One of Four: The ultra-rare GT40 prototype, chassis number GT/108

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 uncompetitive and Ferrari continued to run 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 developed several very special prototype cars including four roadster versions. Until more modern times, the GT/111 chassis was thought to have been destroyed, but a chance find in London several years back 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.

Let’s have a look at this important Ford GT, serial number GT/108, down below.

Continue reading for more information

  • 1965 Ford GT40 Roadster
  • Year:
    1965
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    V8
  • Transmission:
    ZF five speed
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    380
  • Displacement:
    289 cubic inches
  • 0-60 time:
    3.6 sec. (Est.)
  • Top Speed:
    205 mph
  • car segment:

Exterior

1965 Ford GT40 Roadster Exterior
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1965 Ford GT40 Roadster Exterior
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1965 Ford GT40 Roadster Exterior
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The 1965 GT40’s roots undeniable. Its long and low hood with those dual cutouts sunken deep into the bodywork are dead give-aways of the car’s heritage. Further back, the similarities fade. This prototype featured a coupe-like design with an open top, though no removable panel was made. Thin doors with no pillars gave access to the cockpit. This is a huge departure form the “conventional” doors found on other GT40s, with their roof sections molded onto the door pillars.

The rear section does revert back to the GT40’s more standard design. It has a long rear deck to accommodate the engine, while the tail end wraps back under the car for an aerodynamically smooth area for wind to whip past. The two large exhaust pipes protrude through the rear grille, giving it a true racecar look. Two brake lights, two taillights, and towing brackets constitute the only other notable features.

The car’s overall look is beautiful. Its white paint and blue racing stripes give it that something extra, while those wire wheels and fat, old-school rubber make it a time capsule piece untouched by modern racing technology.

Interior

1965 Ford GT40 Roadster Interior
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The cockpit of the GT40 is all business. Two seats feature thick bolsters with the classic vented center inserts the GT made famous. The dash is a no-nonsense panel with gauges and switches the kept the engine in check. A three-spoke steering wheel points the car, while a outboard-mounted gear shifter and floor-mounted pedals controlled the powertrain.

Simplicity runs rampant here, and that’s just fine for a prototype racer. The frills and thrills are found only in the small, functional details and are appreciated only by those with an eye for such. We particularly love the gearshift pattern sound on the windshield, just above he shifter.

One bit of interesting history, it’s said Henry Ford II was given a hot-lap demonstration at the LAX airport in this very GT40. It’s also said this is the only known time Ford ever publicly sat in a GT40.

Drivetrain

1965 Ford GT40 Roadster Exterior
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1965 Ford GT40 Roadster Drivetrain
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1965 Ford GT40 Roadster Drivetrain
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Being a prototype, Ford used several parts off its standard production lines, including this GT40’s engine. It’s a 289 cubic inch V-8 found in things like the Ford Fairlane and Mustang. However, Ford didn’t leave this Cobra-spec V-8 alone. Beautiful individual plenum stacks breath into four Webber 48IDA carburetors. Custom headers pump exhaust up and around the rear suspension, twisting and turning along the way. Ford claims the V-8 made 380 horsepower. Mated to the V-8 is a four-speed, Colotti T-37 manual transaxle with its shifter mounted near the right door seal, next to the driver’s right hand.

Auction Selling Price

1965 Ford GT40 Roadster Exterior
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The last time this car rolled across the auction block was 2011. The ultra high-end collector car market was beginning to really heat up after the “Great Recession” of 2008 and buyers were willing to shell out higher dollar amounts. That’s clearly evident with the GT40/108’s selling price of $6.9 million.

Ford GT40 Design, Production, & History

1965 Ford GT40 Roadster Exterior
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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 V-8 engine and the model used in the Fairlane was chosen as best. Its 4.3-liter push rod overhead valve setup delivered 350 horsepower. 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.

GT/111 Chassis

1965 Ford GT40 Roadster High Resolution Exterior
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Chassis number 11 is one of the most important of all the 12 pre-production GT40s. It featured the 289-cubic inch V-8 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 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.

1965 Ford GT40 Roadster High Resolution Exterior
- image 403323

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.”

1965 Ford GT40 Roadster Drivetrain
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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 raced 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. As such it fetched nearly $3 million dollars at the RM auctions Villa d’Este event back in 2011.

  • Leave it
    • * Not Fully Original
    • * Not a "Production" GT40

Press Release

Description taken from RM Auctions’ website
Very few models in automotive history claim a comprehensive provenance that encompasses beauty of exterior design, power and flexibility of mechanical specifications, competition success, conception and execution by multiple legends in the field, and rarity. Though a short list of such models is always subjective in nature, there is still a consensus on a small handful of great cars, of which the Ford GT40 is certainly worthy of top consideration. Its sensational appearance and groundbreaking mid/rear-engine layout, powerful Detroit muscle, a design and proving team including Eric Broadley, Carroll Shelby, Dan Gurney, and John Wyer, and ultimately four consecutive victories at the 24-Hours of Le Mans combined to propel the GT40 to a stratospheric level of appreciation and esteem within the niche, which endures to this day.

Yet despite the greatness achieved by the mighty Ford GT, success did not arrive overnight, as various teething pains prolonged the car’s development from Broadley’s 1963 Lola Mk 6 GT, the first mid/rear-engine sports prototype with large-bore power (see lot 139), into the GT40 Mk II race-winners that finished 1-2-3 at La Sarthe in 1966. As the story goes, Ford’s intention to produce the GT40 as a production road car cooled Broadley’s interest in the project, and he quickly extricated himself from his contract and returned to racecar production under the Lola banner (ironically at the Slough factory recently acquired by Ford for the GT’s development) after only five GT40 prototypes had been built. Ford reconfigured their early engineering team into FAV (Ford Advanced Vehicles) and continued work on the GT40 in the facility immediately adjacent to Lola.

Chassis number GT/108 was the first roadster produced at the new FAV site. The car is one of just six open-top GT40 Roadsters eventually constructed, reflecting Ford’s experimentation with the configuration to test for market appeal and salability. GT/108 is also notable as one of the 12 early prototype cars with the three-digit “GT” chassis number designations, as opposed to the “P” designation stamped on the Mark I production cars that soon followed.

Chassis GT/108 was constructed with a steel roadster-specification chassis and is one of only four GT40 Roadsters built this way, as well as the only roadster chassis to continually survive as such. It was completed by FAV in March 1965, having arrived there from chassis builders Abbey Panels, of Coventry, in October 1964, and construction began on November 2. The monocoque was equipped with a Cobra-specification Ford 289 cubic inch motor fitted with Weber carburetors mated to a Colotti T-37 transaxle. In addition to the unconventional roadster coachwork, GT/108’s body displayed several minor differences from prior GT40 prototypes, including a new nose developed by Len Bailey at FAV, and rear-pillar intakes that were higher than the standard beltline scoops.

Painted white and mounted with 6½-inch-wide Borrani wire wheels up front and 8-inch Borranis in the rear, the completed car was tested in March 1965 by John Whitmore and the great Dickie Attwood at Silverstone along with GT/105, one of the prototype coupes. John Wyer was also on hand to witness both cars lap the 2.9-mile Silverstone track. According to Ronnie Spain, the Roadster was invoiced to Shelby American from FAV on March 8, with a note of “temporary importation for test purposes.” Nonetheless, Shelby American brought the car into the country on a permanent basis. The car was shipped to Shelby’s Venice, California, facility, where a Shelby American Work Order was issued on April 4, 1965, to “perform necessary repairs and mods to GT40/108.”

On April 30, the car accompanied Shelby’s USRRC Cobra team to Riverside raceway, where it was used for exhibition purposes through the extent of the races on May 2. In early May, GT/108 was again in company with the Shelby Cobras for their USRRC outing, this time at Laguna Seca, where it was used for demo laps with Ken Miles behind the wheel. Later in the month, it is believed that the car was used for further development testing for the Le Mans effort at Riverside, again driven by Miles. On May 16, the car was shown by Shelby at the 3rd Annual South Course Concours d’Elegance in Newport Beach.

In early June, GT/108 was again employed by Shelby for exhibition and press promotion, this time at Ford’s board of directors meeting held at Shelby’s Los Angeles headquarters on West Imperial Highway. During the event, individual board members received passenger-seat drives on the LAX airport tarmac with Shelby team driver Ken Miles (in coat and tie) performing demonstration duties; however, when it came to Henry Ford II himself, Carroll Shelby took over the driver’s seat. This is the only time Henry Ford II is known to have ever sat in a GT40.

At the end of July, Miles tested the car at Riverside joined by writer Jerry Titus, of Sports Car Graphic, who shared his driving impressions in the magazine’s October 1965 issue. In addition to being “impressed by the comfortable seats and driver positioning,” Titus wrote, “we found it extremely simple and dependable to control from the first lap,” also opining that the roadster was “quicker than the best a competition Cobra could hack.”

On August 8, GT/108 arrived in San Francisco, for Shelby’s Lew Spencer to drive at Candlestick Park, serving as pace car for the 28-car A-C Production race. Titus was present at this event, as well, and recounted it in his article, mentioning that Spencer drove the car with such vigor that the actual racecars had difficulty keeping up. “I can’t help it,” Spencer was quoted after the race. “That thing is such a ball to drive!”

On August 17, 1965, GT/108 was relieved of its duties as a Shelby promotional and development car and was taken under consignment by Hank Madeiros at Hayward Motors in San Francisco. In October, about the time that Jerry Titus’s “Track Test” article was hitting newsstands, the GT40 was demonstrated at the United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, New York, now featuring a nose and hood painted matte black. The car was driven for hot laps by the recently crowned Grand Prix World Champion Jim Clark; this is believed to be the only time that Clark, the legendary Lotus champion driver, ever took the wheel of a Ford GT40.

On October 29, a document logged that GT/108 had returned to Kar Kraft, the famed Ford tuning shop in Michigan, and was listed as a development car for the upcoming “J” and “X” models, a designation also given to another roadster, GT/110. It was, as a result, one of the two development cars for what led to the 1967 Le Mans win for the Mark IV.

The roadster was then briefly used as a promotional car in November 1965 by Northwestern Ford in Milwaukee before being mothballed for several years at Kar Kraft. At about this time, the roadster’s “permanent” importation, when it was supposed to venture stateside only temporarily, led to complaints from the U.S. Customs Service.

In Spain’s words, “To satisfy U.S. Customs, Ford’s Len Pounds required costs of materials, labour, dies, tools, moulds, design, etc., etc., for the two cars, as failure to give U.S. Customs a satisfactory figure would leave Ford open to duty payment of $140,000 on each car, as U.S. Customs had estimated a value for each car of $2,000,000. It must be assumed that Pounds appeal was successful, or else surely GT/108 and GT/109 would have gone the same way as GT/110, which was cut up a couple of years later to avoid duty when Customs caught up with it!”

On July 31, 1969, a Ford document was compiled which listed the GT40s still with Ford and by then in storage. GT/108 was included in the list along with approximately ten other GT40s. It was eventually sold to a young Kar Kraft employee, George Sawyer, in May 1971. Mr. Sawyer, with help from the technicians at Kar Kraft, made the car drivable for the road. They rebuilt a 289 motor and installed it, as well as a ZF transaxle from the proto-type Mach 1. He even obtained a special certificate from Ford in order to have the car registered for the road in Michigan. Interestingly, having become enamored with the art of metal work at Kar Kraft, Mr. Sawyer began taking jewelry classes in his spare time. The potential for opening his own business eventually overcame his love of the GT40. Mr. Sawyer sold the car and used the proceeds to support his budding goldsmithing skills and jewelry business, which continues to this day.

By 1978, GT/108 was owned by Harley Cluxton III, of Grand Touring Cars in Scottsdale, and the roadster was offered by him a year later and purchased by John Robertson, of Big Fork, Montana. Robertson notably reverted the nose to white and added black Le Mans stripes, and the original white paint is believed to largely remain intact to this day.

Passing through Cluxton again in 1983, the GT roadster was then acquired by Tom Congleton, of Mission Hills, Kansas, who soon embarked on a full mechanical restoration. Following this freshening, the car was periodically campaigned at top vintage racing venues, such as Laguna Seca. It is notable that while the roadster never finished particularly well in these contests, this was mostly due to Mr. Congleton’s refusal to modify or upgrade the car in any way, ensuring that it remains remarkably authentic today. After appearing on the cover of The Shelby American #51, GT/108 was featured in one of Autoweek’s April 1984 issues, and three months later the car traveled to Dearborn for the SAAC-11 meet. In September 1989, it was displayed at the 25th Anniversary GT40 reunion at Watkins Glen.

In 1992, GT/108 was purchased by the consignor, a well-known collector with discerning taste, who soon presented it at the SAAC Road America in 1994. The roadster has remained in the consignor’s collection ever since, driven occasionally for freshness and ideally maintained in a climate-controlled facility. In 2003, the car was treated to a substantial mechanical freshening by the renowned Phil Reilly and Company in Corte Madera, California.

An ideal entrant for world-class concours d’elegance, GT/108 has since occasionally surfaced on the major show circuit, winning second in the GT40 class at Pebble Beach in 2003, appearing at the Quail Motorsports Gathering in 2010, and being invited to the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in 2013 for their special GT40 events. It is a phenomenally original example of the rare GT40 roadster. As author John Allen noted in his 1995 book, GT40: The Legend Lives On, “prototype GT/108 is currently the only intact example of the marque still to carry the correct 1965-style nose, and the low tail section unique to roadsters. 108 is [also] the only roadster, or “spyder”, to remain in as-built condition.” Ronnie Spain, GT40 historian and author of GT 40: An Individual History and Race Record, continues by saying, “GT/108 is one of the finest, and certainly rarest, examples of the Ford GT40 in existence. Its rarity value is stamped all over its history.”

RM Auctions would like to thank Ronnie Spain for the assistance in research for this description, as well as former owner George Sawyer.

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What do you think?

11 comments:

  (594) posted on 02.8.2012

It’s very vintage and hard to find because it’s made way back 1965. It should change its color to make it more eye catching.

  (474) posted on 07.29.2011

Agreed. The roadster look so awesome. I think this production is a collaboration of classy and modern styling. I bet they have change the engine into a more modern technology.

  (429) posted on 07.29.2011

hmm. It seems that this car is a replica version. The styling was great and the roadster look so awesome for a vintage car like this one. I wonder on what’s the engine performance of the car?

  (580) posted on 06.23.2011

I still can’t believe that they would be able to locate and restore this one. I would say that all their efforts were definitely well paid with the results that you see here.

  (570) posted on 06.8.2011

Well, that platform is common among vintage car, if I could remember an iconic car from the BMW have the same look and detailing though the car is less powerful.

  (555) posted on 06.8.2011

Actually, this is the sportiest roadster version for a vintage car that I have seen! I wonder if this is the real version or just a replica. However, I love the platform of this car it reminds me of the Z02.

  (383) posted on 06.1.2011

This 1965 Ford GT40 Roadster makes a huge impression about the past. I was really amazed on its Chassis. But the fact that this car seems not original at all, lessens the thrill of using it.

  (677) posted on 05.30.2011

I was quite surprised to read about the story about this GT40. Imagine that, only luck have actually saved this one from totally becoming scrap metal.

  (302) posted on 05.30.2011

This guy is definitely one of the sleekest roadsters to have come from the 60’s era. Just take a look at those curves, they really give that car a feel of speed.

  (762) posted on 05.30.2011

Its kind of disappointing that they haven’t restored the car properly that’s why the heritage haven’t been kept. The aesthetic seems vintage though I had a doubt that its under the hood would be somewhat modern engine.

  (600) posted on 05.30.2011

So meaning, this is a restoration production of the Ford GT? I was thinking why there are a lot GT vintage cars that was out recently?BTW, I wonder if this car is as rare as the 1962 Alfa Romeo Giulietta.

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