Ken Miles: Ford’s Unstoppable Maverick

Ken Miles: Ford’s Unstoppable Maverick

ken miles
Source: Wikimedia Commons

A gifted race engineer and driver, Ken Miles is considered one of the most famous sports cars racers in history. Born in 1918 in Birmingham, England, Miles’ journey from his military service in World War II to becoming one of the most celebrated racing drivers and engineers of his time is a testament to his unwavering passion for the world of cars and racing. With a racing career that spanned from the European race tracks to iconic American circuits, Ken Miles created a racing legacy that is unrivaled to other drivers of his time. His story and love for racing is one of triumph, innovation, and the pursuit of motorsports excellence.

ken miles
Source: Le Mans

Early Beginnings & Military Career

Ken Miles stepping into Dolphin Mk.2, March 1961.
Ken Miles stepping into Dolphin Mk.2.
Source: Raycrosthwaite via Wikimedia Commons

Ken Miles was born on November 1, 1918, in Sutton Coldfield (formerly in Warwickshire but now incorporated into the city of Birmingham). His early years were marked by an adventurous spirit, including an unsuccessful attempt to run away to the United States. By the age of 15, Miles decided to bid farewell to formal education and took on an apprenticeship journey at Wolseley Motors, an experience that would lay the foundation for his deep understanding of vehicle construction. Before his stint in the British Army during World War II, Ken Miles also dabbled in motorcycle racing.

“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
ken miles with shelby american pit stop memebers
Ken Miles chatting with his Shelby American crew members.
Source: Motorsports Hall of Fame

As World War II raged in Europe, Ken Miles’ military service started as a driving instructor in the Territorial Army. October 1, 1942, he played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) as an armament artificer, and he was assigned to the REME Training Establishment. In the ensuing years, Ken Miles found himself at the Guards Armored Division Workshops and later the 29th Armored Brigade Workshop. His role as a tank commander during the conflict ignited a newfound passion for high-performance engineering. Ken Miles transitioned to the reserves and was honorably discharged on April 1, 1946.

Ken Miles’ Legendary Racing Career

ken miles driving his first r-1 MG special at long beach
Ken Miles, at the wheel of his first R-1 MG special, enroute to victory at Reeves Field, Long Beach in 1953. Miles designed and built the car himself using a mild steel ladder frame and modified Morris Minor front suspension and steering.
Source: Sports Car Digest

After the war, Ken Miles ventured into the world of competitive racing, piloting a range of iconic cars including Bugattis, Alfa Romeos, and Alvises in races organized by the Vintage Sports Car Club. His pursuit of speed and innovation then led him to embrace the Ford V8 Frazer-Nash. In 1952, Miles made a life-altering move across the Atlantic, relocating from his native England to Los Angeles, California. There, he assumed the role of service manager at Gough Industries, a prominent distributor of MG automobiles in Southern California. His breakout racing career in the United States saw him achieve a remarkable feat in 1953, securing 14 consecutive victories in SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) racing while behind the wheel of a bespoke MG-based creation of his own design and craftsmanship.

miles driving a custom car
Ken Miles’ final race with the “Flying Shingle” R-2 Special at Torrey Pines. By the end of 1953, the R-1 faced challenges in maintaining a competitive edge against Porsche and OSCA rivals. The MG engine, already pushed to its limits, couldn’t deliver additional power. This led to the creation of the R-2 “Flying Shingle,” characterized by its tubular space frame and a low center of gravity.
Source: Sports Car Digest

For the 1955 racing season, Ken Miles unveiled another remarkable creation, the “Flying Shingle,” meticulously engineered from MG components. This distinctive racer made a substantial impact on the west coast SCCA F modified class, propelling Miles to numerous victories. Notably, he competed against legendary driver Cy Yedor and the emerging actor James Dean in a Porsche 356 Speedster during an event in Palm Springs in late March. Although Miles initially claimed victory, he was later disqualified due to a technical problem related to the width of his fenders, allowing Yedor and Dean to take the top spots. In 1956, Miles continued his racing endeavors, frequently piloting John von Neumann’s Porsche 550 Spyder at Cal Club and SCCA events.

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