Sold for $200,000 at 2013 Gooding & Company
Winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans was certainly Ford's ultimate obsession throughout the middle of the 1960s. However, a premier racing series would get its start much closer to home and that would require the same dedication of passion and technology to even stand a chance. In 1967, Ford would lend a hand to create its challenger for the new Can-Am series. The rather droll Ford Honker II would be their answer.
As with the GT40 project, Ford needed the right people to head up the project. Len Bailey was a member of the Ford Advanced Vehicles studio in England, the very same that had helped to develop the GT40. Therefore, Bailey seemed to be the perfect individual to lend his talents in creating a monocoque chassis.
Then there was Holman Moody. To do battle against McLaren and the Chevrolet-powered Lola, Ford would need an engine capable of competing. Moody headed up Ford's efforts in NASCAR. Therefore, Moody had more than enough experience building powerful V8 engines. Based in the United States, and an engine specialist, John Holma's Holman Moody would be placed in charge of the effort.
The project would get underway. The need was to build a monocoque chassis that was light, strong and firmly planted to the ground. Alan Mann Racing would be given this task. All major components would be placed as low to the ground as possible to keep the center of gravity low. In addition, the chassis design would be compact from front to back to keep the weight balanced firmly in the center of the car.
Using Ford's wind tunnel, work would begin to fashion an extremely aerodynamic body. The fiberglass body would be incredibly sleek and would fully envelop all aspects of the car. About the only element of the car that would be seen from underneath the bodywork would be the large inlet pipes for the V8 engine.
The engine would be a revised version of a small-block V8 supplied by Ford. Using Tecalemit-Jackson fuel injection and four 2-barrel Weber Carburetors, the engine would be capable of producing around 600bhp.
Complete with front and rear independent suspension and four-wheel disc brakes, the new car seemed capable of competing with the best of the Can-Am ranks, especially with Mario Andretti as the team's driver. However, this would prove to be far from true.
The team would get a preview of things to come when it arrived at Road America for its first race. Of course, the name of the car should have been the very first indication of the trouble ahead. John Holman had earned something of a reputation during his trucking days. He was known for being a little too fond of honking his horn. In a reference to Holman then the car would be called the Honker II. Unfortunately, in practice at Road America, it would be the other competitors that wished they had a horn as they would have used it to signal Andretti to give up the whole enterprise. Being more than 15 seconds slower than Bruce McLaren's pole-winning effort in the McLaren M6A, the Holman Moody team would decide not to start the race as a result of not being competitive enough.
Though not competitive, the Honker II, with its Passino Purple livery, would be attractive enough to draw interest from actor and racing enthusiast Paul Newman. Pictured with Andretti by the car at the 1967 Chevron Grand Prix at Bridgehampton, Newman would become a sponsor of the team and would be rewarded with his name being placed in nice big letters right on the nose of the car.
Newman's name would not make the car any faster as it would start the race, the second of the season, from 23rd on the grid. But, despite starting well down in the field, Andretti would manage to coax to the car into finishing the race in 8th place. Still, this was too far down for Andretti's liking and he was rapidly growing tired of the car. Failing to start at Mosport because of being uncompetitive certainly wouldn't help his mood, nor would the early retirement in the Cam-Am Riverside race.
Bearing issues would cause Andretti to miss the start of the Can-Am Las Vegas, the last round of the season. As far as Andretti was concerned this was fine by him but it had cost him a year of competition with practically no results. As a result, Andretti would bow out from the team. At least the experience wouldn't sour the relationship between Andretti and Newman as the two would go on to earn the CART Championship in 1984.
The brevity of the Can-Am season put tremendous amounts of pressure on the Holman Moody team. There was practically no time in which to improve the car. By the end of the season the Honker II certainly appeared to require too much attention to make it thoroughly competitive. As a result, the team would pull out of Can-Am and Newman would kind of get his revenge on the car using it as a stunt car in his 1969 movie Winning.
During the movie, the Honker II would be crashed during a filming sequence. Andretti likely would have thought the car had found its perfect role. Following its appearance in the film, the Honker II would be stored away in Holman Moody's shop. The car would remain locked away until the mid-1980s when John Holman's son, Lee, determined to restore the Honker II. The intention wasn't to resurrect a loser, but to prove what the car was truly capable of achieving.
The monocoque chassis would be thoroughly restored. New drivetrain components would be installed. One of the major changes would be the change in engine from the Ford V8 to a 600hp Gurney-Weslake engine. The Gurney-Weslake engine would then be mated to a five-speed Hewland LG-600 transaxle.
Following the restoration the Honker II would be sold to Peter Dyson who would turn around and sell the car in 1994 to Mr. Mittler. Mittler would take Lee Holman's desire to make the ultimate Honker quite literally and would contract Alec Greaves, who formerly was a McLaren Can-Am builder, to bolster the car. It would not be a cheap exercise. Costing nearly $200,000, the Honker II would be updated with a much more rigid chassis and other detailed work.
The work would be worth it as Mittler would go on to win the Historic Can-Am Celebration Cup held as part of the Chicago Historic Races in 1997. As lately as 2008, the Honker II would have the fuel bladders replaced along with a rebuilding of the engine and suspension.
Despite not being the fastest Can-Am car, the Honker II would find itself featured in a number of publications including Car and Driver and Road & Track in 1967 and even an October 1978 issue of Sports Illustrated.
Infamous, and yet, illustrious, the Holman Moody Ford Honker II would be offered at the 2013 Gooding & Company Pebble Beach auction. Despite having nearly $200,000 worth of restoration work completed, the failed Can-Am car and movie prop would only draw estimates ranging from $240,000 to $280,000. Unfortunately, when the bidding ceased a final sale price of just $200,000 would be reached. Sources:
'Lot No. 137: 1967 Holman Moody Ford Honker II', (http://www.goodingco.com/vehicle/1967-holman-moody-ford-honker-ii/#tab2). Gooding & Company. http://www.goodingco.com/vehicle/1967-holman-moody-ford-honker-ii/#tab2. Retrieved 29 August 2013.
'Chassis: Honker-II', (http://www.racingsportscars.com/chassis/archive/Honker-II%23.html). Racing Sports Cars. http://www.racingsportscars.com/chassis/archive/Honker-II%23.html. Retrieved 29 August 2013.
By Jeremy McMullen