The LeMans Photo Finish Controversy of 1966
The new Carrera Ford GT slot car in 1/24 scale is a beautiful rendition of the 1966 Le Mans 24-Hour winning car, entered by Shelby Racing Enterprises on behalf of the Ford Motor Company. But did that car really win that famous race?
Since 1966 and the well-known “photo-op” finish with the three Ford MK2 prototypes crossing the line yards apart the controversy of a conspiracy by the French organizers to deprive Ford of an all-American finish has raged in America. So what really happened that gave the victory to the # 2 car, driven by Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon, both “kiwis”, New Zealanders?
Dan Gurney and Jerry Grant, driving the Shelby team #3 car, led from the beginning, utterly dominating the Ferraris and all the other Fords, until 2 hours from the end when without any warning and as they were cruising to a sure win, the engine simply packed up. Meanwhile, the opposition faded away, and after 23 hours, Ken Miles, driving the # 1 car, had nearly a full lap lead over the # 2 car and two more over the surviving Holman & Moody Ford MK2 driven by Dick Hutcherson. Miles was cruising to the finish when during his last pit stop he received an order from Carroll Shelby, talking to him inside the car. The wording of this order was never revealed in public, but the reply was. Miles did not take this lightly and replied, in a loud voice, “So ends my contribution to this bloody motor race”, as he knew perfectly well what could happen if he complied with the order from the Ford “brass”. Indeed Miles was one of the few in the Shelby crew who had taken the time to read the organizing Automobile Club de l’Ouest rules.
McLaren took over the # 2 car during its last pit stop, where he told Chris Amon, “Ford wants a photo finish”. Amon replied, “Who is supposed to win?” to which McLaren replied, “I don’t know, but I’m not going to lose”.
The simple truth is that Ford, represented by Henry Ford II, simply did not grasp the consequences of their decision, implemented as an order to Shelby and in turn, to Ken Miles. Miles had won at Daytona and Sebring and would be the first ever to win all three events the same year, something that Ford surely would have used for advertising their racing success worldwide.
After the three cars crossed the finish line, Miles first, then McLaren about 15 yards behind with Hutcherson in tow, crew chief John Colllins, chief mechanic Charlie Agapiou, and several members of the # 1 crew began pushing the car towards the podium, only to be stopped by ACO officials and told that they were in fact in second place.
What had taken place is that Ferrari’s Mauro Forghieri, in a revengeful and spiteful move possibly engineered by a telephone call from Maranello, had lodged an unofficial protest to the racing direction, pointing out that while the Miles-Hulme car had indeed crossed the finish line 15 yards ahead of the McLaren-Amon identical car, it had started the race 40 yards behind it so had covered a shorter distance, and did not win. The chauvinist French officials, who would have preferred the red cars to win, seized the suggestion and immediately demoted the true winner of the race to second place, creating controversy and bitterness, likely in an attempt to ruin the Ford celebrations of the stomping Ferrari suffered. Three years earlier, Ford attempted to buy Ferrari as a concern, racing team et all, and as the Commendatore nearly signed the paperwork, he had second thoughts and backed from the agreed deal. Ford then swore to beat Ferrari on the track, and indeed in 1966, they did just that, all the works and works-supported Ferraris having broken down hours earlier in an attempt to keep up with the faster armada of American cars.
Over the years, the many testimonies, accusations, innuendos and the like by English, French, Italian and German language period press really never resolved the issue to anyone’s satisfaction, but the simple truth is that Henry Ford II made a mistake, that of ignorance, and missed a great chance of more publicity for his own personal triumph and revenge over Enzo Ferrari.
Carroll Shelby passed away a short time ago, taking with him many unpublished secrets, but not so secret to his close friends.