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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.

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Showing 6 comments
  • Robert Payne

    It’s an interesting story but one thing to remember regarding the so-called Ferrari/Ford wars is that Ferrari was a very small company compared to the giant Ford corporation. I don’t say that to take anything away from the Ford victory but I thought that it just ought to be pointed out.

  • Electric Dream Team

    Actually, it is not the truth either. While no one knows the exact numbers today, it was reported many years ago by the very competent auto journalist Pino Allievi (La Gazetta Dello Sport) who investigated the matter, that Ford did not have the “giant” budget that many believe, and Ferrari did not have a “small” budget either. Between the Shelby, Holman & Moody and Alan Mann budgets dispensed by Ford, and the Ferrari budget partly financed by FIAT, it was a matter of Ferrari having at last one half of the Ford total budget, and they were running less cars than their American and British counterparts.

  • Robert Payne

    I didn’t know that about the budgets so thanks for the information. I have tried to find stuff on this topic on the internet but it’s difficult to know how authorative the information you find is and people tend to be biased one way or another. Are there any books you could reccomend on this topic? Or could you reccomend a book on the general history of auto racing? I’ve seen a number of books but a lot of them seem to be mostly pictures which is nice but I am more interested in comprehensive literature than photos. Thanks.

  • Bosko Dewlapp

    Your story is incorrect — the McLaren/Amon {dark car) crossed the finish line a car length AHEAD of the Miles/Hulme car.

    The dark car with two narrow stripes was first across the line.

    The best photo on the web clearly shows the flag and the finish line and the three cars.

  • Benjamin Gonzalez

    By any chance would you happen to know the photographer who took the photo finish with the three Ford MK2 prototypes crossing the line yards?

  • Davide

    Electric Dream Team, Ferrari didn’t sell out to FIAT until 1969, so I’m not sure what impact this had on the 1966 race. It is hard to find information on racing team’s budgets 50 years ago, but Carroll Shelby stated in an interview that by 1966, he had spent over $200 million of Ford’s money, and it seems pretty well-documented that Ford’s spending on the GT40 program was unprecedented.

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