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1965 Ford GT40 Roadster Prototype

Ford Advanced Vehicle Operations built only five prototypes of the open GT Roadsters in the United Kingdom in 1965. Of the units that were made, only four have survived. John Whitmore first tested this Ford GT Works Prototype Roadster with chassis number GT/111 at the 1965 Le Mans trials before it was fielded as a Works entrant in the Targa Florio. Painted in Linden Green and Whitmore, joined by Bob Bondurant as co-driver, the car ran as high as a third-place until it was forced to retire prematurely due to racing-incident-induced damage.

The car disappeared from the public’s eyes for the next 40 years. The chassis was recently rediscovered in 2006, with its authenticity confirmed by the world’s leading authorities on GT40s. Following a restoration, chassis number “GT/111? reappeared on the race circuit in 2007 at the Goodwood Revival and has since gone on to race competitively at some of Europe’s most prestigious events.“The Ford GT represents one of the world’s most iconic sports car designs,” said Max Girardo, RM Europe’s managing director. “Joining power with beauty is the perfect fit for our debut sale at the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este. As one of just four surviving examples and one of only three to have been raced by the Works, it presents an extraordinarily rare ownership opportunity for discerning collectors, deserving of close inspection.”The Ford GT will join the six Bertone-designed concept cars auctioned off in Italy.History of the Ford GT40

This Ford GT40 Roadster (GT108) was the first of the open cars completed in March of 1965. It was first delivered to Carroll Shelby shops and tested at Silverstone by John Whitmore and Dickie Atwood, and Ken Miles at Riverside Raceway that year. The car was the official factory testbed for the ZF transaxle, resulting in all GT40s using the ZF. From 1965 to 1992, the car was owned by George Sawyer, John Robertson, and Tom Congleton. The car was restored for both Congleton and Robertson and successfully vintage raced through the 1980s and 90s. It is the only intact example still carrying the correct 1965-style nose and the low tail section unique to roadsters. This car is the only roadster, or ‘Spyder, ‘to remain in as-built condition. The history of the Ford GT40 began as an attempt to beat a certain Italian Automobile Manufacturer at the grueling 24 Hours of LeMans race. Each June, some of the world’s best in the automotive industry descend onto a town West of Paris called LeMans, France, to compete in a 24-Hour endurance competition. This tradition began in 1923 and has become the pinnacle of automotive racing that challenges speed, performance, and durability. A select group of European marques, such as Porsche, Ferrari, Jaguar, Bentley, and Alfa Romeo, had since dominated the race.

Ford wanted to join this elite group. During the early part of 1960?s, Ford attempted to buy Ferrari for $18 million to run its international racing program. The purpose was to use the Ferrari company and technology to help Ford achieve a LeMans victory. The negations unraveled, and Ferrari walked away from the bargaining table in May 1963. Enzo Ferrari did not indicate why he had decided his company was no longer for sale. Ford decided to build their super-car and beat Ferrari at International Racing. Roy Lunn was an Englishman who had begun his career at Ford of Britain and later came to the United States in 1958.

He had played a role in helping to create the 1962 mid-engined Ford Mustang I Concept. The vehicle was an aluminum-bodied, two-seater powered by a 1.7-liter 4-cylinder engine. After the Mustang I, Roy Lunn, Ray Geddes, and Donald Frey turned their attention to a racing program. The car that Ford had conceived was similar to a Lola GT, being low and mid-engined. The Lola was designed and built by Eric Broadley in Slough, England, and first displayed in January of 1963 at the London Racing Car Show. Broadley was running low on funds and consequently more than eager to join with Ford. Borrowed from the Lola GT were the monocoque center section and aerodynamic design. It was longer, wider, and more robust with a rigid steel section. In the mid-section lay an all-aluminum 4.2-liter V8 engine. The gearbox was a 4-speed Colotti unit; the suspension was double-wishbone. The 11.5-inch disc brakes provided excellent stopping power on all four wheels. In April 1964, the GT40 was displayed to the public at the New York Auto Show. Two weeks later, the car was put through pre-race testing at Le Mans. The result of a very rushed program became evident. The vehicle suffered from aerodynamic and stability issues and, as a result, ended in two crashes.

The GT represented ‘Grand Turismo‘ while the designation 40 represented its height, only 40 inches. The number 40 was added to the designation when the Mark II was introduced. The Mark II, still built in England, was tested extensively, solving many of the stability issues. Carroll Shelby was brought onboard to oversee the racing program. He began by installing a 7-liter NASCAR engine that was more powerful and reliable. The result was a much more stable and quicker vehicle than the Mark I. For the 1965 LeMans, the Mark II proved to be a stronger contender but resulted in another unsuccessful campaign. The third generation of the GT-40, the Mark III, was introduced in 1966, and only seven were produced. Ford continued to fine-tune and prepare the GT-40 for LeMans. The GT40 led the race from the beginning. This lead continued throughout the evening and into the morning hours. During the morning, the GT40s were ordered to reduce their speed for reliability. By noon, ten out of the thirteen Fords entered had been eliminated. The remaining three Fords went on to capture first through third place. This victory marked the beginning of the four-year domination of the race.

In 1967 Ford introduced the Mark IV to LeMans. It was built all-American, whereas the previous versions had been criticized as being English-built and fueled by monetary resources from America. This had not been the first attempt for an all-American team to use an American vehicle to attempt to capture victory at LeMans. Stutz had finished second in 1928. Chrysler had finished third and fourth during the same year, 1928. In 1950 the first significant attempt to win at Lemans was undertaken by a wealthy American named Briggs Cunningham. Using modified Cadillacs, he captured 10th and 11th. His subsequent attempts to win at LeMans included vehicles he had built, where he managed a third-place finish in 1953 and fifth place in 1954. This had been the American legacy at LeMans.Three of the seven vehicles Ford entered in 1967 crashed during the night hours. When the checkered flag dropped, it was a GT40 driven by Gurney/Foyt to beat out the 2nd and 3rd place Ferrari by only four laps. In 1968 the FIA put a ceiling on engine displacement at 5 liters.

Ford had proven that Ferrari could be beaten, and an American team and car could win at LeMans. Ford left international sports racing and sold the cars to John Wyer. Gulf Oil Co. provided sponsorship during the 1968 LeMans season. The Ford GT40 Mark I once again visited LeMans in 1969, where they emerged victorious both times. In 1969 the margin of victory for the GT40 was just two seconds after 24 Hours of racing. In 1969 new FIA rules and regulations ultimately retired the GT40s from racing and ended the winning streak. Around 126 Ford GT-40s were produced during the production life span.

During this time, various engines were used to power the vehicle. The MKI used a 255 cubic-inch Indy 4-cam, a 289 and 302 small block. The 289 was the most popular, producing between 380 and 400 horsepower. When the MKI returned during the 1968 and 1969 seasons, it was outfitted with a 351 cubic-inch Windsor engine. The MKII came equipped with a 427 cubic-inch NASCAR engine. The third generation, the MK-III, had 289 cubic-inch engines. The final version, the MK-IV, was given 427 cubic-inch power plants. America, more specifically Ford, had proven that American automobiles and drivers could compete in all arenas. After the production of the Ford GT40 ceased, several companies were interested in creating replicas. One such company was Safir Engineering which purchased the rights to the name. In 1985 the Ford GT40 MKV was introduced, and examples would continue to be produced until 1999. Chassis numbers continued in the sequence where the original Ford cars stopped. The cars were powered by a Ford 289 cubic-inch OHV engine with just over 300 horsepower and ccould carrythe vehicle to a top speed of 164. Zero-to-sixty took just 5.3 seconds. Disc brakes could be found on all four corners.

Source: RM Auctions

Images: OldConceptCars