Written by independent automotive journalist Steve Statham
One of the saddest aspects when a life of achievement is cut short is contemplating what might have been. That question has surrounded the life of racing driver Ken Miles for decades. There’s no answer to such musings, of course. What is left for the people who knew and loved him, and the racing fans who followed his career, is a quiet appreciation for what he did accomplish — and that was plenty.
Miles was the winner of countless sports car races in the 1950s and won the 1961 United States Auto Club (USAC) Road Racing Championship. He was a Shelby-American team driver and chief test driver in the 1960s. He won the 24 Hours of Daytona, the 12 Hours of Sebring and the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans in actuality, if not officially. These accomplishments placed him at the top of his sport, and Miles has received a well-deserved reintroduction to a younger generation of racing fans thanks to the 2019 movie “Ford v Ferrari.”
This 1966 Shelby Group II Mustang is another chapter in the “what might have been” story of Ken Miles, and it will be offered with No Reserve at the Barrett-Jackson 2023 Scottsdale Auction. According to the Shelby American Automobile Club (SAAC), Shelby American World Registry and Carroll Shelby himself, which is documented in the Special Collector’s Edition of Mustang Monthly January 1995 magazine, this Mustang was built for Ken Miles to race. Tragically, Miles died in a crash while testing the Ford J-car, the next evolution in the GT40 program, at Riverside International Raceway on August 17, 1966. He would never have the chance to drive the Mustang that was in the Shelby pipeline specifically for him to race.
It is fascinating to consider what Miles could have accomplished behind the wheel of this car. The Group II Mustangs were built primarily to race in the newly created Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Trans-American Sedan Championship. Ford was interested in the Manufacturers’ Championship the new series offered and approached Shelby American about building Mustangs to race in the Trans Am’s Over 2-Liter class. Shelby built 16 notchback 1966 Group II Mustangs, and this car is the well-known 12th car from that batch.
The Group II cars were built essentially using the GT350 R-Model blueprint, although there are differences between the two. While modified to racing specifications by Shelby, the cars carried Ford serial numbers. The Mustangs were built to conform to FIA Group II rules, so unlike the Shelby GT350 R-Models, they were required to maintain the steel hood without a scoop, all four seats in place and factory glass windows, among other details.
While we can ponder what Miles might have done with the car, we don’t have to imagine the racing history of the Mustang itself. It was raced as intended and has a long list of achievements to its credit. Its first owner was driver John McComb, who competed extensively in SCCA events. He drove the car to the SCCA A/Sedan Midwest Division Championship in 1966. McComb’s victory at the Green Valley, Texas, Trans-Am race (with co-driver Brad Brooker) helped Ford secure the Manufacturers’ Championship in its class in the first year of the Trans-Am series. McComb sold the car in 1967, but it continued to be raced into the early 1970s.
In 2014, this Group II Mustang was sent to Legendary Motorcar in Halton Hills, Ontario, for a thorough concours restoration. It was disassembled and stripped to bare metal, restored to correct Shelby specifications and refinished in its original factory Wimbledon White paint with blue Le Mans stripes. It has the number 41 painted on the hood, trunk lid and doors, a number that McComb used to indicate the SCCA’s Region 4, and his First Place finish therein.
The car is powered by an era-correct Shelby American racing 289 Hi-Po V8 engine. It has been outfitted with the correct Hi-Po heads, Tri-Y headers, aluminum hi-rise intake manifold #S2MS-9424-A, Holley 715 cfm carburetor #S2MS-3510-A, steel valve covers with specially fabricated breathers and 7.5-quart Cobra finned aluminum oil pan. The engine is teamed with an era-correct BorgWarner T10 close-ratio 4-speed manual transmission with a build date of July 27, 1965. The power is transferred to a Ford 9-inch Detroit Locker rear end with 3.89 gears.
The interior is outfitted with a Shelby-correct 4-point roll bar, 3-inch competition lap belts, 16-inch 3-spoke steering wheel and six Carroll Shelby gauges. The suspension and brakes are true period Shelby hardware, with a 19.1 quick steering box, 1-inch sway bar, override traction bars, KONI shocks, 11.3-inch front disc brakes and 10×2.5-inch wide rear drum brakes. The car sits on the correct 15×7-inch American Racing magnesium wheels that show some patina, with wheels wrapped with correct-style Firestone Indy 9.20×15-inch tires.
This Group II Shelby Mustang is a rolling history lesson and a significant part of both Shelby and Ford Motor Company’s racing legacies. As such, it has been signed by Carroll Shelby, John McComb, Shelby GT350 Project Engineer Chuck Cantwell and Shelby mechanic Terry Doty. This Shelby was also featured on the cover and inside Sports Car Graphic December 1966 magazine which was signed by John McComb. This magazine along with extensive documentation is included with the sale.
Come January in Scottsdale, there will be two types of Shelby fans in the audience — those who bid, and those who wonder what might have been. Register to bid to see this storied car cross the block at the Barrett-Jackson 2023 Scottsdale Auction, January 21-29.