15-16 August 2014

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Lot 134

1965 Ford GT40 Roadster Prototype

  • Chassis no. GT/108

Sold for $6,930,000

380 hp, 289 cu. in. V-8 engine with four Weber 48IDA carburetors, four-speed manual transmission, four-wheel independent suspension, and four-wheel disc brakes. Wheelbase: 95 in.

  • The first of six GT40 Roadsters built
  • The eighth of only twelve GT40 prototypes
  • The only GT40 Roadster to have continually survived in its original form
  • Built for Shelby American as a test and development vehicle
  • Driven by Ken Miles, Carroll Shelby, Jim Clark, and other legends
  • Carefully documented by GT40 historian Ronnie Spain
  • A 2003 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance award winner
  • Single prominent ownership for over two decades
  • Simply put, one of the finest, most original, and certainly the rarest examples of the Ford GT40 in existence

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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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Alexander Weaver

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Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

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Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

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