In a soft rain, just past 4:00 p.m. on June 19, 1966, a trio of Ford GT40 Mk IIs rounded the White House corner on the Circuit de la Sarthe, running in a carefully orchestrated pack. In the most controversial finish the 24 Hours of Le Mans has ever seen, Ford didn’t just beat rival Ferrari, it humiliated the legendary brand in its own backyard, taking first-, second-, and third-place. This August, chassis P/1016, the third-place 1966 Ford GT40 Mk II, crosses the block in Monterey, California, where RM Sotheby’s estimates the selling price could hit $12 million, setting a new benchmark for a Ford GT40 sold at auction.
The trio of GT40 Mk IIs approach the finish line at Le Mans in 1966. Photo courtesy Ford Motor Company.
Chassis P/1016 was constructed as a GT 40 Mk I (minus any front bodywork), then shipped on September 11, 1965, from Ford Advanced Vehicles in the U.K. to Shelby American in California. There, Shelby’s crew converted the car to Mk II specifications, making additional room in the engine compartment to accommodate the 427-cu.in. Ford V-8, reinforcing the chassis to handle the additional power, and adding the revised Mk II fiberglass rear bodywork. In place of the standard four-speed manual gearbox, P/1016 used an experimental automatic transmission, and on January 13, 1966, the GT40 Mk II – painted white with a black Mk I nose – was shipped from Shelby’s shop to Sebring, Florida, for shakedown testing.
A GT40 Mk II tests at Sebring in 1966; though Ford doesn’t specify this, the car is most likely P/1016. Photo courtesy Ford Motor Company.
Driven by Ken Miles and Ronnie Bucknum in testing, gear ratios and front bodywork airflow issues were sorted out in advance of the car’s initial race outing, at the 24 Hours of Daytona on February 5-6. Assigned to Holman-Moody, chassis P/1016 carried number 87, and was driven at Daytona by Bucknum and Richie Ginther. Past the halfway point, at roughly 13 hours into the race, the automatic transmission proved to be the weak link, forcing the GT40 to retire early. Still, P/1016 made racing history, becoming the first (and only) Ford GT40 to contest a race with an automatic transmission.
For the 12 Hours of Sebring, on March 26, chassis P/1016 carried number 4 and received a repaint in gold, but retained its black Mk I nose. The automatic transmission carried over as well, and in the car’s second race outing, Bucknum and A.J. Foyt delivered a 12th-place finish for the Holman-Moody team.
Next came Ford’s 1966 onslaught at Le Mans, and in preparation, P/1016 was equipped with a manual transmission and fitted with a proper Mk II nose (which did away with the issue of front-tires rubbing through the bodywork in high-speed corners). Painted in gold with white sill stripes, the car was one of three Holman-Moody GT40 Mk II entries in the race, backed up by three Mk IIs from Shelby American and two Mk IIs from Alan Mann Racing. Privateer teams fielded another five GT40 Mk Is; clearly, Henry Ford II was doing all he could to stack the deck in favor of a Ford victory.
The pink diamond (on the driver’s side only) and pink nose accents were added prior to the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans to make it more identifiable.
Assigned number 5 for the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans, P/1016 was painted with hot-pink accents upon arrival in France to better distinguish it from other GT40s entered. Again, Bucknum was assigned to the car, partnered up with Holman-Moody NASCAR star Dick Hutcherson for the race.
Much has been written about the race itself (including A.J. Baime’s outstanding book, Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans), but it can ultimately be summed up in a three-word note slipped to Leo Beebe, Ford’s Director of Special Vehicles, by Henry Ford II. Signed “HF II,” it read simply, “You better win.”
To up the odds of a Ford victory, teams issued very strict orders to drivers. Pit boards were not to be ignored (a factor that some believe contributed to Walt Hansgen’s high-speed crash in April testing, resulting in his death five days later); fast-but-conservative lap time targets were issued, ensuring the Ferrari 330 P3s would break before the Fords; a rev limit of 6,200 rpm was ordered; driver changes were mandated at every other fuel stop; and brakes were to be conserved as much as racing would allow.
As the final laps were counted down on the afternoon of June 19, it appeared that the win would go to the number 1 GT40 Mk II, a Shelby American team car driven by Ken Miles and Denny Hulme. On the final lap, the black number 2 Shelby American car of Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon pulled alongside, as directed by Leo Beebe, and with both enjoying a commanding lead over the remainder of the field, the teammates covered the last miles at a relatively calm pace. Coming off the last corner, the two cars continued their side-by-side run, crossing the finish line together and trailed by P/1016, 12 laps down from the Shelby GT40 Mk IIs but nine laps ahead of the next-closest competitor.
Ultimately, Miles was robbed of the win, since McLaren’s car had started farther back in the field and had therefore covered a greater distance – eight meters, or 26 feet – in the same time. With Hutcherson at the wheel, the sole remaining Holman-Moody entry had delivered a podium sweep for Ford, a result that even Henry Ford II could not have envisioned. While two Ferraris finished in the top-10, both were 275 GTB Competizione models fielded by privateer teams; none of the 330 P3s entered by Scuderia Ferrari finished the race.
Following its time in the spotlight, chassis P/1016 was returned to the United States, cleaned up by Holman-Moody, then taken by Shelby American on a Ford dealership promotional tour across the Southeastern United States. When the tour concluded in December 1966, P/1016 was returned to Holman-Moody, where it was prepared for the 1967 24 Hours of Daytona.
Wearing number 4 and painted gold with black sill stripes, the car was driven by Mark Donohue and Peter Revson, but retired early after suffering transmission failure. Next, it was again flown to France to participate in the April 1967 Le Mans Trials, where it carried the number 2 and was driven by Donohue and McLaren. Its initial racing career over, P/1016 was returned to the United States and placed in storage in Charlotte, North Carolina, before being restored by Holman-Moody, which kept its Le Mans Trials livery (per Ford’s direction) but mistakenly assigned it chassis tag P/1015, the serial number of Miles’ second-place 1966 Le Mans car. This would cause confusion over the car’s identity for decades, until it was positively identified as P/1016 in the late 1980s or early 1990s.
In February 1968, while the car was undergoing restoration at Holman-Moody, Ford gifted it to the Harrah’s Collection, incorrectly identifying it as the second-place Le Mans car. Before it could be shipped to Reno, the Mk II was sent on a Ford/Hathaway Shirt tour, which included drivers Hutcherson and Cale Yarborough at selected stops. Harrah’s reportedly didn’t take possession of the car until sometime in early 1970, and the car remained a part of the collection until purchased by Leslie Barth in 1983.
Believing it was the Ken Miles car, Barth repainted it in a light blue and white motif. Five years later, in 1988, it was purchased by Nick Soprano and then by Peter Livanos, who recruited former Shelby team members to sort and ready the car for the 1989 Watkins Glen 2-Hour vintage enduro, where it was driven to a second-place finish by Brian Redman and Jackie Ickx.
After passing through a few more owners, the car – now positively identified as P/1016 – was acquired by Ken Quintenz in 1992, who restored it to the 1966 Le Mans colors, and for the most part, equipment. Though crashed at a May 1996 SVRA event, it was repaired in time to make an appearance at the June 1996 Goodwood Festival of Speed, which commemorated the 30th anniversary of Ford’s 1966 podium sweep. At the end of the 1966 racing season, it was returned to Holman-Moody for a comprehensive rebuild, and raced regularly on the vintage circuit though 1998.
In 2001, it appeared in Dearborn, Michigan, displayed at Ford Racing’s Centennial celebration, and two years later it returned to mark the automaker’s 100th birthday. The same year, 2003, it appeared again at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, before gracing the field at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where it earned the “People’s Choice” award.
Acquired by the consignor, a Swiss collector, in 2004, the car was again sent to Holman Automotive for sorting and race preparation before being shipped to Europe. After competing in the 2004 Le Mans Classic, chassis P/1016 was displayed at the Swiss automotive press introduction of the 2004 Ford GT revival. In the years since, it’s been raced with some regularity on the vintage circuit, and has appeared at numerous shows and automotive events.
Given the car’s provenance and place in racing history, it’s difficult to assign a specific pre-auction estimate, and as evidence, RM Sotheby’s is predicting a range between $9 million and $12 million for P/1016. In August 2012, a GT40 Gulf/Mirage raced to a win at Spa and later repurposed as a camera car for the filming of Steve McQueen’s Le Mans sold at RM’s Monterey auction for a record-setting $11 million. Four years later, in 2016, RM Sotheby’s sold CSX 2000, the prototype Shelby Cobra, for $13.75 million, making it the both the most expensive Ford sold at auction, as well as the most expensive American car. Ultimately, the price of P/1016 will be determined by the enthusiasm of the bidders in the room and on the phone, but a new record certainly seems within reach.
RM Sotheby’s Monterey sale takes place from August 24-25 at the Monterey Conference Center in Monterey, California. For additional details, visit RMSothebys.com.