Phil Hill was the first to drive the GT40 in competition, and he personified the GT40 program for most of us. He was part of the same generation of post-war sports car enthusiasts that we were, and when he won the 1961 Formula One championship, we felt as if our enthusiasm for sports cars had been justified. By 1964, Hill had already won the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times, and he was considered to be the best long-distance driver in the world. But people had forgotten just how fast he could be. When the first GT40 with a 7.0-liter V8 arrived at Le Mans in 1965, the car was literally assembled at the track, but Hill took it out and turned a practice lap more than 5 seconds faster than the Ferrari P2s. I also remember Phil for his willingness to tell stories no matter what the circumstances, and it led to all those interviews with broadcaster Jim Mackay on ABC's "Wild World of Sports."

Bruce McLaren had been designated the primary test driver for the Ford program from the moment that Eric Broadley had been hired after Le Mans in 1963 to transform his mid-engine Lola GT into the Ford GT. The Ford engineers took testing very, very seriously, and McLaren was the beneficiary, right in the middle of all those conversations between Roy Lunn, Ford's chief engineer, and the tire engineers from Firestone and Goodyear. All the professionalism of Team McLaren's Can-Am effort in the late 1960s came directly from this experience. In person, McLaren was boyish and quiet, just age 26 as the GT40 program began but already very ambitious, just as so many racers from New Zealand have been.

Ken Miles became the lead driver in the development of the GT40 when Carroll Shelby took over the car's racing program. Miles had been a tank mechanic in the British army during World War II, then came to the United States in 1952 and became a service manager for an MG dealer in Los Angeles. He built a couple of small racing sports cars himself, and everyone aspired to drive as quickly and smoothly as he did. He was so widely admired for his knowledge that he was elected as president of Cal Club (an organization which ultimately was incorporated into the SCCA). The Cobra Daytona coupe was really his car, and he put thousands of miles of testing into the MkII. He was killed in August 1966 while testing the J-1 (the prototype for the MkIV) at Riverside International Raceway. Miles was very tough-minded, and he could be curt and abrasive with people who wasted his time.

He was driving better than ever in 1966 at the age of 48, and he was leading McLaren's MkII at Le Mans when he was asked to slow down for a staged finish. He didn't seem to bear any grudges when McLaren was declared the victor. Miles didn't have the trophy, but all the right people knew who had been the best driver on that day. In a strange way, Ken Miles liked it better that way. The best drivers always care more about private respect than public recognition.

Enjoyed this Post? Subscribe to our RSS Feed, or use your favorite social media to recommend us to friends and colleagues!