Mecum Auctions has announced that it will be selling the 1965 Ford GT Competition Prototype Roadster GT/109, the only open-cockpit Ford GT to compete at Le Mans, at its Jan. 3–13 sale in Kissimmee, Florida.
This stunning 1965 Ford GT Competition Prototype Roadster GT/109 was driven in the 1965 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans by legendary French racers Maurice Trintignant and Guy Ligier. The sole open-cockpit GT to ever compete in the French classic, this GT Competition Prototype Roadster is a forerunner to all of the glory that Ford garnered in its historic run to four consecutive overall victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans from 1966 through 1969. This Pebble Beach award-winning gem is the product of a meticulous three-year mechanical and cosmetic restoration that was completed in 2016.
The well-known tale about the genesis of the Ford GT program is that Henry Ford II, known popularly as “The Deuce,” thought he had a deal with Enzo Ferrari to purchase the famous Italian automaker in 1963. Ford was in the process of introducing the Total Performance Program that would lead to a wildly successful dual program birthing incredible performance cars on both the street and race track—in other words, “Win on Sunday sell on Monday.” Fords were winning in NASCAR, drag racing and in sports car racing with Ford-powered Shelby Cobras.
The Deuce made the decision that Ford was going to build its first sports car, go road racing in Europe and win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The problem was that Ford had never gone road racing in Europe, had never made a sports car and did not have the facility to build one. In concert with Ford Division General Manager Lee Iacocca, the decision was made to purchase Ferrari. Ferrari would design and build Ford’s first sports car.
Ferrari, the man, had a history of aggravating business associates, already having enraged repeat customer Ferruccio Lamborghini so much that Lamborghini decided to start his own car company to compete with Ferrari. Likewise, Ferrari really angered Ford at their meeting in Italy to close the deal for the Italian carmaker. Ford famously declared war on Ferrari. “If I can’t buy Ferrari, I’m going to beat Ferrari.” This led to the genesis of the Ford GT Le Mans effort in 1964.
By 1965, The Deuce had ordered Iacocca to undertake a “win at all costs” NASA-like program to defeat Ferrari at the French endurance classic. What followed was the stuff of legends—a Ford-versus-Ferrari heavyweight bout for supremacy in sports car racing, and the GT Competition Prototype Roadster was an important piece to the puzzle.
Completed in March 1965 by Ford Advanced Vehicles (FAV) in Slough, England, GT/109 is one of 12 prototypes built by Ford between January 1964 and April 1965. A mere seven Ford GTs actually raced at Le Mans in 1964 and 1965, with four Prototypes—including the lone Roadster GT/109—known to exist today. A Carroll Shelby-led Ford of France crew entered GT/109 as No. 15 at Le Mans for the June 1965 running of the classic endurance race. When the brilliant red, white and blue French flag dropped to signal 55 drivers to run across the track to their cars, this GT Competition Prototype Roadster made history by becoming the only GT Roadster to ever compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The Ford GT Prototype had debuted in April 1964 at the Le Mans time trials as one of the most technically advanced racecars ever. It was also beautiful and provably capable of incredible speeds. Highly respected former Aston Martin team leader John Wyer was hired to manage the effort, but the cars debuted with inadequate testing and development. With the GT Prototype program not producing the expected results—the first two cars had been destroyed in crashes at Le Mans and then Monza, not to mention the team had failed to finish a race during the season—Iacocca decided to make some changes. In December 1964, two GT Competition Prototype Roadsters, GT/103 and GT/104, were sent to Shelby American in Los Angeles, where they were placed in the care of Shelby Chief Engineer Phil Remington and his very capable crew to be readied for the February 1965 season opener at the Daytona Continental. An intense period of testing and development produced the GT’s first race victory—and its first finish—when Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby co-drove GT/103 to the overall win.
If the Miles and Ruby win at Daytona proved the GT’s vast potential, it also reaffirmed Shelby American’s already renowned reputation for thorough development and preparation, both of which came into play when Ford ordered the first two of five GT Prototype Competition Roadsters for testing and evaluation, numbered GT/108 and GT/109. The latter arrived at FAV in bare-chassis form in October 1964; documentation indicates GT/109 was a special-order chassis, as indicated by the following notation in the FAV status report of October 1, 1964: “Dearborn Experimental Car With 3” longer chassis-Not Now Required.” In addition, while GT/108 and GT/109 appeared virtually identical, closer study revealed GT/109’s removable rollover section.
The Ford Total Performance Program’s dual purpose was fully realized when GT/108 was utilized for road use and GT/109 was supplied to Shelby in March 1965 for use by Ford of France in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Shelby American Work Order No. 15116 was opened on May 19 to “perform necessary repairs and mods to GT/109.” Completed on June 9, GT/109 shared many of the modifications performed to the Daytona-winning Miles and Ruby car, including Halibrand magnesium wheels in place of the factory-installed Borrani wire wheels, front corner air dams and a Cobra-spec 289 CI engine connected to a ZF 5-speed gearbox.