KEN MILES, an appreciation
The death of Ken Miles has created a unique sort of void in the lives of an uncommonly large number of people. Personally I have known no other driver whose death has touched so many people in some private, special sort of way.-Ken was killed at Riverside Raceway on Aug. 17, 1966 while testing one of the Ford J-car prototypes. The testing program that was being carried out was to determine whether the J-car was suited for participation in this fall's Canadian-American Championship series. A series of trouble-free laps had been made before the accident and on the final lap there was nothing to indicate anything wrong as the car came down the backstretch at about 175 mph. Then, toward the end of the straight when the car had slowed to approximately 100, it went out of control, spun to the inside of the course and went over a tall embankment. The car bounded end over end and Ken, thrown out of the car, was dead of head injuries before emergency crews reached the scene. The main section of the chassis caught fire after coming to rest and the fire damage, plus the physical battering given the scattered components in the violent series of crashes, make it doubtful that the reason for the accident will ever be determined. It may not matter now, except for our own satisfaction, but no one who knew Ken's driving can believe that the accident resulted from a mistake on his part.
The funeral was held the following Saturday and the chapel would not hold all the people who came to pay final respects to a man whose career was unique in the history of American racing.
Ken's early career has been documented in a number of biographical sketches and articles. Several of the better ones have appeared in Road & Track during the last ten years.
He was born in the city of Sutton Coldfield, England, a few miles from the manufacturing center. of Birmingham, on Nov. 1, 1918. Always intriqued by mechanical things, he was apprenticed to a British car manufacturer but World War II intervened and he spent seven years on various duties having to do with machinery and mechanics and was a sergeant of tanks at his demobilization in 1946. After this he returned to the motor industry in various jobs, continued a racing career that had been whetted by motorcycle racing while still in service. His first racing car was a Frazer-Nash into which he inserted a Ford V8-60 engine and he enjoyed some small local successes in club events and hillclimbs. [Editor's Note: See our commentary at the end of this story] After an unsuccessful venture into building front wheel-drive F3 cars, he came to the U.S. in early 1952 as service manager for the Southern California MG distributor.
He first raced a MG-TD in local road races, then began to attract widespread attention in his first MG Special. This car won the first race in which it participated (Pebble Beach, 1953) and formed the basis for his being regarded as the finest under 1500-cc car driver in the West. The original Miles special was a remarkably successful machine and because Ken made it look so easy, it was undoubtedly the inspiration for most of the homebuilt specials that appeared in California the next few years. As modern racing cars go, it was completely uncomplicated - front engine, live rear axle, stock gearbox, almost no special components except chassis and body - and almost utterly reliable. Proof of the car's essential integrity, it was later campaigned by Cy Yedor, then by Dusty Miller, and even after that by Dusty's son, Nels. And it was still a good car.
Author: James T. Crow, Road & Track Magazine, November 1966