This Ford GT40 had not one, but two identity crises

The argument between Enzo Ferrari and Henry Ford II that resulted in the prolific 1960s Le Mans battles between the powerful V-8 GT40s and the screaming V-12s from Maranello is well documented. With the recent release of Ford v Ferrari, Hagerty welcomed two cars to our headquarters in Traverse City, Michigan. The GT40 on display has a fascinating past, documented by two identity crises.

The bright gold paint and 427-cubic-inch V-8 hiding under the rear clamshell will draw you in, but the real story is captured in four numbers. All first-run GT40s carried identification numbers that started with P/ followed by four digits. This gold GT, with black accents and the #5 on the door, is P/1047, but it has also been P/1031. How can that be?

Before the ID number mix up was its first identity crisis. Born in England and based on the Lola Mk6, this GT40 was a Ford racer before Mercury wanted in on the act. After a paint job, Ford badging was removed and replaced with Mercury branding in an effort to lure buyers into Mercury showrooms and (hopefully) buy the new Cougar. Chassis #1047 was not just a showpiece, however; it took to the track in 1967 for the 24 Hours of Daytona. Unfortunately, it was retired due to a faulty transaxle input shaft.

Ford GT40
Kyle Smith
Ford GT40
Kyle Smith

Upon returning to the Shelby stable in 1967, #1047 was sold and lived in a private collection in France. When pieces of racing history are relocated, as this one was in 2003, there is excitement but also a healthy dose of curiosity about its history. Multiple items on the car hinted about its interesting past and suggested that it might not be exactly as it was being presented.

The most noticeable clues were two DZUS fasteners on the cowl. Photography during the era it raced showed two GT40s MkIIs equipped this way—#1016 and #1031. Further inspection of #1047 showed that numerous parts comprising the chassis were marked #1031. The chassis plate was stamped with #1047, however.

Of course, there is a simple explanation: race cars are tools designed to complete a task. Over the course of its job, it is possible that most—if not all—of the parts attached to the chassis plate could have been swapped due to sustained damage, upgrades, or general changes that tend to happen to race cars. The team researching the car at the time shifted from inspecting these bolt-on parts to analyzing details less likely to be switched. Using period photographs to identify unique items, like bracket locations and other pieces of construction, researchers confirmed that the car wearing body plate #1047 started life as #1031.

Ford GT40
Kyle Smith

Though there was little doubt, one final item firmly sealed the deal. Chassis #1047 had not been restored when it was being researched in 2003. By carefully taking off layers of paint from under the weatherstripping on the roof, investigators matched the colors to the livery timeline on #1031, which were unique.

So what happened and why? Clearly, the GT40 had been re-numbered, but it is unclear whether it happened leading up to the 1967 24 hours of Le Mans or shortly after. The identification number was legally re-assigned by Shelby American and Ford. The reasons why remain murky.

This gold racer may have had two identity crises, but it also helped shape history for racing fans from two continents. If you would like to see this car in person, be sure to stop by Hagerty’s home office in Traverse City, Michigan, where it will be on display through November 2019.

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