1967 Ford GT40 Mk IV, chassis J-12. Photos by Mathieu Heurtault, copyright and courtesy of Gooding & Company.
Originally dubbed the J-Car, in reference to the FIA’s Appendix J regulations under which it competed, Ford’s GT40 Mk IV was built to be an all-American assault on the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans, further rubbing salt in Ferrari’s endurance-racing wounds. A Mk IV won the race in 1967, but rule changes made the model obsolete by year-end. Just 12 chassis were ever built in-period, and on Friday, March 9, the final example, GT 40 Mk IV chassis J-12, crosses the auction stage at the Gooding & Company sale in Amelia Island, Florida.
In 1966, Ford swept the podium at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a trio of GT40 Mk IIs, but this achievement wasn’t enough to satisfy Henry Ford II. Originally based upon the British Lola Mk 6 GT, much of the GT40’s early development work had taken place in England, at Ford Advanced Vehicles, under the direction of John Wyer. Though the GT40 program had been shipped stateside in late 1964 (when it was handed off to Carroll Shelby and Holman & Moody), the GT40 Mk I and Mk II had been built in England, not America. Even the drivers that delivered the win for Ford in 1966 were foreign, with Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon both hailing from New Zealand.
Ford wanted to win the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans on his own terms, with an American-developed, American-built GT40, piloted by American drivers. The J-Car, which would share almost no parts with the Mk II aside from the 427-cu.in. Ford V-8, would be the answer. Designed in-house, production was handed off to Kar Kraft in Michigan, which received help from an unlikely source: airplane manufacturer Brunswick Aircraft Corporation.
To shed pounds, the J-Car would be built like an airplane, its tub consisting of aluminum honeycomb reinforced with L-shaped aluminum ribs. The skin would be bonded and riveted to this structure, with the entire assembly cured in an a high-temperature autoclave. This construction method shaved nearly 300 pounds off the weight of a GT40 Mk II, though some questioned the J-Car’s overall strength compared to earlier GT40 variants.
The J-Car body was designed by stylists, with a long, flat roof ending in a Kamm tail and a narrower cockpit for improved high-speed aerodynamics. On paper, anyway: When testing began on the first J-car chassis at Le Mans in April 1966, its body produced too much drag, so the decision was made to run the GT40 Mk IIs at Le Mans in 1966, giving Ford the additional time it needed to develop the J-Car into something competitive.
Under Carroll Shelby’s direction, testing on the J-Cars resumed in July 1966, with work carried out in a wind tunnel and on track. In August 1966, Ken Miles was behind the wheel of chassis J-2 at California’s Riverside International Raceway when something went horribly wrong at the end of the back straight. For no apparent reason, the car veered off track, and its wheels dug in the sandy soil at the pavement’s edge. The GT40 launched into the air, disintegrating as it rolled and tumbled, and Miles was thrown clear of the burning wreckage. By the time corner workers arrived, the driver – who many believe was robbed of a win at Le Mans in 1966 – was already dead.
Despite a massive investigation into the accident, a clear cause was never found. The original J-Car chassis were strengthened to avoid such tragedy in the future, and the J-Car’s original “breadvan” shape was replaced by a body that sloped gracefully to the rear, reducing lift at speed. This refined variant became known as the GT40 Mk IV, and it made its racing debut at Sebring in 1967.
In-period, a total of 12 J-Car chassis were built. J-1, J-2 (the car driven by Miles at Riverside), and J-3 were used for development, while J-4 became the first GT40 Mk IV raced, and in the hands of Mario Andretti and Bruce McLaren, delivering a victory at Sebring in April 1967. Chassis J-5 through J-8 were dedicated to Ford’s 1967 Le Mans efforts, with J-5 – the 1967 Le Mans winner, driven by Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt – and J-6 prepared by Shelby American and the remaining cars, J-7 and J-8, prepared by Holman & Moody. Chassis J-9 and J-10 were converted into open-cockpit Can-Am cars, while two chassis – unnumbered at the time – were built as spares.
The chassis that would later become J-12 was sold by Ford to Harry T. Heinl of Miami Lakes, Florida, circa 1970, part of a lot that also included J-4, J-7, and P/1015. Heinl’s reported intention was to rebuild chassis J-7, the Holman & Moody car driven at Le Mans in 1967 by Mario Andretti and Lucien Bianchi, using the other cars as parts donors. This never progressed much beyond the planning stage, and in 1977, Brian Angliss, owner of Autokraft Ltd. in England (and later, owner of AC Cars Ltd.) purchased the still-unnumbered chassis from Heinl.
Roughly a year later, Angliss sold the bare chassis, along with most of the spare parts necessary to build a complete car, to Rod Leach of Hertforshire, England. Leach contracted with Angliss to complete the build, and in the process, chassis numbers were assigned to J-11 and the later-built J-12. One replacement body existed for the two spare chassis, however, so the owners agreed that J-12 would receive an original nose with a fabricated tail, while J-11 would receive the original tail and a fabricated nose.
Recreating a GT40, even in the late 1970s, was no simple affair. A period-correct Ford 427-cu.in. V-8 was easy enough to find, though the T-44 transmission proved slightly more challenging. A still-crated NOS unit was located in 1984, six years after work on the build began, and in 1987, just in time for the 20th anniversary of the GT40 MK IV’s win at Le Mans, chassis J-12 completed its shakedown testing in the hands of model expert Brian Wingfield. Fittingly, the car was driven on demonstration laps at Le Mans in 1987 as part of the model’s anniversary celebration.
Chassis J-12’s last-built status was confirmed in 1989 by Nick Hartman, owner of Kar Kraft, and acknowledged by the Shelby American Automobile Club. The GT40 Mk IV remained with Leach until August of 1994, when it sold to the consignor, a passionate collector of sports and racing cars. In 2015, J-12 was issued an FIA Historic Technical Passport, verifying that it meets proper period technical specifications and ensuring its eligibility for FIA-sanctioned vintage racing events.
Ford GT40s don’t appear at auction all that often, and even without a period competition record, chassis J-12 remains a part of Ford’s racing history. Gooding & Company is predicting a selling price between $2 million and $2.5 million when the last of the period-built chassis GT40 Mk IV’s crosses the auction stage next month.
The Gooding & Company Amelia Island Auction takes place at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation on Amelia Island, Florida. For additional details, visit GoodingCo.com.