Off radar

The fallen stars
Ford GT40 Roadster

Too good to race

Photo credit: RM Sotheby’s

Normally, in the development of a new high-performance car, the designers build a chassis that’s as rigid as possible which means they’re normally coupes. This was not the case for Ford’s GT40 project, built to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In 1965, in the English offices of Ford Advanced Vehicles, 12 chassis were prepared for the GT40, 5 of which were intended to be open versions with technical specifications that guaranteed sufficient rigidity even without a roof. 

1965: the great modernity of the Ford GT40 is even more evident in the open version. With the big rollbar to give the body extra rigidity

This clearly illustrates the broad range of vehicles that Ford originally developed to face the challenge of Le Mans. In fact, one of these spiders, #GT/111, took part in both the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Targa Florio of 1965, albeit without too much luck: a gearbox failure at Le Mans, when they were third overall, and an accident at the Targa Florio. 

This is the first GT40 Roadster built which was used for promotional purposes. In the racing version, the nose was modified to improve front grip

After these two experiences in the race, Ford shifted its racing focus entirely on closed models. Despite this, work on the Roadster model was not completely abandoned, so much so that the versions still in circulation all have different front shapes as a result of Ford’s attempt to improve high speed grip. Of the five examples built, there is documented history of the first roadster built, painted in white, which made a promotional tour in the USA and took part in the United States GP at Watkins Glen for a few demonstration laps driven by World Champion Jim Clark. 

The interior of the Roadster version of the GT40 was decidedly racing in spirit, both for the wraparound seat and for the instrumentation. Note the gearbox located on the right on the sill

The one that raced at Le Mans and the Targa Florio, originally in white, was painted in green for the Italian race. The fact that Ford had given up developing these open versions is confirmed by the reconversion of the other three chassis intended for the spider versions into coupe configuration. Understandably, the values of the two existing cars are very high, as demonstrated by the last documented sale of chassis #GT/108 at auction in Monterey in 2019, which changed hands for $7,650,000 (€6,599,922)

The double face of the GT40 / GT111 prototype: at Le Mans in 1965 wearing number 15 and driven by Maurice Trintignant and Guy Ligier in the American white and blue livery
Different livery, same car, the GT111 at the Targa Florio in 1965, wearing number 194 and driven by Bob Bondurant and John Whitmore, painted green to highlight its English origin
Over the years, the large engine compartment of the GT40 has allowed it to increase both engine capacity and structure of the drive unit, reaching up to 7,000cc for the victory in 1966
Despite being a racing car, the GT40 has a luxury road car elegance. Had it been produced, it would certainly have been very successful
For better weight distribution, the engine is mounted right behind the driver and the four twin-choke carburettors breathe in the area under the roll bar