Ford was becoming frustrated with the continuing success of Enzo Ferrari’s racing machines. It came to a point that Henry Ford II was given an offer by Enzo to buy the company for an unheard of $18 million dollars. The buyout ended up falling through and Ford was left on its own to develop a racing team that could compete on the European circuits. Due to the non compete pact between American automakers, Ford knew it would have to look outside of its Dearborn, Michigan team for talent.
To make a long story short, Ford took over a GT racing project from Lola, hired a prominent racing manager in John Wyer, and then designed the original GT40s to be raced in 1964. The story is much more complex than that, but the legend that would come from this humble beginning is much more important. The initial GT/101 chassis was essentially a loser and Ferrari continued to laugh while running away with victories. By 1965, Carroll Shelby was taken away from his Cobra projects and started developing the next generation of GT40 for Ford. This car gave Ford a win at Daytona in the first race of the very next year.
Ford did develop several very special prototype cars including four roadster versions. Until recently, the GT/111 chassis was thought to have been destroyed long ago, but a chance find in London led to its discovery. Extensive restoration and consequential historic racing had finally brought it to the auction block at RM’s Villa d’Este with a value estimated between $3,900,000-4,700,000.
Hit the jump for more details on the 1965 Ford GT40 Roadster
Ford GT40 Design and Production
The Ford Motor Company and its leader, Henry Ford II, were hell-bent on defeating Ferrari. After the decision was made to develop and build a car that could compete with the Italians, Ford Advanced Vehicles, FAV, started to handle the project. Little concern was paid to how much it would cost to create the car and the best engineers and designers were contracted. The chassis and body panels of the car were to be designed and built by Abbey Panels. Eric Broadley, whom had just designed a similar car, was in charge of the overall design. Another Englishman named Len Bailey was tasked with chassis design. The chaotic project was all to be overseen by team manager, John Wyer.
Many parts of the subsequent design were borrowed from the Lola Mk VI GT. Parts were changed from aluminum and replaced with steel for strength. This added weight called for the use of a big V8 engine and the model used in the Fairlane was chosen as best. Its 4.2-liter push rod overhead valve setup delivered 350hp. The cars were finished in time to take part in a Le Mans test day in 1964. The team soon realized that the bodywork of the car increased lift at high speeds and sometimes would attempt to go airborne. Other problems arose from the Colotti gearbox which proved to be very fragile. Ford’s team tried to make as many quick-fix improvements as possible, but defeat was all they would find.
After Ford brought on Carroll Shelby, the GT40’s journey was reversed with a third place finish at Daytona in the first race that year. The development of the roadster version arose out of curiosity with Ferrari. The Italians often raced open roof cars and Ford engineers were baffled as to how they could still be so fast. The FAV team developed several roadsters to explore the potential advantages.
The chassis that just sold is one of the most important of all the 12 pre-production GT40s. It is number 11 of 12 and featured the 289-cubic inch V8 as well as the first ZF five-speed transmission. The team was beginning to enter GT40s in races throughout Europe when GT/111 got its first and last chance at glory. The Targa Florio race takes place in a very warm climate and Ford’s team thought the open cockpit would be more comfortable. Bob Bondurant was enlisted to drive the car in the 10-lap, 44-mile little Madonie road circuit.
The race started out with a newly painted GT/111 finished in light Linden Green with the #194. The car seemed to be doing well and even reached 3rd place during the race, but halfway through a knock-off spinner broke loose and Bondurant lost a front wheel. The car was able to be repaired, but more bad luck would meet the team on the final lap. Loose gravel put the GT40 into a slide and it eventually hit a wall causing the front wheel to come off once more. After the race, the car was shipped back to the team in England, but Ford was no longer considering a roadster for production. As the Ford GT program in Slough came to an end, the FAV ordered the remaining pieces cut in half and sent to a wreckers for destruction. The car was considered lost ever since.
Gelscoe Motorsport Limited got word of a Ford GT40 in need of restoration and sent a team to inspect the find. In an old garage in Stratford East London the GT/111 was sitting on top of an old mattress. Luckily it had been kept off the ground, because that minimized the amount of deterioration and rust present. Ronnie Spain is considered the foremost authority on the GT40 and he was called in to verify the find. He quickly noticed that the car had perforated steel pontoons and support ribs, a unique feature of the 12 prototypes. Naturally he was initially apprehensive of finding a GT40 in a random garage but he noted, “Instead, on my arrival at Glescoe and on being presented with the chassis in question, I was stunned to instantly realize I was looking at a genuine GT40 chassis. And by being a genuine chassis, and a roadster, it could only be the chassis of the missing Targa Florio car #GT/111.”
After the discovery was verified, the team clearly purchased the vehicle and began a complete restoration. Attention was paid to make sure the car was restored to original spec with correct period materials. Everything from the “Raven Blue” dashboard to the zero-type ZF transaxle with exposed linkage was recreated.
The car was ready for its new owner at Goodwood in 2007. Since then the car has begun racing in the classic circuits such as the Spa 6 Hour, Goodwood Whitsun Trophy, Masters Festival at Brands hatch, and the LeMans Classic. This classic GT40 Roadster is one of only two still known to be in existence with the other chassis being GT/108. That car was the first of the four roadsters built by FAV. It was never involved in an actual race, but rather served as a testbed for the ZF transmission. The one advantage that it has is that it survived in original condition and is the only car wearing its original nose. Nonetheless, GT/111 is certainly the most storied car of the group and fetched nearly $3 million dollars at the RM auctions Villa d’Este event.