Vijay Pattni15 April 2014

Ford GT40 prototype sells for £4.2m

Extremely rare Le Mans racer headlines sale at a record $7m in the States

Five minutes. That's how long it took for the frenzied bidders in Texas to ratchet up the price on a very rare Ford GT40 prototype to a record £4.2m.

Maybe we shouldn't be surprised, for the GT40 is an astonishing car with a fascinating history. It was the car that Ford finally beat Ferrari with on the racetracks, the blue-collar hero with a monster left-hook.

Thing is, this one that's just sold at Mecum's Texan auction for a record $7 million wasn't exactly... the most prolific of these decidedly prolific cars.

It's chassis number GT/104 - the fourth ever GT40 built and the second oldest GT40 in existence - and began its life in 1964 testing at Warwickshire's MIRA test facility. 104 was the first GT40 prototype built of lighter steel, and after 50 miles of testing, was shipped to France to race at Le Mans.

It didn't have a very good time: a fire broke out in its engine bay, retiring the car. Luckily driver Dickie Atwood was unharmed.

104 was repaired, and fitted with a 4.7-litre Cobra V8 for the Nassau Speed Week in November of 1964. Things didn't go much better there: its rear suspension was damaged, retiring the car.

So it was shipped back to Shelby American for an overhaul and a lot of fine tuning - aero, cooling, power, suspension strength etc - ready for February 1965 and the Daytona Continental, where GT/104 experienced a rare moment of success, coming home third.

After that, 104 went back to being, well, a bit rubbish. It suffered suspension failure at Sebring and Monza, missed a pit stop at the Nurburgring 1000km, and was dropped from the Le Mans line up in favour of two new prototypes. Understandably disillusioned, it then retired from competition forever.

After being paraded around at motor shows, 104 remained in Ford's ownership until 1971, and then went from Michigan, to Minnesota, to Chicago, and then to a man in Illinois named Greg Lonberger who began restoration. Then, in June 2010, GT/104 was handed over to GT40 specialist Paul Lanzante who returned it to the original Daytona spec: thinner sheet metal, Colotti gearbox, and 4.7-litre Shelby block with Le Mans spec internals.

Even so. Despite it not being a race-winning GT40, it's still a Ford GT40, albeit not a particularly successful one. And let's be honest: any car that fetches £4.2m at auction can hardly be regarded as a total failure, can it?

Top Gear is therefore starting the campaign to get our similarly ambitious but rubbish ‘Geoff' electric car on the auction block. We anticipate a sale of many tens of pounds. Start your bidding!

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