Robin Adams ©2019, courtesy of RM Sotheby’s
  • The first of five GT40 roadsters built
  • The only GT40 roadster known to have continually survived in its original form
  • Driven by legendary drivers including Ken Miles, Carroll Shelby and Jim Clark
  • Award winner at the 2003 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance
Few automobiles have achieved such status as the Ford GT40. Detroit’s first purpose-built prototype-class race car, it was developed to beat Ferrari — and famously went on to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans for four consecutive years.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1965 Ford GT40 Roadster Prototype
Years Produced:1964–69
Number Produced:105
Original List Price:N/A (prototype)
SCM Valuation:$3,300,000
Tune Up Cost:$500
Chassis Number Location:Firewall, right side
Engine Number Location:On block behind left cylinder head
Club Info:GT40 Enthusiasts Club
Alternatives:1967 Ferrari 330 P4, 1964–65 Shelby Daytona coupe, 1966 Shelby Cobra 427 S/C
Investment Grade:A

This car, Lot 252, sold for $7,650,000, including buyer’s premium, at RM Sotheby’s Monterey auction in Monterey, CA, on August 16, 2019.

The story of the Ford GT40 is one of the pillars of motorsports lore. Henry Ford II was insulted by Enzo Ferrari during the early ’60s — something about pulling out of a little business deal.

So Hank the Deuce set his mind to stomping Ferraris into a little red smear at the world’s most famous sports-car race — the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Spoiler! He did it, with the fabulous Ford GT40s — and a lot of help from top-notch racers.

Not only were the cars of the Ford effort stunning, but the people involved in the process were also the stuff of racing legend. Carroll Shelby, Dan Gurney, Ken Miles, Bruce McLaren, A.J. Foyt — the list goes on and on.

A combination of man and machine now makes all the difference when a GT40 comes up for auction.

The inheritance

Carroll Shelby didn’t come up with the GT40 program; he inherited it from an English team led by John Wyer, who wasn’t making progress with a small-block-powered version of the GT40 Mk I.

Along with the well-known closed cockpit cars — so low that tall driver Dan Gurney needed a dent in the roof to make room for his helmet — Shelby also took delivery of some prototype cars for testing purposes — including our subject rare roofless GT.

Chassis GT108 is one of five topless GT40s — and the first of only four that were built specifically to be roadsters on a chassis that was unique from the coupes.

Shelby American didn’t need the roadster for development. They were already leaning towards a stretched and 427-powered version for the race cars, but the open car was an attention-getter and a favorite with the test drivers. Shelby was never one to turn down an opportunity to get some press, so he put the car to work.

Behind the wheel

At the Shelby American headquarters, the GT40 roadster was a promotional tool. The Cobra team took it along to races at Riverside and Laguna Seca. Drivers during that time included Ken Miles, Lew Spencer and Carroll himself — who is said to have given Henry Ford II a ride in the car.

Shelby also allowed several journalists to take a turn behind the wheel, including Jerry Titus of Sports Car Graphic and Brock Yates of Car and Driver. Both wrote favorable accounts of the GT40, with Yates describing it as “one of the most sophisticated automotive creations known to man.”

From Shelby American, the roadster went on tour, making demonstration laps at the U.S. Grand Prix with Lotus racer Jim Clark in the driver’s seat. Toward the end of the racing season, the car went to Kar-Kraft in Michigan — Ford’s skunk works outfit — and was used as a test car in the development of what became the GT40 Mk IV.

The roadster finally left Ford for private ownership when it was sold in July 1969 to George Sawyer, a Kar-Kraft employee. Sawyer put in a rebuilt 289-ci engine and a ZF transaxle in place of the original — and according to Brock Yates, quite fussy — Colotti T-37. Later owners returned the car to the original combination.

The price of history

When you’re looking at a car like our subject GT40, it’s not just originality and condition that determine the price tag. Buyers want to know if it raced — if it was part of that Le Mans history. Did this car do the things immortalized in books like A.J. Baime’s Go Like Hell or the soon-to-be-released “Ford v Ferrari” movie?

The most famous — and valuable — GT40s are the ones that made history. Cars like the first Le Mans-winning black Mk II driven by Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon. Cars like the Mk I P/1075 that won Le Mans in both ’68 and ’69, and cars like the red Mk IV driven to Le Mans victory by Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt in 1967 — marking not only another win for Ford, but the first time in Le Mans history that an all-American car, engine and driving team took the podium.

The new owner of GT/108 may not be able to point out any famous race wins, but knowing that Miles, Shelby and Ford all spent time in the car makes for a brag-worthy buy.

There are lots of comps for this car.

The Gulf Oil-colored P/1074 — used as a camera car in the Steve McQueen movie “Le Mans” — sold for $11 million at RM Auctions’ 2012 Monterey sale.

This same car sold for $6,930,000 at RM Auctions’ 2014 Monterey auction.

So we’d say our subject GT40 was well sold at $7,650,000, especially as Monterey 2019 was a tough year for auction cars.

The GT40 is a legendary car, and this is a story that people will keep telling. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of RM Sotheby’s.)

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