race car was the Ford GT, and the GT40 label was only a popular nickname derived from the vehicle's 40-inch height.
That was a hairpin turn from the initial marketing efforts. At the Detroit auto show in January, the Ford stand was awash in GT40 mania. Journalists and Ford employees filled an arena to watch the unveiling of the concept car, and Ford distributed metal replicas of the car's knock-off wheel hub, emblazoned with a GT40 logo.
The concept car had its own stand at the show, where visitors were served "GT40 cocktails."
Forty-five days later, Ford officials said they would build the GT40.
And then the name game turned ugly.
Ford had negotiated limited rights to the GT40 name from Safir GT40 Spares for the concept car, and assumed that the rest of the deal would fall into place. As part of the marketing effort, it had filed a dozen applications with the United States Patent and Trademark Office to use the GT40 name on a wide variety of items, such as clothing, luggage, jewelry and even can openers.
But Safir's $40 million bombshell - a figure provided by a Ford source and confirmed by Wood as the starting point for the negotiations - was the beginning of the end.
Roots in 1985
The trademark problem actually began in 1985, when Safir Engineering Ltd. of Surrey, England, bought the rights to the GT40 name to set its vehicles apart from other replicas that were being made of the race car.
Safir Engineering produced copies of the car in the 1980s and 1990s, continuing the sequence of serial numbers from the original cars.
The company closed in 1999 and transferred the trademark and rights to produce and sell replacement parts for the cars to Safir GT40 Spares, the parts company owned by Wood and partners Brady Pack and John Sadler. So all the GT40s on the road will continue to be vintage models.
Said Bedore of Ford: "In the end, Ford decided to go a different route, and we think it worked out very well."
Bob Wood, an owner of the company that controls the rights to the GT 40 name, says he wanted Ford's new sports car to wear the GT40 badge. But Ford and Wood's company, Safir GT40 Spares Ltd., couldn't agree on a price. PHOTO: JIM CALLOWAY
Ford GT history
1963: Rebuffed in a bid to buy Ferrari, Henry Ford II decides that Ford Motor will build a car to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.