Ford GT40 Roadster, Painting, © Wallace Wyss
by Wallace Wyss
Yes, there were factory-built Ford GT40 roadsters. We haven't been able to confirm how many, most say five 108; 109; 111 and 112 - all small block 289-powered versions. Actually there was a big block version: the aluminum-chassied version that won the Sebring 12-hour in '66 with a GT40 Mk. II nose and rear body section with a fastback roof, not the "targa" roof that was used on the small blocks.
That same car had earlier been a Can Am car, the GTX-1, nicknamed "Big Ed." It was singularly unsuccessful in Can Am, even with the likes of Bruce McLaren as pilot, but was a winner at Sebring, only to be rewarded with a trip to a landfill later (we know the town it was reportedly interred in, but finding it would be an exercise to tax present-day treasure-hunting technology).
There were actually two aluminum-chassied GT40 chassis made for big blocks but the second one was built into a coupe.
Apparently Ford built some GT40s in roadster form just out of curiosity. The coupes were hot inside, a torture for the driver, and at the time Ford thought, maybe an open version would be easier for the drivers. Ferrari had open cars like the 250P, so Ford figured “why not us?” Ford then built four, but they weren't any faster, and you had to admit, during those 24 hour races at LeMans there was always rain and a wet driver was distracted compared to a dry one. One would think the coupe version would be more rigid, with less flex to the body and hence able to hold the line better through a corner. There was no temporary top you could put in place in the GT40 roadsters, though sometimes coupe owners ran their cars without the top half of the doors (which were part of the roof as well), so they were in effect T-top coupes.
One of the roadsters (the one that Bondurant flipped on its side in the Targa Florio in '65) was discovered cut in half in a breaker's yard in England a few years back. Bought as-is, the two halves were welded back together and rebodied with a new body cast from a real original body found in storage in South Africa. It has since raced in the Goodwood events, where its every appearance causes embarrassment for those GT40 historians who had published books firmly listing it as "destroyed" or “written off.” It was put up for auction in 2011 but was a no-sale at over $2 million.
The GT40 roadster inspired the GTX-1 version of the '05-'06 Ford GT, a conversion done by a private firm in Wisconsin on privately-owned GT40s, but done to a Ford engineer's design.
The irony is that the GT40 open cars, with the single exception of the Sebring winner, never won much glory. The fact that only four were built in small block form means they are extremely rare in GT40 circles and hence have become highly prized as collectors’ items. One of the most anticipated ones that may come up in a future auction is Dean Jeffries’ roadster. He was given it for free by Ford who, by giving it away, hoped he would get it into a movie (besides being a customer, he was a stunt driver). Instead he spent 30 years restoring it and converting it to a 4-cam Indy engine and only recently completed it. Jeffries says he won't sell it (he claims he was offered $10 million) but since they change hands so rarely one wonders what the real market is.
Text & Illustration: Wallace Wyss
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