Auctions: 1964 Ford GT40 prototype to be auctioned in April

The Ford GT40 owns a firm spot on the list of the greatest American racecars ever made, being the first car from the United States to take an overall win in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. And now Mecum will auction what it claims is second-oldest GT40 still in existence at its Houston sale on April 12.

The story of the GT40 is fascinating. Henry Ford II attempted to buy Ferrari in the early ’60s, but Enzo refused. Ford decided if he couldn’t have them, then he would beat the Prancing Horse on the track. Ford went to Carroll Shelby and asked him to spearhead the program. The early cars combined a steel monocoque chassis with Ford’s 4.2-litre V8 engine pumping out around 350 horsepower. The first prototype made its public debuted on April 1, 1964, at the New York Auto Show.

Shelby kept building prototypes, including GT/104, which is for sale here. This version featured a lighter steel chassis and was raced at Le Mans in 1964. However, a fire forced it to retire. It was then repainted and had a 4.7-litre (289-cubic-inch) engine fitted. The chassis had its best finish at the 1965 Daytona Continental 2,000 Kilometers where it finished third with Bob Bondurant and Ritchie Ginther behind the wheel. Later that season, it was shipped back to Ford where it was restored and displayed at auto shows until 1971 when the automaker sold it. Since then, it has had many private owners.

Mecum believes that the car currently has the same 4.7-litre V8 that was used in the 1965 season and rare Colotti four-speed gearbox. If the car is everything that it says it is, it combines fantastic looks and a storied racing history. It will be interesting to see how it sells. Scroll down for the full release about its history.

Ford GT40, Ford GT70 and Ford GT: Fifty Years of a Legendary Name

Lot S147.1 1964 Ford GT40 Prototype GT/104, Factory Team Car, Lightweight Chassis

Houston 2014
April 10-12, 2014
This Lot scheduled to be sold SAT 3:00PM

The spark that detonated the famous war between Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari flashed in the spring of 1963. From the drag strips to NASCAR to Indianapolis, Ford’s “Total Performance” image campaign was in full bloom and looking to reach across the ocean to encompass the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Manufacturer’s World Championship. Speculation that Ford was angling to buy Ferrari to those ends proved to be true, but the negotiations went down in flames when Enzo Ferrari suddenly had last minute misgivings and walked out on the pretense of suffering under Ford’s “suffocating bureaucracy.”

Ferrari’s stagecraft left Ford enraged and still with nothing to challenge the competition in Europe, but he did have one very valuable asset: Carroll Shelby, who even then was preparing his own Cobras to contest Le Mans and who bore his own personal grudge against Ferrari. Shelby had also won the 24 Hours for Aston Martin in 1959 and, when Ford asked him to find someone capable of building a Le Mans winner, he considered both Lotus and Cooper before eventually choosing Englishman Eric Broadley, whose Lola GT coupe was very similar to existing Ford designs for a GT endurance racer and was already in testing.

Ford signed Broadley to a one-year agreement that included the sale of the first two Lola GT chassis to Ford. Former Aston Martin racing manager John Wyer was hired to manage the development team and Roy Lunn, who had penned the mid-engined 1962 Mustang 1 concept car, was brought in from Dearborn to lead the design team.

Headquartered at Lola Cars in Bromley, extensive testing and research programs were begun on the Lola GTs and conducted at various British circuits and at Monza in Italy with top development drivers such as Bruce McLaren and Roy Salvadori. The GT40′s basic layout comprised a monocoque chassis constructed of light-gauge steel incorporating two fuel tanks, conventional double A-arm independent suspension up front and twin radius arms, lower A-arms and magnesium uprights in the rear. Eleven-inch cast-iron Girling disc brakes were used at all four corners along with Borrani wire wheels and Goodyear racing rubber. Ford supplied its all-aluminum 4.2 L Indianapolis engine in concert with a Colotti gearbox, believing it would handle the engine’s 350 horsepower.

Built at the new Ford Advanced Vehicles, Ltd. facility in Slough, the first Ford GT40, chassis number GT/101, made its press debut April 1, 1964 at the 1964 New York Auto Show. Just two weeks later it joined the second car, GT/102, for the April Le Mans practice weekend under Wyer’s management. Wind tunnel testing had further refined the GT40′s shape, but on the first outings drivers Jo Schlesser and Roy Salvadori encountered severe rear lifting at high speed that made the cars too dangerous to drive. Both drivers pushed their mounts past 190 mph, but only once; because there was no time to search for a solution they were ordered by Wyer to slow down. Despite that edict, on the second day Schlesser crashed on Mulsanne and Salvadori slid into the bank at the end of the straight. Both drivers were unscathed, but the cars were wrecked and Le Mans was only two months away.

Ostensibly with input from American driver Ritchie Ginther, Lunn solved the high-speed lift with a rear spoiler, which first saw competition use on GT/102 at the Nurburgring 1,000-km race in May. It proved surprisingly effective; Phil Hill qualified the car ahead of all the Ferraris except Surtees’ 330P, but his co-driver Bruce McLaren was forced to retire at the 300-km mark when the rear suspension began tearing from its mountings.

Meanwhile, two more prototypes were being tested at the Motor Industry Research Association (MIRA) test facility in Warwickshire, England. The second of these, GT/104, was the first GT40 prototype built with lighter chassis steel – 24 gauge instead of 22 gauge – for decreased weight. After just 50 miles of testing it was shipped to France to be driven at Le Mans by Schlesser and Richard “Dickie” Atwood, who qualified in 8th place. Ford executives crowding the pits were thrilled when Ginther took his GT40 past 200 mph and finished the second lap in first place, but in the fourth hour fire broke out in the engine bay of the Schlesser/Atwood GT/104 on the Mulsanne Straight. Atwood stopped quickly enough that fire marshals were able to extinguish the blaze, but he could not continue; by the thirteenth hour all the Fords had retired.

GT/104 was repaired at Ford Advanced Vehicles and fitted with a Cobra-spec 289 CI engine and refined front bodywork to prepare it for the Nassau Speed Week in November. It competed there with GT/103, but both cars were put out once again with damaged rear suspensions. Thus the 1964 season drew to a close without a GT40 completing a single race.

By then relations between Ford and Wyer were frayed beyond repair. Shelby’s success with his Cobra Daytona Coupe at Le Mans that year (a 1st in GT and 4th overall) convinced Ford to hand Shelby the reins of the GT40 project. Construction would continue at FAV, but now development would benefit from the input of such talents as ace development driver Ken Miles and Shelby Chief Engineer Phil Remington, whose close association with the project from the start allowed him to continue his work in Los Angeles without having to commute to Dearborn or Slough.

After Nassau GT/103 and GT/104 were hastily packed off to Shelby American, Inc. in Los Angeles, they were put through exhaustive testing at Riverside and Willow Springs by Ken Miles. Several problems became apparent, most notably in the areas of engine cooling, gearbox, brakes, high speed roadholding and overall weight.

Aerodynamics also remained problematic. Although much had been learned in wind tunnel testing, the GT40 did not behave on the track as testing data projected it would, for several reasons. At the time only limited background data existed for testing automobiles in the wind tunnel; reproducing ground effect was almost a complete unknown because it is irrelevant to aircraft design, and scaling a car for wind tunnel testing demanded much higher precision than was initially thought.

To overcome these obstacles, Ford turned to its Aeronutronics division in Newport Beach not far from Shelby American. Using two different systems, one involving highly sophisticated missile testing telemetry and the other using an in-car mounted oscilligraph recorder, Ford Aeronutronics engineers were able to accumulate an incredible amount of useful data in an extremely compressed time frame, including such information as air temperature and speed inside the body ducting, engine speed tracking and precise suspension movements – all acquired under real racing conditions and revealing, for the first time, what was really happening inside and around the GT40.

In addition to those very sophisticated measures, the tried-and-true method of applying tufts of wool to the body surfaces and recording their movements at speed with a pursuit car-mounted camera was also employed. It was simply Carroll Shelby leaving no stone unturned.

Along with the experience gained over the previous season, the new testing resulted in several changes to the prototypes. Removing the dry sump oiling system and its associated plumbing saved 75 pounds and allowed the nose and internal ducting to be reshaped, improving cooling and increasing downforce for reduced front lift. New internals for the Colotti were manufactured by Ford to handle the higher torque and horsepower of the Cobra-spec 289 CI engine, which offered another distinct advantage: because of their vast experience with the 289, Shelby mechanics could tailor GT40 powerplants to any circuit and race distance.

While suspension geometry remained mostly intact, the basic components were strengthened for increased durability. The Borrani wire wheels, which had barely provided adequate cooling to the brakes, were replaced with lighter and stronger magnesium wheels.

In late February the revised GT40 prototypes arrived in Florida for the Daytona Continental 2,000-km race resplendent in the Shelby livery of Guardsman Blue with White stripes. Although Carroll Shelby’s primary concern was his quartet of Cobra Daytona coupes, he knew it was crucially important that the GT40s show the Dearborn brass some serious improvement.

The race began with the number 72 Bob Bondurant-Ritchie Ginther GT/104 in second place next to the pole-sitting Ferrari 330P2 of John Surtees and Pedro Rodriguez, and the number 73 GT/103 of Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby right behind in third. Bondurant spun GT/104 on the opening lap before pulling ahead of Surtees in a 200-mph dash, but another error later on relegated him to last place. Soon both GT40s were back at the front, chasing the Ferraris and Dan Gurney, who was leading in his Cobra-powered All American Racers Lotus 19B. Gurney’s torrid pace soon spelled the end of the Ferrari prototype contingent, a fate he would later share when he blew his engine at 213 laps.

The retirements left GT/104 in first followed by GT/103 in third behind the Schlesser/Keck Daytona coupe. A condenser problem during a scheduled driver change put the GT/104 car well in arrears, but determined driving by a charging Bondurant, who was ignoring orders from Ford management to slow down and ensure a finish, put him back in third just as the Miles-Ruby car completed 2,000 kilometers. It was a Shelby sweep, the GT/103 car finishing first and GT/104 in third, with three Cobra Daytonas rounding out the first five positions. It further burnished Shelby’s credentials with Ford management and vindicated the GT40 program with its first win.

Unfortunately, the remainder of the season was a series of disappointments and disasters. Suspension failure took GT/104 out at both Sebring and Monza, and a missed pit stop robbed it of a high finish, perhaps even a win, at the Nurburgring 1,000 km. At Le Mans, both GT/103 and /104 were dropped from the roster in favor of two new production chassis and two 427 prototypes, and were thereafter retired from competition.

Duty remained, however, for GT/104, which was sent to Ford contractor Kar Kraft for restoration. A change of plan saw the car invoiced in November to Ford by Shelby American and delivered to the Ford Styling Department, who completed the restoration. Over 500 hours of work was invested and included new bodywork with a smoother tail section. It was returned to its original White with Black stripes but the nose was finished in a shade of Turquoise rather than the original matt Blue; the Halibrand magnesium wheels were retained rather than the Borrani wires the car wore when new.

Initially the car served duty at auto shows including the Detroit Auto Show at Cobo Hall, and remained in Ford’s ownership until 1971 when it was sold to its first private owner, A.H. “Nub” Turner of Ann Arbor, Michigan. GT/104 was sold in 1972 to John Beaudine Stringer of Road Sport International, also of Ann Arbor, who sold it the following year to Dr. Peter Patton of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Dr. Patton immediately began a restoration, but illness forced him to sell the car in early 1978 in unfinished condition to Bill Jacobs of Chicago, Illinois. Greg Lonberger of Oak Park, Illinois, had contacted Dr. Patton to purchase GT/104, believing it to be the 1965 Daytona-winning GT/103. He was able to negotiate a sale with Jacobs in September 1978 and took it to his shop intent upon completing the restoration. It remained disassembled for years until it was examined by GT40 expert Ronnie Spain, whose discovery of the hole in the rear bulkhead for a water pressure valve installed during the initial Shelby overhaul confirmed its identity as GT/104.

The car’s provenance affirmed, after years of inaction Mr. Lonberger began the restoration of GT/104 in earnest. He completed the rolling chassis and invested hundreds of hours finishing the fiberglass panels to Shelby specification. In June 2010, the partially completed car was sold to a private owner, who turned it over to renowned English GT40 specialist Paul Lanzante.

Mr. Lanzante’s knowledge and experience restoring important vintage racing machinery – including five original GT40s – proved invaluable in precisely returning GT/104 to its Daytona configuration, complete with accurate finishes and materials that render the car completely period correct in its presentation. The completed GT/104 comprises many original and/or period-correct components. Even the lightweight steel chassis sheet metal is noticeably thinner than standard GT40s. In addition to retaining the original 4.2 L engine mounts, GT/104 also has its Colotti gearbox, an indisputably rare piece as ZF transmissions came into use almost immediately after the Shelby overhaul. Most significantly, the engine is the correct type Shelby American 289 CI block with correct Le Mans specification internals, and is believed to be the same engine used in the 1965 season. Supporting this is the fact that the earliest engines employed five-bolt bell-housing patterns necessitated by the Colotti instead of the 6-bolt design of the later ZF units.

The quality of the work extends of course to the mechanical components; the running gear was completed precisely to the original specifications and the car is entirely ready for spirited on-track duty.

One of the pioneering prototypes of the now-legendary GT40 juggernaut and one of the few that remains today, GT/104 is one of only two famously prepared and raced by Shelby American for the 1965 season. One of the first race cars of any kind to benefit from computerized missile aerodynamics technology and the budding field of telemetry, it was crucial to the development of the GT40 into World Championship form, proving the project’s potential at Le Mans, reaching the podium at Daytona and participating in Ford’s first year in international competition. Its development involved such famous names as Lunn, Wyer and Shelby; it was driven by the top stars of the era at the world’s most famous venues. As the first ever 1965 Shelby American-specification GT40, chassis GT/104 is widely regarded as the most original and correct prototype Shelby American team car and possesses what Ronnie Spain has described as “one of the clearest provenances… of all GT40s.”


– GT/104, the 4th GT40 Prototype
– Factory team car with lightweight chassis
– Ford’s 1964 Le Mans debut entry
– The first GT40 with a podium finish
– Driven by Phil Hill, Bruce McLaren, Bob Bondurant, Ken Miles, Jo Schlesser, Richie Ginther, Richard Attwood and other works drivers
– The second oldest GT40 in existence
– After the 1965 season, the car was given to Kar Kraft for restoration
– Displayed by Ford at the Detroit Auto Show
– Owned by Ford until 1971,
– Exacting restoration to 1965 Shelby livery by Paul Lanzante in 2010
– Shelby 289 CI V-8 engine
– Colotti T37 4-speed transmission
– Girling 11.5″ 4-wheel disc brakes
– Four Weber 48IDA carburetors
– Known ownership history
– Offered on a bill of sale

Information found on the website is presented as advance information for the auction lot. Photos, materials for videos, descriptions and other information are provided by the consignor/seller and is deemed reliable, but Mecum Auction does not verify, warrant or guarantee this information. The lot and information presented at auction on the auction block supersedes any previous descriptions or information. Mecum is not responsible for information that may be changed or updated prior to the auction. The decision to purchase should be based solely on the buyers personal inspection of the lot at the auction site prior to the auction.

Written by Lewis Shaw

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

GIPHY App Key not set. Please check settings

Ferrari Enzo or Ferrari LaFerrari?

Deborah Hersman, head of NTSB and vocal critic of auto safety efforts, stepping down