Updated: Aug 8, 2020
Photos by Alessandro Barteletti for SpeedHolics
We met Nicola a few weeks ago in Milan. We'd spotted his car on Instagram in June --a Ford GT40 replica with its own profile, detailing the passion and dedication he's put into the project. After a brief exchange of messages and a phone call, we knew we'd have to talk in more depth.
You can immediately recognize people who are passionate about cars even from the first call. A few words to introduce ourselves, then a deep dive into the story of the car itself. Here's what we talked about when we met up in Milan:
"The GT40 is a legendary car, an icon"
SpeedHolics: The Ford GT40 is something of a milestone car in motor sport history. It's the embodiment of the very human passion for speed, races and cars. How would you sum it up? Nicola: The GT40 is a legendary car, an icon. Even someone with no concern for sports cars can see this. If you saw it in the GULF livery, without even knowing it's a Ford, without even knowing about those 4 consecutive Le Mans victories, you'd still recognize that it's a symbolic car. I first recognized this when I was a child, and it's stayed with me ever since.
SH: So how did you come to own this replica? Nicola: My passion for cars has led me to having an understanding of their value, so actually owning one was always beyond me -- it was just a dream. But over the years, thanks to some of my own achievements, as well as some fortunate events, I've been able to own a few cars great sentimental and historical value for me. These have alternated between Italian super sports cars and American muscle cars, both of which I'm deeply fond of. Of course, the GT40 is one of these.
"I had to own a GT40 MKI Wide Body."
SH: What is so special about the GT40?
Nicola: As I said, the GT40 has been always in my dreams, and I still believe she represents the two aspects that I like the most in cars: the instinctive and unfiltered driving feeling of super sport racing cars, and the charm and elegance of a classic car. Then there's the legacy of the car -- its most famous victory is certainly the one at Le Mans in '66, also known for the popular movies made about it. However, the most incredible and unexpected victories came with John Wyer and the legendary GT40 p1075, the only car that won for two consecutive years at Le Mans with the same chassis number.
In 1968, a change in regulations increased the allowed engine cubic capacity to 3 litres for prototypes and to 5 liters for sports cars. This resulted in the abandonment of the MIRAGE, and the JWA team resumed the "old" GT40 MKI, modifying it and widening it heavily, and coming to mount rims with 10" and 14" channels.
It was a project born four years before in 1964 which had to compete with the Porsche 908, and in 1969 with the brand new 917 long tail!
Nevertheless, two wins came which are somehow unbelievable, two romantic victories, so I never had doubts: I had to own a GT40 MKI Wide Body.
SH: Few companies make good replicas of the GT40, as is often the case for extraordinary cars built in very small series. Where did you find yours?
Nicola: During my research, in which I scoured the world, the replicas I found did not properly represent my idea of the GT40. In my personal opinion, 17" rims, electronic injections, internal alcantara, and A/C do not do justice to a car born and developed to race on the track.
So buying one of those replicas with the intention of re-building it from scratch anyway made no sense to me.
At the end of 2015, in my obsessive search on the web, I found a Tornado chassis + body kit of an MKI to be built from scratch. It was for sale from a mechanical workshop, they were experts in vintage car restorations.
I immediately gave them a call and the day after, I drove to Veneto. When I go there, I fell in love with that rough piece of a GT40. I also met its owner, a wonderful man called Giampaolo, a true enthusiast and lover of the GT40. He sold it to me with a broken heart, but the good news was that the rebuild project was underway!
The goal of the restoration and construction project was set from the beginning: create a GT40 that "smelled" of races, that drove like the original one from the late 60s -- a tribute to the incredible victories of 68 and 69.
"There is no original GT40 with a perfectly symmetrical camber."
SH: There seems to be something special with the wheels?
Nicola: Yes. The normal commercial kits, even if they're a wide body, do not exceed 10 inches of channel. We therefore turned to a specialized company and had the replica of a single-nut BRM, able to accommodate 345/35 R15 tires.
However, to accommodate such wheel size, the rear suspension tie rods had to be optimized and reinforced with more generously sized arms and new pivoting heads.
The entire front axle has also been redone from scratch, creating a castle to attach the triangles of the front suspension, as the original one was undersized. Having to widen the rear fenders, instead of giving in to the convenience of a kit for sale, I preferred to modify the fenders by hand, as it was done at the time. This is why, as is well known, there is no original GT40 with perfectly symmetrical camber, simply because they were not derived from molds.
"The use of an electronic injection or a classic single carburettor was unthinkable."
SH: What about the Engine, and the injection?
Nicola: The engine is an original Ford 302 which I got disassembled from a '69 Mustang. It has been completely revised and prepared for racing up to stage 2. We expect a power of about 430 hp, a test will be done after proper run in. Another strong point of the project was the carburettors. The use of electronic injection or a classic single carburettor was unthinkable! The car required the eight trumpets. Being a racing car, the choice was obligatory: Weber IDA 48, notoriously difficult for carburetion. But after a couple of specific jet kits for the characteristics of the 302 Ford and the mounted camshaft, they started to perform better.
The engine mounts have also been cut and modified to lower the power plant as low as possible, thus lowering the center of gravity of the car, significantly increasing the dynamic balance.
"Driving this car is a visceral, physical sensation."
SH: How does it feel on the road?
Nicola: Direct steering without power steering, without electric aids, can be terribly hard to maneuver, but also perfect in movement. It's almost as though you're touching the asphalt with your hands. Through the steering wheel you can perceive every little imperfection of the road.
No power steering, no air conditioning and, at the beginning, NO power brakes. It was hard, and after various tests and modifications I had to give in to make the car safer. But, I can still turn off the brake master cylinder from inside the passenger compartment, to give a driving experience as similar as possible to the original one. The control is located right next to the mechanical braking distributor. The driving experience is enhanced by the interiors, no alcantara, no leather on the dashboard, just painted metal and written commands made with the dynamo in vintage style. I could keep describing details of construction and design but I would still not be able to convey the intensity of the driving experience.
It is not just driving a super sports car or a vintage car -- it's a visceral, physical sensation, where everything brings us back to a lost era dominated by the smell of gasoline, passion and madness.
SH: Will you ever bring her to the race track?
Nicola: Of course yes, she was made for that purpose
"After this GT40, another GT40!"
SH: What's next for you after this GT40?
Nicola: Another GT40?!
SpeedHolics carried out this interview in July 2020 in Milan, Italy. Our special thanks go to: Nicola, (IG @gt40milano) who made the car available and contributed to the texts; Alessandro Barteletti, (IG @alessandrobarteletti) who brought it to visual life. The effort he spent on the photo shoot was remarkable, as well as the study of light and shadow and the scenery. Everything he did brought even more life to this GT40, like it was just out of a racing mechanical garage; GP Autofficina, (www.gp-autofficina.com) who supported Nicola on building the car and on making it available for the shoot.