Legends are most often made of years — or decades — of learning, practice, trials, and errors. Many, many errors. Before the Ford GT40 earned its place in the automotive hall of heroes, Ford’s Total Performance program had been busy building GT prototypes that suffered numerous failures and the occasional success. From January 1964 to April 1965, the Ford Advanced Vehicles team in Slough, England constructed 12 Competition Prototypes, five of them targa-topped roadsters. Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby drove one of the open-tops, Competition Prototype Roadster GT/103, to victory at the 1965 Daytona Continental. Later that same year, the Carroll Shelby-led Ford of France team entered Competition Prototype Roadster GT/109 in Le Mans with Maurice Trintignant and Guy Ligier on driving duty. While seven hardtop Ford GTs contested Le Mans in 1964 and 1965, GT/109 was the only GT convertible to compete, and it succumbed on the 11th lap of the race to a gearbox issue. That race car is now for sale as part of Mecum’s Indy 2020 auction, running from July 10-18.
As one of the testers for engineering solutions that would carry GT40s to victory four years in a row, GT/109 was the first to employ oil radiators mounted along the sides of the car, and adapted mods from the Daytona-winning GT/103 like a HiPo Cobra 289 engine, ZF five-speed manual transmission, air dams at the corners ahead of the front wheels, and a set of Halibrand magnesum rims. Further race mods included a taller decklid spoiler to counter the effect of the front dams, an overflow water tank for coolant, and vents in the rear fascia to free air caught under the wheel arches.
Garbed in Ford’s race livery of white bodywork with a blue racing stripe and red trim, GT/109 is a three-owner car when including Ford. After its race career, Shelby American rebuilt the racer, then shipped it to Kar Kraft to be used as a development mule for a GT40 evolution called the J-Car, as well as Ford’s four-cam Indianapolis engine and Kar Kraft’s automatic transmission. When that testing concluded, GT/109 went back to Shelby for another rebuild before being parked in a Ford warehouse. When California customizer and stuntman Dean Jeffries happened upon GT/109 during a visit to Ford in Detroit, he asked Ford Racing Director Jacques Passino if he could buy it. Passino told him, “No problem, you can have it. We’re done with the GT Roadster program.”
Jeffries held onto the car until his death in 2013. Dana Mecum bought GT/109 from Jeffries’ son, sending the roadster for a three-year concours-quality restoration to original spec at GTC Mirage Racing. The original HiPo Cobra 289 engine with Weber carbs and experimental transaxle the car used in Le Mans sits behind the cockpit, and the winning bidder gets the Ford four-cam Indy engine used by Kar Kraft. Other neat touches are the on/off brake light switch Shelby installed, and new-old stock Ford GT Trico windshield wiper blades. The car came second in the 2016 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance to the GT40 that Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon drove to victory in 1966.
Of the original five Competition Prototype Roadsters, only GT/108 and GT/109 remain. RM Sotheby’s sold GT/108 at auction in Monterey in 2014 for $6.93M, then again at the same auction in 2019 for $7.65M. Mecum put GT/109 up for auction in January 2019 at Kissimmee, but didn’t let the car go with a high bid of $10 million. The pre-sale estimate for GT/109 this time ranges from $7.5 to $10M. Although the Indy event doesn’t officially commence for a few more days, at the time of writing, bidding on the Ford was up to $400,000.