The Ford GT40 that won the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans and led a stunning 1-2-3 sweep by the automaker’s cars in the classic endurance race, is arguably the most-significant American race car of all time.
With a team led by the legendary Carroll Shelby, the newly developed GT40s not only accomplished the goal of beating the Ferraris, ending their six-year winning streak, but dominated all the European racers in the French all-nighter, becoming the only American cars to ever win Le Mans.
RK Motors of Charlotte, North Carolina, recently announced that it has gained possession of the 1966 Le Mans-winner that wore the number 2 and has embarked on a full, period-accurate restoration of the landmark car.
“This car is the ‘66 Le Mans winner, the… car that beat Ferrari, and I think that pretty much sums it up,” said Jeff Spiegel, spokesman for RK Motors. “We’re basically taking it all the way back to 1966 to its full originality.”
The Charlotte classic car dealer bought the historic GT40 from a European owner, Spiegel said. That owner had purchased the car from a longtime U.S. owner who had raced it in vintage competition events.
The GT40 acquisition is quite a coup for RK Motors, which was founded four years ago by Rob Kauffman, co-owner of NASCAR’s Michael Waltrip Racing, and Joseph M. Carroll.
“Believe me, it’s something I never thought I would be involved in, but boy I am thrilled and excited and privileged to be a part of this,” Spiegel said. “History in the making. It’s crazy.”
The restoration of the GT40 is expected to take 20 months and will culminate with its unveiling at the 2016 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, which is expected to host a special class of GT40s to mark the 50th anniversary of the Le Mans victory.
“You couldn’t ask for a better timing scenario,” Spiegel said. “Not only is the anniversary coming up but Ford has announced that the new GT program is coming back on line in 2016.”
The GT40 had been restored in the 1980s, with a new fiberglass body replacing the damaged original, Spiegel said. However, everything needs to be redone to create an accurate rendition of the car’s competition state when it won Le Mans.
“One of the main things is that all the doors and body panels were all done (during its past restoration) in a very thick fiberglass that was way too thick for original, very heavy, very rigid,” he said. “I guess that was the way they did it back in the ’80s for GT40s that were being restored.
“We’re taking the body panels and everything and taking it back to the way it was. It’s going to be very lightweight, very flimsy and very pliable, and that’s the way it was designed to be. We do have the actual rear bonnet from the car that was taken off during the (1980s) restoration, and that is the actual bonnet that will be on the fully restored car.”
At this point, the car has been disassembled and bead blasted, Spiegel said.
“Now the different levels of research are happening to finalize all the documentation of the car, looking at what needs to be done, what parts need to be ordered,” he said. “It’s sitting as a blasted frame right now.
“It’s a nuts-and-bolts concours restoration. This car when it is done should be 100 points, exactly as original.”
RK Motors is working with a noted GT40 expert in the restoration, Siegel said, although RK is not ready yet to identify who that is.
“We’re not undertaking this task all by ourselves,” he said. “We have a restoration partner that is very well-versed in GT40s that is one of the leading, one of the original GT40 restorers in this country. We have the best of the best working on this restoration.”
RK plans to share the details and progress of the lengthy restoration on its website through photos and extensive video segments, he added. A special page already has been set up within the website to allow public access to the restoration features at rkmotorscharlotte.com.
“What we’re going to do is create a video series that will take the viewer from the beginning of the GT40 program when it started all the way through the restoration of the vehicle,” he said. “We will put that out as a seven-or-so-part series. And those videos will be available to pretty much anybody on our website.”
The first video to go up will feature GT40 racing history, he said, with lots of period footage showing the iconic cars in action, including the 1966 Le Mans race. Subsequent videos will track the progress of the restoration.
The importance of the restoration of the first-place GT40 cannot be overstated, Spiegel said, adding that it could be considered the holy grail among vintage American race cars.
“It really is; I’ve heard it called that before,” he said. “It changed everything. It showed Ferrari and it showed a lot of the Europeans that we’re not messing around here.”