An upstart Westfield company's reproduction of the 1966 Ford GT40 Mk1 race car turns heads wherever it goes.
Whether it's on the highway or in a showroom, people can't help but gaze at the sleek, retro roadster built to emulate the original that dominated the 24 Hours of Le Mans races nearly 40 years ago. It dethroned Italian automaker Ferrari at the 1966 event, finishing first, second and third, and went on to win the race four consecutive times.
Executives of Sony Corp. fell under the replica's nostalgic spell, too, expressing their admiration by awarding the car its Best Domestic Automobile prize last month at the Specialty Equipment Marketing Association trade show in Las Vegas.
"It was fantastic to be able to win that," said Andrew Broadley, one of three coowners of GT40 North America LLC. "In a way, it showed us that what we were doing was right."
Broadley is GT40 NA's chief technical officer and designed the duplicate to satisfy company President Bob Hancher's infatuation with the classic car. Broadley didn't have to search far for the blueprints, though. He's the son of Eric Broadley, founder of Lola Cars Ltd. in England, who created and designed the original GT40.
When Hancher wanted to buy one, he discovered he'd have to purchase a kit to build it from scratch. He launched the enterprise upon reasoning there must be enough demand to build and sell the cars himself.
The two, along with Chief Operating Officer Buddy Recentio, founded the enterprise in October 2003. They since have built six prototypes, five of which have been sold, and now are ramping up to produce the hot rods for consumer consumption.
"We've built a race car for the street," Hancher said. "I've always thought it was one of the most beautiful cars I've ever seen in any era."
The basic model features the smaller, 392-cubic-inch motor instead of the beefier 427. Make no mistake, though, the machine that roars as loud as any stock car still moves. It travels zero to 60 in 4.5 seconds and tops out at more than 180 mph. The V8s are built by Roush Performance in Michigan, owned by Jack Roush, who's won back-to-back championships in the NASCAR Nextel Cup series with drivers Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch.
With a starting price of about $125,000, the market is narrow. The target is the car enthusiast who may want to race it, or the collector who wants to own the closest thing to the original available. The abundant disposable income of some baby boomers is driving hot-rodding to the point where collectors are shelling out big bucks to build their cars.
The GT40's steep price tag still could pose problems, however, according to one local car buff. Tim Durham, CEO of locally based Obsidian Enterprises Inc. and owner of Speedster Motorcars in Clearwater, Fla., said they may have a difficult time selling enough cars to be profitable.
Speedster Motorcars makes replicas of the Auburn Speedster, a boat-tail beauty priced at $79,000. It plans to introduce a version that will cost in the $50,000 range. The company sells about four cars a month, Durham said.
"At that level, we can make a little bit of money," he said. "If [GT40 NA] could produce a car in [that] range, [it] would have a broader audience to sell to. At $125,000, it's going to be pretty restrictive."
In addition, Ford started manufacturing 3,000 of its own GT40 models last year at roughly $150,000 each as part of the automaker's centennial celebration. Hancher said he thinks rebuilding the original will be as appealing to the "purist" as a new luxury car will be to others.
Chris Paulsen, president and owner of locally based C&R Racing Inc., which manufacturers auto parts for the racing industry, is building the chassis, cooling system and some specialty components for the GT40 replica. From what he's seen, Paulsen thinks the company can be competitive.
"Quite honestly, with the limited quantity of the car Ford's going to manufacture, it's not going to fill the need," Paulsen said. "This is more of a racing version of that same car. With that in mind, I think it's got quite a bit of appeal."
The goal next year is to produce about 50 cars. To help accomplish that, the company is in the process of moving its development and production operations to a separate facility on U.S. 31 about a mile from the current location on Westfield Park Road, where sales and service will remain. The 18,000 square feet of additional space gives the 12-person company room to manufacture other replicas. There are plans to build the Lola T70 that appeared on European racing circuits from 1966 to 1968.
Broadley began working at the Lola family business as a 16-year-old and designed the 1987 to 1990 models of the Sports 2000 car. He came to the United States to sell the automobile and met his wife, an Indianapolis native, whom he married in 1992. The original Lola company folded in 1997, so the couple moved to Indiana.
After having no luck catching on with a race team in Indianapolis, Broadley landed at Innovative Corp. in Carmel, where he designed and built high-end entertainment centers. In May 2002, Indian Motorcycle Corp. in California hired him to be its director of engineering. The company was in the process of resurrecting the Indian name and mass-producing the motorcycles to compete with Harley-Davidson when investors got cold feet, Broadley said. Operations ceased in September 2003.
So, upon moving back to Indiana, Broadley contacted Hancher, whom he had met in 1990 when Hancher was team manager for the Doug Shierson Racing team that fielded cars in the Indianapolis 500.
"You won't believe what I'm doing," Hancher told Broadley, referring to his plans to replicate the GT40.
Hancher was introduced to racing when the Indianapolis Motor Speedway purchased garage doors for Gasoline Alley from Raynor Garage Doors, for which he was a marketing executive in the 1980s.
Raynor started its own Indy-racing team, and Hancher became president. In 1997, Hancher was co-owner and managing partner for FirstPlus Team Cheever, which won the Indy 200 with Eddie Cheever Jr. and finished third in the Indy 500 with Jeff Ward. He also owned the ISM Racing team, which competed in NASCAR with driver Todd Bodine.
Recentio moved to Indianapolis from Pennsylvania in 1993 while serving as team coordinator for Walker Racing. He teamed with Hancher in 1997 to found the Cheever team and also was involved with ISM Racing. Hancher had left the racing industry and was putting deals together through his Commerce Street Venture Group when he approached Recentio about becoming involved in GT40 NA.
Together, the trio hopes the GT40 will hold the key to keeping their partnership together for years to come.
"These are toys," Broadley said of the replicas. "What we're trying to do is combine a race car from the 1960s with today's modern technology. It's the quickest thing I've ever driven, that's for sure."