I can only imagine the excitement when Ford’s posse of GT40s rolled up to Le Mans in 1966. Could an American team finally win at Circuit de la Sarthe? Would Henry Ford II have his vengeance on the ever-dominant Ferraris after the deal between the two companies went south?
No one could have predicted the 1-2-3 photo finish for Ford, but before the team made it to Le Mans the GT40 was broken in around American tracks. Earlier in 1966 a GT40 X-1 roadster, which had been converted to MkII spec, was hammering around Sebring looking for an overall win. Victory was with the Shelby American team, with the Holman & Moody (more on these gents in a moment) GT40 coming in second, and another GT40 rounding off the podium. The car you see here is that first place finisher at the 12 Hours of Sebring. Or is it?
First running into the car at Sonoma Raceway for the SAAC43, I was told it was indeed an original GT40 and the overall winner of that race in question. Then, later, at the Rolex Monterey Motorsport Reunion I was told by the mechanics working on the car that the rear bulkhead is indeed that of the Sebring winner, with other parts of the car being replaced over time, as they often are.
But looking around online, multiple sources point to the entire chassis being destroyed, usually citing the duties associated with importing the overseas-built car over to the States as a permanent resident. Some versions of this say it was buried here in California, somewhere outside Shelby’s shop, while others say the car was chopped up right after the race and distributed.
Meeting Lee Holman (yes, of the Holman & Moody team) at McCall’s during Monterey Car Week, he insisted that the GT40 was destroyed after winning the race. It seems odd that the car would be completely scrapped rather than preserved just for the sake of not paying the taxes on it, but his source seemed reliable – it was himself and he was indeed at Sebring in 1966. Also, it’s worth mentioning the car wears a Holman-Moody tag underneath the Ford Advanced Vehicles Ltd ID plate which reads ‘GT40P X-1.’
Further backing up his story, Lee was sitting on a copy of the car in question, recently built by Holman & Moody. Again, he says it’s impossible for the original to exist. I’ll let you decide because I’ve spent enough time going back and forth now.
Perhaps all that really matters is the car is fitted with the proper 427ci (7.0L) power plant which makes an incredible sound. It’s as raw as it was in the 1960s, but it’s an exhaust note we can still get a taste of today on our own cars. From the 289ci (4.6L) and 302ci (4.9L but referred to as the 5.0) up to the 427ci V8s that these cars raced with, versions of each can be easily sourced today.
As far as the design of the rest of the car, it’s safe to say the GT40 was far ahead of its time, likely why it continues to look so good today. You get the appeal of a classic with a more modern-feeling chassis, refined body, and straightforward aero setup, albeit a 50-plus-year-old design.
There’s something massively appealing about the low-slung bodywork and the rawness of the GT40; it’s incredibly simple and it’s not a car that’s hiding anything. Well, actually, it was hiding the bits I was most interested in, but lucky for me the bodywork came off later in the day.
It’s incredible to think that this design is what brought down the mighty Ferraris and Porsche prototypes of the ’60s. Like I said, it all screams simplicity, and I’d love to get a closer look under the bodywork of a Porsche 906 or the Ferrari 330 P4. Anyone have one sitting around for me to take apart?
Really, though, the best thing about this particular car is the fact that it’s not been locked away as a display piece in someone’s collection.
With a little help from a little pit crew, this car still sees the track. At the SAAC43 the GT40 got some hot laps in during the open track and competed in the vintage race at the end of the day. It was at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion last year and, as mentioned, again this year.
There were a number of kit cars at the event and, yes, I’m sure they’re loads of fun to drive and I’d gladly take one. But there’s nothing quite like the real thing, and this was the car I was most excited to see lined up in the pits, ready to head out on the course.
This is a car that has people still get pumped up to see at the track. Every time I see one, I think of the excitement these cars undoubtedly created when they started turning up at road courses around the US and, later, the globe. This is a car that can’t hide from its history, taking its impressive pedigree with it anywhere it goes.
That is, if the rear bulkhead really is from that original chassis…