Sell a classic car Ken Miles biography. Kenneth Henry Miles (1 November 1918 – 17 August 1966) was a British sports car racing engineer and driver best known for his career in the USA and with American teams on the international scene.
Miles raced motorcycles before he served as a tank sergeant in the British Army in World War II.
After the war, he raced Bugattis, Alfa Romeos and Alvises with the Vintage Sports Car Club. He then turned to a Ford V8 Frazer-Nash.
Miles then moved from England to the Los Angeles, California area. In 1953 he won 14 straight victories in SCCA racing in an MG-based special of his own design and construction.
For the 1955 season, he designed, constructed and campaigned a second special based on MG components that were known as the “Flying Shingle”.
It was very successful in the SCCA F modified class on the west coast. Miles raced the “Flying Shingle” at Palm Springs in late March, finishing first overall against veteran driver Cy Yedor, also in an MG Special, and novice driver, actor James Dean in a Porsche 356 Speedster.
Miles was later disqualified for a technical infraction because his fenders were too wide, thus allowing Yedor and Dean to get ‘bumped up’ to first and second. During 1956, Miles raced Johnny von Neumann’s Porsche 550 Spyder at most of the Cal Club and SCCA events.
For the 1957 season (in cooperation with Otto Zipper), Miles engineered the installation of a Porsche 550S engine and transmission in a 1956 Cooper chassis and body. It was the second successful race car to be known on the West Coast as “the Pooper”, the first being an early 1950s Cooper chassis and body powered by a Porsche 356 powertrain that was built and campaigned by Pete Lovely of Tacoma, WA.
The resulting car dominated the F Modified class of SCCA on the west coast in the 1957 and 1958 seasons with Miles driving.
Because of his great skill and talent both as a driver and as a mechanic and engineer, Miles was a key member of the Shelby/Cobra race team in the early 1960s. He was affectionately known by his American racing crew as “Teddy Teabag” (for his tea drinking) or “Sidebite” (as he talked out of the side of his mouth.)
In 1966 he won the 24 Hours of Daytona (pictured) with Lloyd Ruby and the 12 Hours of Sebring in the Ford GT Mk.II. Miles was leading near the end of the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans, when Ford management, desiring a publicity photo of the three Mk.IIs crossing the finish line together, ordered him to slow down to cross the line together with the second place car, driven by Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon, and the third-place car.
It is rumored that Miles, bitter at this perceived slight by his employers, after his considerable commitment to the Ford racing programme, issued a form of protest by allowing Ford #2 car, driven by Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon, to cross the line first and be declared the winner.
Miles was thus denied the unique achievement of winning Sebring, Daytona, and Le Mans in the same year.
Test driver/car developer
His early career got Carroll Shelby’s attention, who hired Miles as a test driver in the early 1960s. Miles helped Shelby develop the Shelby Cobra. He also is credited with helping Shelby develop the GT40 and the Mustang GT350.
The Ford J-car was intended to be the successor to the all-conquering Ford GT Mk.II and, despite reliability problems, showed potential in the springtime Le Mans trials. The dark spot that came of the springtime trials was the death of Walt Hansgen in a Mk.II. Ford management made the decision to shelve the J-car and focus on the proven Mk IIs, and little development was done for the rest of the 1966 World Sports Car Championship season.
Finally, in August 1966, Shelby American resumed testing and development work with Miles serving as a primary test driver.
The J-car featured a breadvan-shaped rear section that experimented with Kammback aerodynamic theories, as well as a revolutionary (but untested) honeycomb panel design that was supposed to both lighten and stiffen the car, but the design remained unproven with high-speed prototype sports cars.
After most of a day of testing at Riverside International Raceway in the brutally hot Southern California desert summer weather, Miles approached the end of the track’s 1-mile (1.6 km), downhill back straight at top speed (200-plus mph) when the car suddenly looped, flipped, crashed and caught fire. The car broke into pieces and ejected Miles, killing him instantly. The car had suffered precisely the sort of crash damage the honeycomb construction was designed to prevent.
As a result, the aerodynamics of the J-car was heavily modified to correct the rear-end lift generated at race speeds. Ford officials, under pressure after the second of two fatal accidents in the programme in five months, also ordered a NASCAR-style steel tube rollover cage to be installed in future versions of the car.
The significantly revised car renamed the Ford Mk IV, won the only two races in which it was entered: the 1967 Sebring (Fla.) 12 Hours, and the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans. The steel roll cage in the Mk IV (mandated as a direct result of Miles’s death) probably saved the life of Mario Andretti, who crashed violently during the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans but escaped with minor injuries.
You know, I’d rather die in a racing car than get eaten up by cancer”- Ken Miles
Many of you reading this have no idea who Ken Miles is or his life of racing. Indeed, in the history of racing, Ken Miles and his life may be but few pages, compared to the chapters upon chapters of men such as Enzo Ferrari or Carroll Shelby.
However, his story marks an incredible turning point in the story of these men, Ford Motor Company, at the time undisputedly the most prestigious race in the entire world (Le Mans), and millions of others.
“We have nobody to take his place. Nobody. He was our baseline, our guiding point. He was the backbone of our program. There will never be another Ken Miles”- Carroll Shelby
Ken Miles life of racing is a tale of triumph and tragedy. He developed the car that broke the greatest dynasty in the greatest race in the world, and yet not only was he robbed of his greatest achievement but perished attempting to do it all again. And all of this was when he was 47 years young.
“That’s up to you sir, isn’t it?”- Ken Miles when asked by a rich and naïve person if they could become a race car driver.
Miles grew up in England and was a tank driver in World War II. He never said very much about the war, but could often be seen at racetracks wearing an old jacket, much like a knight would his suit of armor after victory in a joust.
After the war, Miles fell in love with racing and moved to Hollywood, where he became a fixture on the sports car scene for the next two decades.
Often in cars that he himself had made, he dominated and even ran a tuning shop for a time.
However, because he was a racer in the 50’s, he had one small problem: no money. Eventually, in early 1963 the shop was foreclosed, and Miles had no choice but to join up with a Le Mans-winning, fast-talking, tough Texan by the name of Carroll Shelby.
“How would you like to work in a snake pit for a real snake?”- Carroll Shelby conducting a job interview for a new secretary.
In 1962, after Ford Motor Company decided to get back in the racing business generally in order to stop Ferrari’s dynasty in Le Mans (More on that later), Shelby, who retired in 1960 from active competition due to a bad heart, showed up on Ford’s doorstep with a unique proposition.
“With $25,000, I can build two cars that’ll blow off the Corvettes”- Carroll Shelby
Ford approved, and Shelby decided to get a crew of “hot rodders” together to build what would become the first Cobra- Miles would become the competition director, driver, and test driver for Shelby America. The program quickly became a remarkable success- by the summer of 1963, the Cobra was the hot item for all the celebrity’s and even had a top 40 radio hit named after it (“Hey Little Cobra”).
“… we at Ford have a great respect for you.”- Ford Executive
“Yes, I know. Like America respects Russia”- Enzo Ferrari in response
In 1964, Ford brought a decidedly American car (The GT40, heavy but powerful) to Le Mans with one goal: to stop Ferrari’s dynasty at Le Mans (Including 1964, Ferrari had won at Le Mans 6 times out of the 7 previous years, 1959 being won by Carroll Shelby in an Aston Martin), and, well…… they lost. Badly. None of the cars made it through the night. Ford made the choice to hand the GT40 project from “Mr. Aston Martin” John Wyer to Shelby America after the Cobra won the GT class in Le Mans that year. Ken Miles was named the official test driver for the prototype.
“I am a mechanic. That has been the direction of my entire vocational life. Driving is a hobby, a realization for me, like golf, is to others”- Ken Miles
Miles was never supposed to race the car in competition; Ford had built a Hall of Fame driving roster featuring such names as AJ Foyt, Bruce McLaren, Phill Hill, Dan Grurny, a young Italian-American by the name of Mario Andretti.
But Miles couldn’t stand watching somebody else drive the car he had helped to develop, and so he found himself in a Shelby GT40 come to the 1965 Daytona Continental 2,000 KM race.
12 hours later, Miles and co-driver Llyodd Ruby found themselves in victory lane, as the Shelby bunch finished in the top 5 positions overall. It was the first win in 40 years for an American manufacturer in international competition, and there was no better time or place for either Miles or Ruby. Le Mans, however, proved a different task.
“I feel our chances at Le Mans are very good indeed. These cars were built for Le Mans”- Ken Miles
In the 1965 Le Mans 24 hour, it was Ford’s race to lose. Phil Hill broke the track record in qualifications in a Shelby GT40, and during the first pit stops the drivers were laughing at how much faster the Fords were to the Ferraris.
However, by the 7-hour mark, doom had hit Ford- a defective gearbox ruined Miles and his co-pilot Bruce McLaren, while Hill’s clutch went out after setting a new race lap record.
Ford once again decided to change directions following the race, this time dividing the Le Mans project into two separate teams- Shelby America and the face of Ford in NASCAR, Holman-Moody. Miles still served as the test driver for all cars, however, and was still in a Shelby GT40 come to Daytona in February.
“Holman Moody this, Holman Moody that. You know, someday you’re going to get beat, and it better be by Ferrari”- Carroll Shelby to Carroll Smith.
Much has been said about “Big” Bill France, but one thing is for certain: he loved to prove, even in his own mind, that everything he did either was the best or was equal to the best. In 1966 France extended the Daytona Continental into a 24-hour race, the only 24-hour race in the entire world with the exception of Le Mans.
Shelby knew this, the 12 hours of Sebring, and Le Mans would decide the fate of Ford’s foray into international racing, that if both were a failure there wouldn’t be a 1967 Ford GT40. He made sure Miles was on his team.
Everybody was wondering; could even the Ferraris hold up for 24 hours at Daytona? Most thought the Fords wouldn’t survive, and if they did Holman-Moody would finish the strongest because of their experience on the high banks of Daytona.
Miles and Ruby proved the doubters wrong and won the fastest endurance race in Daytona up to that point (Really impressive considering the race was extended by 12 some hours), beating out both Ferrari and Holman-Moody. The next stop was Sebring, and of course, Miles won that too, impressively winning in a duel with Dan Gurney that ended with Gurney pushing his car to the finish line after suffering blown engine in the last few hundred yards.
“I am proud of my country”- Luigi Chinetti, Ferrari legend, and US citizen
Around this time, Ken Miles, at the unlikely age of 47 and after two decades of racing, became a superstar. Miles never attempted the Indy 500, never raced in Formula 1, and yet he was beating the very best in the entire world on some of the biggest stages in the world.
“I should like to drive a Formula 1 machine- not for the grand prize, but just to see what it is like. I should think it would be jolly good fun!”- Ken Miles
Ken Miles should have won the 1966 24 hours of Le Mans, or at the very least be named the co-winner. But alas, that wasn’t the case. With a few hours left in the race, Ford came to Carroll Shelby with an idea- Miles was a couple of laps ahead of Bruce McLaren, and Ford wanted to attempt to stage a tie. Miles, though, wasn’t happy.
“He just couldn’t get over it”- Denny Hulme
Eventually, Miles slowed down and allowed McLaren to come back. Both came out of the final turn and crossed the line together. However, Le Mans officials cited an ancient rule that took into account a car’s starting position. Because McLaren started behind Miles, he was ruled to of traveled some 20 more yards then Miles over 24 hours and was rewarded the victory.
“I think I’ve been f***ed”- Ken Miles in the chaotic aftermath immediately following Le Mans
A couple of months later, Miles was testing a new Ford prototype at Riverside Speedway. Trying to do it all again and come away with a Le Mans trophy this time, Miles spent all day developing this new car until the final run of the day.
“Please be careful in how you report what I have said. I work for these people. They have been awfully good to me”- Ken Miles after giving an interview in the month following Le Mans.
Ken Miles was denied being the first and only Triple Crown Champion in the entire world and was never given another chance at it. Shelby was heartbroken, even 40 years later.
It broke my heart when we lost Ken”- Carroll Shelby
Maybe the most shocking and bizarre attribute Miles had on the racing community after death happened in June of the next year. Mario Andretti had a horrible wreck in a version of the prototype Miles tested at Le Mans, but because of a steel bar Ford implemented after Miles’ fatal wreck, Mario lived. The story of Ken Miles is one of the great What If stories in racing, and yet nobody ever speaks about it. At least now you know the story.
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