“I’ve stuffed my fat ass into a thousand racing cars – and this one is the best”.

by John S. Allen


No, that’s not me talking.  To start with, I don’t have a fat ass – no, honest – and the “ass” I do have has not been stuffed into anything like a thousand racing cars.  The words came from the, er, amply proportioned David Piper.  Folk under about 30 will say “who?”, but those above about 40 will know for sure.  Englishman David Piper is a driver of racing cars – make that sports-racing cars – who’s been competing since Methuselah was a nipper.  He has spent time as a works driver for both Ferrari and Porsche, competed at Le Mans, and even now, after some 50 years in the business, still drives a pretty mean race.

So now we know who he is – what car is he referring to?  A Ferrari?  Nope.  A Porsche?  Wrong again.  A Ford?  Of course, what took you so long?

The “Ford” is actually a latter-day recreation of arguably the finest sports-racer of all time: the GT40, naturally.  Yes, you’ve all heard about the Ford GT40.  You wouldn’t be checking out this site if you hadn’t.  The biggest and, some would say, the best, version of the car was the Mark II.  That was the one which had a 7-litre motor nailed between the back wheels.  It was as heavy as a tank, and as difficult to stop, but was as reliable as a train.  Oops, suddenly that’s not a very good comparison any more, is it?  Anyway, you know what I mean.

Mark II production had ceased by the middle of 1966, and nobody ever actually thought it would restart.  Back in those far off days, two of Ford’s official American race teams prepared and raced the Mark II.  They were Shelby American, and Holman & Moody.  The former is well known, thanks to Carroll Shelby’s other Ford involvement (eg, the Cobra), but the name Holman & Moody is somewhat less well known – unless you happen to be in to NASCAR racing, of course.

Holman & Moody’s race results with the Mark II were never as sparkling as Shelby’s, but there was a very good reason for that: Ford didn’t want them to be.  H&M’s contribution to the race effort was to play second fiddle to Shelby, and the H&M cars were expected to cruise around just behind the Shelby machines, ready to pick up the pieces if the Shelby team failed (which was rarely).  Now some people, notably the Shelby fans, may not agree with that analysis, but there’s always two sides to every argument, you guys.

 

Well, H&M eventually gave up big-time racing, and the team kinda went away.  Except, one member of it wouldn’t let it die.  Lee Holman is the son of the co-founder, John Holman, and he’d been part of the team in its heyday.  When, in the late ‘sixties, the team was auctioning off its stocks of GT40 cars and spares, he attempted to buy a car for himself.  “Attempted”, is the right word, for when Holman senior realised Junior was bidding, the hammer came down on Lee, and not on the car. "No biddin’, son, yuh heah?"

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Deprived of the chance to own his own Mark II, Lee had to let the matter rest.  Well, for a while, anyway.  Many years later, the idea came to him: if I can’t buy one, I could build one – and then I could build some more, and sell them!  He had all the team’s documentation relating to the cars’ preparation and racing history, plus all the plans needed to make a car that was indistinguishable from the real thing.  What’s more, Holman & Moody, being official Ford agents when dealing with the GT40, still had the rights to build the car, and –important, this – actually call it a GT40.

Back in Britain, production of GT40 chassis had resumed, with Tennant Panels producing brand new authentic monocoque tubs from original drawings and tools.  That was all Lee needed.  He could buy new ready-made chassis, and use his accumulated documentation, knowledge and facilities to make REAL Mark IIs again.  And, oh boy, has he succeeded!

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The 1993 Holman (the “& Moody” has been dropped) Mark II is the nearest thing to an original Mark II that you will ever find, period.  This is not just some small-block GT40 look-alike made up skin deep to look like a Mark II; by incorporating the scores of minor modifications that transformed the standard GT40 into the Mark II, Lee’s masterpiece can fool all of the people, all of the time.

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Built in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the old H&M company was based (and where they still work on NASCAR engines), the cars are assembled by Jim Rose and Jimmy Tucker, two of the original Ford race team crew chiefs who worked on the cars in the ‘sixties.  The GT40’s normal 5-litre engine is replaced by a muscular 7-litre dry-sump version, built up by Tucker, who built the engine for the fastest Le Mans Mark II. The 5-speed ZF gearbox gives way to a bulletproof Ford T-44 transaxle (newly manufactured), and the fibreglass bodywork comes from original Ford Mark II moulds.

A buyer can have his car assembled to either IIA (1966) or IIB (1967) specifications, and can, if he so wishes, have the car in precisely the same detailed configuration as any individual example of the original race cars.  An additional benefit for the potential purchaser is that because Holman & Moody made the cars all those years ago, the new ones are considered to be legal for vintage racing – so you can buy one and go racing straight away.

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Now, they aren’t cheap.  Just how cheap they aren’t depends on specification, but don’t expect much change out of $600,000.  Yes, I know, it’s a lot of money, but let’s be honest about this; the only ones of us likely to be in the market in the first place are the lottery winners, and, what the heck, suddenly six hundred K (dollars, remember, not pounds) is nothing from out of a big win.  Go on, splash out, make Lee a happy man and buy one of his cars.  When my lottery numbers come up (probably next week – I’m sure it’s my turn by now) I’m going to place my order right there and then.  By the way, if you do decide to buy one, please let me know.  I think I deserve a commission after this.

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But seriously though, these cars really do deserve to sell.  Over the last thirty-some years I’ve seen maybe eighty-odd of the real Ford GT40s, so I guess I have a rough idea of what one should be like, and these new ones sure impress me.  What’s more, Lee Holman is a thoroughly nice bloke, and I’d like to see him succeed with his project.  So do other people: David Piper, for example.  When big David says that he just loves driving the Mark II, and he’ll even offer his very valuable services for free, just so’s he can drive the car at Daytona, you know this is one helluva fine race car.  And it’s even big enough for his fat ass.