TopGear.com20 August 2012

A rare Ford GT40 sells for $11m…

…making it the most expensive American car in history

Ford GT40 Lightweight

Americans! Meet the most expensive car to have ever been built in your large, bacon-filled lands. It's a Ford GT40, as used by Sir Steve of McQueen in his dialogue-poor car-rich cinema classic, Le Mans.

McQueen wanted scenes to be filmed at actual race speeds, y'see. So he bought himself the fastest car known to America, lopped off the roof, then stuck a camera out of the top, mounting it in the spare tyre well.

The producers made several runs up and down the pit lanes prior to the race to check everything was secure, then rolled the gyroscopically-stabilized, compressed air-powered, 180 degree rotating Arriflex camera, which was remotely-controlled by a dashboard-mounted TV screen.

An additional 35mm manually-rotated camera was mounted above the hacked-down passenger side door, but to work it required betesticled cameraman, Alex Barbey, to crouch alongside it in a small rotating seat. At race speed.

Trouble was, the cameras made everything very heavy, and gave it a drag coefficient of a cathedral, which meant it was a bit of a pig to control at the 150 mph speeds filming required. Luckily, there was a Dutch skid-pan expert called Rob Slotemaker who was able to manhandle the car for some five months until filming was complete.

Once Le Mans had wrapped, Harley E. Cluxton III (then of Glenview, Illinois) bought the car without its roof then tested it at the Glenview Naval Air Station, claiming a top speed he was only willing to describe as "interesting" before punting it on, presumably in fear of his life.

The car then travelled to Blighty in 1972 and into the hands of erstwhile collector, Sir Anthony Bamford. A bloke called Willie Green of Derby stitched on a new roof, the cut-down doors were replaced with early GT40 ones, and he added flared wheelarches and relocated the numberplate to clear the exhaust pipes. Willie raced the reheated GT at several British meets, then sold the car on to a series of racer/collectors.

Eventually it ended up on the auction block at last weekend's RM sale in Pebble Beach, California, where it fetched an almighty $11m (nearly £7m). That's seven Veyrons. Or 702 Fiat 500s. Or 3,196,122 Fray Bentos Chicken and Mushroom pies.

If you had the cash, would you? If not this, what?

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