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Ken Miles & Carroll Shelby: The True Story

Friendship, synergy, legacy. The story of Ken Miles and Carroll Shelby is one of legendary automotive history whose triumphs shaped and influenced the industry. Their love for engineering, speed, and record-setting racing laid the foundation for a collaboration that birthed iconic motorsports moments and ingenuity. From humble beginnings to the infamous Le Mans race, they experienced groundbreaking achievements and heartbreaking setbacks along the way, leaving a legacy that still enthralls and inspires auto enthusiasts worldwide.

The Formative Years

Ken Miles

A decorated army veteran, Ken Miles got his start as an armament artificer and the founding member of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME). After serving as a staff sergeant and tank commander in World War II, Ken Miles became one of the most sought-after sports car development and racing drivers of his time. His precision and fearless driving style in England set the tone for his success when he moved to the United States in 1952.

I am a mechanic. That has been the direction of my entire vocational life. Driving is a hobby, a relaxation for me, like golfing is to others. I should like to drive a Formula One 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, “Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans

Carroll Shelby

A once humble chicken farmer in Texas, Carroll Shelby was a renowned racing driver and an automotive visionary. His relentless pursuit of speed and passion for driving led him to develop cars that forever changed the automotive and racing industry, including the Shelby Cobra and the Shelby GT500. His victory at the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans race was the genesis of a career that forever changed the automotive world. He founded Shelby American in 1962 to fulfill his vision for a new breed of cars that could compete on the drag strip as well as drive on the street.

Fateful Encounter and Mutual Respect

Their shared passion for engineering excellence and racing brought Miles and Shelby together and sparked a collaboration so influential it was portrayed in the 2019 film Ford v. Ferrari. Miles’ profound knowledge of mechanical engineering and devotion to pushing the boundaries of race car performance led to a long and iconic friendship.

The Cobra and GT40: Milestones of the Miles-Shelby Collaboration

Revolutionizing Sports Cars with the Shelby Cobra

The Shelby Cobra was the perfect marriage of Miles and Shelby — classic American muscle paired with British sports car agility wrapped in one legendary vehicle. Originally called the Carroll Shelby Experimental or CSX2000, the Shelby Cobra is often considered the most iconic American sports car in history.

Ken Miles was instrumental in the development of several versions of the Shelby Cobra, including the FIA roadster and Daytona Coupe. He lent his expertise in engineering as well as his knowledge as a driver to ensure each iteration of the Shelby Cobra would dominate the racetrack and the street.

Conquering Le Mans with the Ford GT40

Arguably the most memorable collaboration between Miles and Shelby, the Ford GT40 is an icon in its own class. Miles and Shelby worked tirelessly together to perfect the GT40’s design and capabilities. Their masterpiece led to the historic victory at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans, where they defeated Ferrari, surreptitiously dethroning his five-year victory streak. Ford went on to win the Le Mans from 1966–1969.

Setting New Standards in Automotive Engineering

Miles and Shelby’s craftsmanship and elite engineering that led to both the Shelby Cobra and turning the Ford GT40 into a winner set new standards and benchmarks for automotive engineering excellence. Their innovations and steadfast dedication to pushing boundaries created a standard that all sports car innovators aspired to thereafter. It wasn’t just about winning a race; it was about doing what had never been done before.

Triumph and Tragedy: The Ken Miles Story

Ken Miles was as victorious behind the wheel as he was in his ability to develop iconic vehicles. He left behind a legacy of speed and precision and had a profound impact on the racecar world. Through record-breaking performances and impressive wins on the track, he remains one of the greatest drivers and was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.

A few of his top racing moments include coming in first place in the 1961 USAC Road Racing Championship, the 1963, 1965, and 1966 12 Hours of Sebring, and the 1966 24 Hours of Daytona.

Despite his vital part in the 1966 Le Mans victory with the Ford GT40, the race organizers denied Miles his first-place finish. This controversial decision is one that is still heavily debated by drivers and enthusiasts more than 50 years later.

Ken Miles won the race. He had done everything you were supposed to do, all the way. — Carroll Shelby

A Tragic End and Timeless Legacy

Two months after the 1966 Le Mans win, Ken Miles tragically died during a testing race in the J-car GT40 prototype, a new version of their winning design that would win Le Mans the following year. His sudden and tragic death was a loss felt deeply by his family, friends, colleagues, and the entire racing world.

Despite his untimely death, Ken Miles’ legacy lives on through his accomplishments and contributions to automotive engineering and racing, as well as his part in the Shelby American team’s indisputable success. His vision and talent created a legacy that endures and continues to inspire each new generation of engineers, racers, and fans.

Christian Bale portrayed Ken Miles in Ford v Ferrari, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture in 2020.

Ken was world-class and the best test driver I ever knew. He was also helpful to the other drivers. He reminded me of Fangio in that regard. He would take time to teach the other drivers. — Carroll Shelby

Carroll Shelby: Building a Legacy Beyond Racing

After a successful career racing the world’s fastest and most exciting cars, Carroll Shelby switched gears. He saw a need in the market for a car with both the handling of these European race cars and an American V-8 engine that could be easily serviced at any car dealership or independent garage. Shelby decided to build a car that balanced the same thrill of the track but at an affordable price and with a reliable engine.

The Impact of Shelby American

Shelby American was born in 1962 in California with the purpose of creating fast cars that were built in a new, accessible, and even more powerful way. His goal was to race Shelby Cobras against Corvettes in the States and go head-to-head with Aston Martin, Jaguar, and Ferrari in Europe. Most of all, he wanted to win the World Manufacturer’s GT Championship, which Ferrari had dominated until that point. Both goals were achieved; Shelby American won the World Manufacturer’s GT Championship in 1965 and remains the only American manufacturer ever to win the title.

A Lasting Influence on the Automotive Landscape

The legacy of Carroll Shelby is a lasting one. The cars he created are still highly esteemed by racers and enthusiasts alike. His ability to envision and build cars that are equal parts power and elegance remains an inspiration and influence on modern automotive design.

Celebrate the Legacy of Ken Miles and Carroll Shelby

The Miles-Shelby story is an inspiring showcase of extraordinary success and collaboration. Their contributions to the racing and automotive industry paved the way for groundbreaking innovations in design and record-breaking achievements on the track.

Carroll Shelby’s Store honors both of their legacies with merchandise that celebrates their achievements and contributions. From apparel and merchandise commemorating the historic Shelby Cobra and GT40 to diecast collectibles celebrating their racing triumphs, our products are a tribute to the enduring legacy of Ken Miles and Carroll Shelby.