The race itself didn't go much better. All three GT40s bowed out due to mechanical problems. Ferraris took the top three spots. But there was one hopeful sign for Ford: Shelby's Ford-powered Cobra came in fourth overall, winning the GT class.
For the 1965 effort, Ford upped the ante. Whereas the original GT40 had a 289-cubic-inch V-8, Ford went with its 427-cubic-inch (7.0-liter) monster for the Mark II. It was a classic American approach - Ford's heavy, thirsty big-block making 486 hp versus Ferrari's lighter, more fuel-efficient 4.0-liter V-12 making 420 hp. But again it was all for naught. Of the six GT40s entered (both Mark I and Mark II), none finished the race. The factory Ferraris, though, also had mechanical troubles. In the end, a Ferrari did take the checkered flag, but it was a year-old car entered by Luigi Chinetti (Ferrari's U.S. distributor), driven by American Masten Gregory and Austrian Jochen Rindt.
After the '65 debacle, Ford's top people received a card from their boss. The one-line message: "You'd better win, Henry Ford II." Ford threw even more resources into the 1966 program, adding a second team that was run by Holman Moody. In the run-up to Le Mans, things looked good. A GT40 driven by Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby won Daytona and Sebring. At Le Mans, Ford entered eight GT40s, while Ferrari prepared seven prototypes (two of which were factory entries). Privateers campaigned additional Fords and Ferraris. Henry Ford II was the grand marshal of the race, and a record crowd was on hand. At last, Ford triumphed. After twenty-four hours, the GT40s led the field. Team managers attempting to engineer a tie had the first two cars cross the finish line together, but French officials declared the Bruce McLaren car (which had started farther back) the winner over Miles. Still, it was a 1-2-3 finish for Ford. The upstart Americans had finally defeated the European old guard. Ford became the first American automaker ever to win Le Mans.
The feat was repeated in 1967 and again with privateers in 1968 and '69. Ferrari hasn't had another Le Mans victory since, but its record of six in a row remains unbeaten.