South Africa’s supercar classic

26 January 2007

The most famous endurance racing event in motorsport is the 24 Hours of Le Mans, raced on one of the world’s fastest circuits. And one of the most famous cars to have graced the race is the Ford GT40. So great is the impression it made way back in the 1960s that there is still demand for the car today – and people are turning to South Africa to find one.

The original car has a fascinating history. Henry Ford II had wanted to compete at Le Mans since the early 1960s. So he tried to buy Ferrari, and his advances were well received until, with a deal all but signed, Ferrari pulled out.

Ford was frustrated and angry. He wanted to show up Ferrari and so, after looking at a number of potential partners, he made a deal with Lola to help build a car that would be a Ferrari-beater.

Ford, Lola, and Aston-Martin
Lola’s founder, Eric Broadley, joined with Ford and a number of ex-Aston Martin team members to produce the new car. Early in 1963, the first chassis was built. The car was first shown in England and then exhibited in New York.

It was first raced in 1964 in the Nurburgring 1 000 kilometre race, and then later in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but failed to do well.

Success wasn’t forthcoming in 1965 either, but by 1966, when the MK II version of the car was released, Ford recorded a 1-2-3 finish at Le Mans. Further victories followed in 1967, 1968 and 1969.

Among the men who worked on the GT40 in Slough, England was a young mechanic by the name of Brian Lewis, and over 40 years later, he is still involved in building GT40s.

Today, however Lewis helps build GT40s in Cape Town, South Africa.

The best
The company that produces the cars is Auto Futura, and the replicas are known as CAV (Cape Advance Vehicles) GTs. They are regarded as among the best, if not the best, replicas of the car being made in the world today.

Just how highly regarded are they? Last year at Le Mans, Sir Stirling Moss drove a CAV GT, supplied by Auto Futura, as the official pace car for the 24 Hours of Le Man. His verdict? It’s a car with “a lot of stick”.

Lewis reckons the reason why the CAV GT stands out is attention to detail. He explains: “Back then, it took time and effort to build a car that had to last the pace of a 24-hour endurance race. Not like today, where a car that crosses the finish line will have different components to the one that started.”

Improvements
Luckily for Lewis, the owners of Auto Futura, Jean Fourie and John Spence, are as passionate about the GT40 as he is, and that means turning out the best car possible, including making improvements where they can be made.

Lewis says: “These guys are building a GT40 as it should have been done in 1964”. That building has included significantly redesigning the chassis. The results, though, are excellent.

Orders for the cars have come in from all around the world, and CAV GT distributors can be found in San Diego, New York, Toronto, London, Germany, Australia and South Africa.

Options
There are a number of options when buying a CAV GT, with engine outputs ranging from 261 kW all the way up to 433 kW. For a car that weighs just 1 160 kilograms, that means driving a machine that is a supercar.

Compare it, for example, to a Ferrari F430. The Ferrari’s power-to-weight ratio is 251 kW per ton. The CAV GT’s power-to-weight ratio is significantly higher at 380 kW per ton.

Surprisingly, though, the car is relatively cheap, considering what you’re getting for the price. An entry level CAV GT costs about R600 000, while the car with the monstrous 433 kW engine costs R900 000, which, in the supercar category, is a real bargain.

At present, three to four cars make it onto the international market a month. Sixteen have found South African homes.

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