Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Remember When Ford Had Difficulty Finding Buyers for its GT40 Road Car?
VIA Hemmings Daily
Ford’s GT40 enjoyed great success as a racing car, but as a passenger car, a role required for FIA homologation, it was a failure. In order to move the 20 or so cars built for homologation purposes, Ford promoted the car with a dealer roadshow and deep discounting, eventually clearing its inventory with very little (or perhaps no) profit.
On March 11, a 1966 Ford GT40 Mk I, once part of the automaker’s Promotion and Disposal Program, will cross the auction block in Amelia Island, where (this time) no additional fanfare will be needed to market the car.
The Ford GT40, in its various forms, captured overall victory at Le Mans from 1966 through 1969, and won scores of other races in Europe and the United States. Race cars, however, have radically different design criteria than street cars, and in this regard the GT40 was a victim of its own success.
The car’s 40-inch height may have lowered the center of gravity and reduced drag, but it also resulted in the car being nearly invisible on public roads. It also made entry and exit challenging for those dressed in street clothes, and the World Registry of Cobras & GT40s, 4th Edition, describes entry and egress from the car as a “spectator event.”
The challenges of owning a GT40 as a daily driver didn’t end there, either. The doors needed a wide opening to negotiate across the wide sill, requiring owners to park on the outskirts of lots and hope for the best. Rear-side visibility was limited by enormous C-pillars, ventilation was provided only by small rectangular windows cut within the door glass (which also made paying tolls a challenge), and the car came exclusively in right-hand drive.
While customers could configure the GT40 with a number of options (including, thankfully, air conditioning), the starting price for a production road coupe was said to be in the neighborhood of $16,000.
“Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” didn’t necessarily apply to the GT40, either, as many Americans had never heard of the storied European endurance race on the Circuit de la Sarthe. Had the GT40 cleaned up at Indianapolis or Talladega instead of Le Mans, perhaps Ford dealers may have had more of a marketing edge with the cars. Instead, by early 1967, Ford’s accountants were growing concerned with the significant amount of money tied up in homologation GT40s, all of which were the Mk I variant.
Ford’s answer was the Mk I Promotion and Disposal Program, which kicked off in February of 1967. Dividing the country into seven regions, Ford assigned a GT40 Mk I to each area, accompanied by a Ford-branded tow vehicle (usually a pickup or Ranchero). The GT40 would spend time in the showroom of regional dealers, but the car would also be sent to high-profile area outings, like parades or significant sporting events.
The “disposal” part of the program came in pricing, and dealers were advised to drop the sticker price of participating cars from $16,000 to $12,000, less if the car had been previously used. While records are spotty, most cars sold through the disposal program changed hands at prices between $8,000 (in 1967, enough to buy a pair of 390 V-8 Mustang fastbacks) and $11,800 (enough to buy two L-88 equipped Corvettes), but one reportedly sold for just $3,000 to a friend of Ford Racing head Jacque Passino.
Chassis P/1065 was built as a production road coupe, completed in December of 1966. Finished in Azure Blue, the car was equipped with a 289 V-8 topped with Weber carburetors, which would have put output in the range of 390 horsepower and 315 pound-feet of torque. Shifting through a ZF five-speed manual transmission, the dash from 0-60 would have taken around 5.3 seconds, on the way to a top speed of 164 MPH.
Chassis P/1065 was one of seven selected for regional tours, and it was assigned to the Philadelphia sales district. In November of 1967, it was invoiced to Pletcher Ford in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, for $15,000, an odd amount considering that the disposal program was already in full swing. Perhaps that’s why the invoice was canceled, and three weeks later the car was sold to Al Grillo Ford in Lynn, Massachusetts, for the more-reasonable price of $10,000.
Al Grillo Ford had achieved some success in moving the otherwise unwanted GT40s, and records indicate that chassis P/1064, P/1066 and P/1058 also moved though the dealership. P/1065 didn’t remain on the showroom floor for long, as records show it licensed to an owner in Dallas, Texas, before the end of 1967.
In 1969, the GT40 Mk I went to Shelby collector Andy Harmon in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Like his Cobra and Shelby Mustangs, the GT40 was repainted in turquoise with white pinstripes and white side stripes. Harmon also added Mk III style rear windows, rear fender flares and “Mk IB” lettering on the nose, though no such model variant existed.
The GT40 didn’t remain in Harmon’s collection for long, as records have it turning up in England the following year. There, its first owner painted the car purple with white stripes, and it remained in this livery until a 1984 restoration funded by its next owner. At this time it was painted red with black trim, and later served as a model for 1/43 and 1/8 scale replicas from Jouef and Eagle’s Race.
Two more English owners assumed stewardship duties for the car until it surfaced at dealer Duncan Hamilton in 2000, and it’s not clear if the car was ever sold through the dealership. Later that year, the car was purchased by Bellevue, Washington, collector John McCaw, who returned it to the United States. It changed hands again in 2002, but remained in the United States until 2004, when it sold to a collector in the United Kingdom. In 2008, it was sold to an American owner, who retained possession of the car until 2012, when it sold at a Gooding & Company auction in Pebble Beach for $1.65 million.
Prior to its sale at Pebble Beach, P/1065 was given a “substantial” mechanical and cosmetic restoration, including a rebuild of the original engine, transmission, brakes and suspension, and a repaint in the original Azure Blue. In the photographs taken for this auction, less than 3,200 miles were showing on the odometer, though the car was simply described in the catalog as “displaying remarkably low mileage.”
This time around, Gooding & Company is predicting a selling price between $3.2 million and $3.6 million when the car crosses the stage at Amelia Island. While hardly inexpensive, it’s considerably less than the record-setting $11 million paid in 2012 for chassis P/1074, the GT40/Mirage with a competition history used as a camera car in the filming of Le Mans.