Pawel Litwinski ©2014, courtesy of RM Auctions
Pawel Litwinski ©2014, courtesy of RM Auctions

Chassis number GT108 is one of just six open-top GT40 roadsters constructed, reflecting Ford’s experimentation with the open configuration to test for market appeal and salability. Built for Shelby American as a test and development vehicle, it was driven by Ken Miles, Lew Spencer, Carroll Shelby, Jim Clark and others. Documented by GT40 historian Ronnie Spain, it is the only GT40 roadster to have survived in its original form. This car was also a 2003 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance award winner and has enjoyed single prominent ownership for over two decades.

GT108 is 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. Painted white and fitted with 6½-inch Borrani wire wheels up front and eight-inch Borranis in the rear, the completed car was tested in March 1965 at Silverstone.

An American life

The roadster was then invoiced to Shelby American from Ford Advanced Vehicles in England, 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, CA, facility, where a Shelby American work order was issued on April 4, 1965, to “perform necessary repairs and mods to GT40/108.”

From April until November 1965, the car was utilized for numerous testing, development, corporate and publicity purposes, making appearances at Shelby American, at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, at Riverside Raceway and at Watkins Glen, where it was driven on hot laps by newly crowned Grand Prix world champion Clark.

Mothballed and sold

The car was subsequently mothballed at Kar Kraft, the famed Ford tuning shop in Michigan, before being sold to George Sawyer, a young Kar Kraft employee, 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 prototype Mach 1.

Over the next two decades GT108 changed hands several times and engaged in limited vintage racing. In 1992, GT108 was purchased by the consignor and has since occasionally surfaced at major shows.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1965 Ford GT40 Roadster Prototype
Years Produced:1965
Number Produced:Six
Original List Price:N/A
Tune Up Cost:$750
Chassis Number Location:Right door opening
Engine Number Location:On block behind left cylinder head
Club Info:SAAC HQ
Investment Grade:A

This car, Lot 134, sold for $6,930,000 at RM Auctions in Monterey, CA, on August 15, 2014.

It is ironic that now, nearly 50 years after Ford’s successful pursuit of Ferrari at Le Mans, the Ford GT40 finds itself behind once again. Only this time, it’s not on the track but on the auction block. While prices of Ferrari factory race cars have spiked into the $20 million to $50 million range, this Ford GT40 roadster prototype sold for a “mere” $6.93 million — just 18% of the 2014 Bonhams Ferrari 250 GTO sale at $38.1 million, and 63% of the $11 million ex-Steve McQueen “Le Mans” movie GT40 camera car that RM sold in 2012.

This jaundiced observation in no way diminishes GT108’s value as a historical piece. On the positive side, it is regarded as the most complete and original form of the six roadster prototypes, has been thoroughly documented, lived a high-profile life at just the right time, and was driven by a limited and illustrious group. (It’s noteworthy that Henry Ford II’s only known ride in a GT40 occurred in this car.)

The exhibitionist

On the downside, while GT108 took center stage at many important events in ’65, it did so as an exhibition vehicle and not as a racer. Also, its roadster configuration was adopted for neither Le Mans nor as a production sports car as Ford had envisioned. But perhaps its rather safe role as a demonstrator is what allowed the car to so remarkably survive.

With excellent reporting in the auction catalog, there is little to quibble about when it comes to authenticity. Except one thing: During GT108’s late-1960s slumber in Michigan, it seems that its original engine and transmission went missing.

In the Ferrari and Porsche worlds, the sometimes-painstaking effort to reunite the original engine with car can make a huge value difference. But does this matter here? My opinion is that it should not have affected value by any more than 10%. That’s because Ford’s iron 289s were cast in the millions and repurposed for Cobras, Sunbeam Tigers and Ford GT40s, whereas alloy Ferrari engines were highly specialized.

A Ford is a Ford

The above is a roundabout way of saying that even possessing its original driveline wouldn’t have vaulted the GT40 into Ferrari value territory. And so for me, “Why not?” is the larger question.

After all, GT108 is the crucible of Hank the Deuce’s historic effort to chase down and beat Ferrari at its own game. The best answer I can construct is that Ferraris have always been race-bred, single-purpose and functionally artistic. Whereas the Ford GT40 program, while brave, brash and successful, was just one short-lived project for an enormous multinational company that, with shareholders, unions and dealers to please, had to focus on massive output of utilitarian cars and trucks first and foremost.

A half century later, the enormous value delta between a GT40 and a Ferrari proves once again that no matter what we (or our cars) may achieve in life, we still can’t pick our parents. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of RM Auctions.)

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