Few cars have achieved such status as the Ford GT40. Detroit’s first purpose-built prototype-class race car, developed to beat Ferrari, famously went on to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans for four consecutive years. While the GT40’s dominating competition record is justifiably celebrated, scrutiny is perhaps less frequently given to the model’s early development cars, which included a small batch of roadsters.
The bulk of GT40 output consisted of a run of 87 production examples whose serial numbers began with a P prefix. Prior to this group, however, twelve prototypes were built with sequential serial numbers starting with a GT prefix. This fabulously rare roadster is the eighth of those twelve prototypes. Chassis no. GT/108 is additionally the first of only five roadsters built, and the first of four that were mounted on a purpose-built steel roadster-specification chassis. This car is furthermore believed to be the very first example built at the Ford Advanced Vehicles (FAV) plant that was created in Slough, UK, after the exit of Lola’s Eric Broadley from the GT design team.
The rare roadster-spec chassis was received at FAV from the builder Abbey Panels in October 1964, and construction commenced on 2 November. By March 1965 the car was completed, equipped with a Cobra-specification Ford 289-cubic-inch engine mated to a Colotti T-37 transaxle, and mounted with the very first roadster body, which featured new Len Bailey design cues such as a modified nose and raised rear-pillar intakes. Finished in white and mounted with Borrani wire wheels (6.5 inches wide up front and 8 inches at the rear), the roadster was tested at Silverstone in March 1965 in tandem with one of the prototype coupes. John Wyer supervised, while Sir John Whitmore and Dickie Atwood took turns at the wheel.
The roadster was then briefly used for exhibition and promotional purposes by Shelby’s Cobra team, accompanying them to the USRRC races at Riverside, California, on the weekend of 30 April and Laguna Seca in early May. At the latter event, Shelby team driver Ken Miles took the wheel for some demonstration laps, and he again drove the car during testing and development work at Riverside in preparation for the GT40’s first run at Le Mans.
GT/108 resumed its promotional duties in early June at the Shelby headquarters on Imperial Highway, adjacent to the runways of LAX airport. Shelby was hosting a meeting of Ford’s board of directors, and as part of their visit, the various board members received a passenger-seat drive experience in the roadster with Ken Miles at the wheel, dressed in coat and tie for the occasion. When it came time for Henry Ford II’s turn, Carroll Shelby took over driving duties, and this occasion is believed to be the only instance of the famed Ford director ever riding in a GT40. It is rather noteworthy, considering that in due time Henry II would invest an inordinate amount of corporate resources into the GT40, ultimately accepting any price to achieve victory.
After being taken under consignment by Hayward Motors in San Francisco in August 1965, the roadster crossed the country for demonstration at Watkins Glen during the United States Grand Prix in October, at which point the nose and hood had been refinished in matte black paint. Formula 1 points leader and eventual champion Jim Clark was on hand to indulge in a few laps, and this is believed to be the only time the legendary Lotus champion ever drove a GT40.
In late October GT/108 was delivered to Kar Kraft, and it became one of two GT40 examples employed as test cars for the J and X series then under development, which became the basis of the Mark IV iteration that claimed victory at Le Mans in 1967. Briefly used then as a promotional car for a Ford dealership in Milwaukee, the roadster was stored at Kar Kraft for several years before being sold in July 1969 to George Sawyer, one of the specialty builder’s employees. With assistance from Kar Kraft co-workers, Sawyer freshened the car for road use, including the installation of a rebuilt 289-cubic-inch engine and a ZF transaxle taken from the prototype Mach 1.
RM Sotheby's will be offering this very special 1965 Ford GT40 Roadster Prototype at their upcoming Monterey auction held between the 15-17th August. For more information on this and other vehicles at the sale, click on the link below. Photos: Robin Adams ©2019 Courtesy of RM Sotheby's.