Ford GT40 prototype auctioned

Ford GT40 prototype auctioned

444 hp, 289 cubic inch, OHV V-8 engine, four Weber twin-choke carburettors, ZF five-speed manual transaxle, four-wheel independent suspension, four-wheel hydraulic disc brakes. Wheelbase: 2,400 mm (95")

- Works prototype of the most historically important Ford racing car
- Fourth of only five GT40 prototype roadsters built; believed lost for 40 years
- 1965 Le Mans Trials, driven by Sir John Whitmore
- 1965 Targa Florio, driven by Whitmore and Bob Bondurant
- Fully restored; competitively raced at the most important European events from 2007-2010
- Authenticated by foremost GT40 expert, Ronnie Spain

In March 2013, it will be 50 years since Ford jump-started the GT40 program. The purposeful mid-engine sports coupe is the finest Anglo-American supercar of the last century, with four straight victories at the Le Mans 24-Hour endurance race between 1966-69. In 1966 alone, it finished 1-2-3 against Ferrari in one of the most memorable photo finishes in the race's distinguished history.

Its genesis alone is the stuff of legends and the subject of countless books, summarised most succinctly as a failed buy-out of Ferrari by Henry Ford II.

Blank cheques were signed in Detroit, engineering and racing heavyweights were hired, and Lolas were modified and readied for testing. GT/101, the first prototype, was assembled in March 1964, in time for testing and the imminent Ford-Ferrari battle at Le Mans in summer. Undaunted by a lack of wins, Ford regrouped for 1965 with Carroll Shelby - already a veteran with his Cobras - taking over the GT40 program.

He delivered a win at Daytona with Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby in GT/103 and a 2nd place at Sebring with Ken Miles and Bruce McLaren in the same car.


Four cars were sent to Le Mans for the trials on 10-11 April. GT/103 and GT/104 came from Sebring, while GT/105 and GT/111, the car offered here, came from FAV in England. GT/105 was the surviving 1964 test car, while GT/111 was a brand new roadster, the 11th of 12 pre-production GT40s. Two other roadsters had been sent to Shelby in America. By now all four cars had 289-cubic inch Cobra engines, and the two FAV cars had the first ZF five-speed gearboxes, intended to cure one of the GT40's worrisome weaknesses.

Led by Surtees again, Ferrari set the top five times, but Attwood in FAV coup? GT/105 was 6th and Bondurant in GT/104 was 7th. Sir John Whitmore drove both the FAV cars but found GT/105 to be five seconds faster than the roadster. Shelby therefore elected to take GT/103 and GT104 to Monza in Italy for the 1,000 kilometre race, while John Wyer enlisted Whitmore and Bob Bondurant to take the new roadster GT/111 to the Targa Florio, thinking the open cockpit would be cooler for the Sicilian marathon.

The Targa Florio takes place over 10 laps on the island's 44-mile Little Madonie road circuit, which is mostly a series of narrow, interconnected turns. The weather can be hot, and the island's predominant rock is marble, which makes for a highly polished, razor-sharp road surface. GT/111 had been repainted from white to a light Linden green for the event, as #194. Car and drivers seemed well-suited to the course, and GT/111 ran as high as third, despite only firing on seven cylinders. But on lap five, a knock-off spinner came undone and Whitmore lost a front wheel. He recovered it but couldn't find the spinner, until a friendly policeman threatened a souvenir collector, who reluctantly handed it over. Bondurant took over and continued to make steady progress until, on the last lap, he ran into loose gravel scattered by another car and hit a wall, tearing off the front wheel that Whitmore had lost earlier. Whilst the damage was minimal, it was enough to force retirement from the race.

GT/111 was shipped back to England, and as GT40 production began, the idea of a roadster was dismissed. So, despite the fact it was repairable, GT/111 languished in the back of the shop and was gradually stripped of usable parts. Then one day FAV stalwart John Etheridge came to work to find the yard had been cleaned up and the chassis of GT/111 had been removed by the scrap merchant. It was presumed destroyed for more than 40 years.

GT/111 - Lost and Found

Of GT/111, no more was heard until September 2006, and the story now properly belongs to GT/111's present owner, a noted 20-year racing veteran. At the Goodwood Revival, mechanics from GT40 experts Gelscoe Motorsport Limited were working on a GT40 in the paddock when a passerby remarked, "I've got a GT40."

The mechanics kept on working and the spectator continued. "Ours is in need of restoration. We've had it for years...this car's for sale, if you're interested." Phone numbers were exchanged.

Some days later, Gelscoe representatives went to see the car in a lockup garage in Stratford in East London and found GT/111 resting on an old mattress, which had kept it off the ground and from rusting away. It had no top and the windshield had been cut away. But they realised that it was quite different from the production cars they usually saw. For one thing, all the support ribs in the pontoons were perforated steel, which was unique to the 12 prototypes. They quickly realised that they were looking at one of the roadsters - one of the prototypes. So they agreed on a price and bought the car. At which point the owner produced the chassis plate GT/111...

The owner remembers that Gelscoe called an FIA official who examined the car "and then rang me. 'You know you were looking for a GT40? I've found a restoration project that's unique.' So I had a look and I agreed to buy it subject to inspection by Ronnie Spain (one of the most respected GT40 experts), and if Gelscoe would restore it."

Ronnie Spain was contacted in Scotland and agreed to examine the car. Though he was skeptical, he brought all his chassis records and measurements and he was thrilled. His three-page report of December 2006 clearly conveyed his excitement, recognising details which proved GT/111's authenticity and noting new details unique to this car.

Spain wrote: "Unfortunately the years have developed in me a strong skeptical streak, due to all the supposed GT40 "discoveries" which had been proposed to me which then turned out to have absolutely nothing to do with the original chassis claimed, nor any other chassis either. As a result, I was, sadly, not really expecting this claim to come to any more than those claims, which had gone before.

"Instead, on my arrival at Gelscoe and on being presented with the chassis in question, I was stunned to instantly realize I was looking at a genuine Ford 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."

"I am extremely happy that after all this time, one of the missing GT40 chassis has finally come out of the woodwork and can now be restored and join its many siblings on the historic racing circuit, where it belongs and I am grateful for having had the opportunity to examine it and being able to verify its authenticity as GT/111."

With the provenance confirmed, the restoration was started, aiming to have GT/111 restored in time for the 2007 Goodwood Revival, a mere nine months away. The car was restored to original specifications, with correct period "non roller rockers" engine and zero-type ZF transaxle with the exposed linkage. The detail of the restoration is exacting with the correct "Raven Blue" colour monocoque including the parachute material seats, as opposed to the production cars which were black.

The car was painted back the Linden Green colour it was for the 1965 Targa Florio Race. A fully documented restoration dossier was kept and is available for inspection.

However, as with all restorations, GT/111 was barely completed in time for Goodwood. The owner remarked, "I sat in the car on Thursday, and then it went straight to Goodwood. The next time I sat in it was during 20 minutes of qualifying."

Teething troubles were worked out, just like 40 years ago, and since 2007, GT/111 has run the Spa 6 Hour race in 2007 and 2008 and the Le Mans Classic in 2008. Man and machine hit their stride with a 3rd at the 2009 Goodwood Whitsun Trophy, a 4th in the 2009 Spa 6 Hour race and 2nd in class at the 2010 Masters Festival at Brands Hatch. Highly competitive, GT40s are in high demand by organisers of the World's Blue Ribbon Events, added to which the super-rare status of this prototype roadster will ensure that the new owner will not be short of race entry invitations.

Of the twelve prototypes built, seven were closed cars and five were roadsters. GT/111 is one of only four roadsters to survive and one of three to have been raced by the works, making this one of the rarest and most desirable Ford GT40s in the World. GT/111 is ready to race, and it seems that the car's greatest successes lie ahead of it.