James Mangold’s Ford vs. Ferrari starring Matt Daman and Christian Bale came out this November, and Roxana’s review is spot-on: It is a highly satisfying Dad movie. I knew nothing about the story going in, and had never even heard of the 24 Hours of Le Mans race at the center of the story. Broadly, the movie is about the efforts of Henry Ford II to defeat the dominant Enzo Ferrari’s race team in the 1960s at the Le Mans after Ferrari rejected Ford’s offer to buy his company and sold, instead, to Fiat.
Some dramatic liberties are obviously taken — Henry Ford II likely did not get in a racecar with the designer of the Ford’s GT40, Carroll Shelby; Shelby probably didn’t get into a fistfight with Ken Miles; and who knows if the wrench was real or an invention of the film (probably the latter) — but the film sticks to the broad strokes of the true story. Shelby, Ken Miles, and Phil Remington designed the GT40, and after years of losing to Ferrari, Ford finally won the Le Mans in 1966 (contrary to what is depicted in the film, Miles actually did compete in the ‘65 race, and he didn’t finish — completing only 45 laps — because the gearbox malfunctioned). As depicted in the movie, Miles was well ahead in the ‘66 race but slowed down on the orders of Ford exec Leo Beebe, which ultimately resulted in him finishing second, which also cost Miles the Triple Crown of 24 Hours of Daytona, 12 Hours of Sebring, and the Le Mans. It wasn’t so much the speed of the Ford that won the race, but its endurance (none of three Ferraris finished the race), back in a day when racecars were not necessarily designed to be able to withstand 24 hours of speed. Interestingly, the movie also doesn’t make mention of Miles’ co-driver, Denny Hulme, who would go on to win 8 Grand Prix titles. He was very good in his own right.
Miles was never able to compete in the race again because — as depicted in the Ford vs. Ferrari — he died while test-driving the Ford GT40’s successor at the Riverside International Raceway. There remains some dispute about the exact manner of his death — including at least one conspiracy theory that he never died — but everyone seems to agree that it couldn’t have been driver error and that a car malfunction or design error led to the deadly crash. His death was only two months removed from his win at the Le Mans.
In either respect, when the movie ended, the first thing I wanted to find out was how close to the true story Ford vs. Ferrari is (very!), and immediately, my second thought was: What happened to his son, Peter, who was 15 at the time of his father’s death (that would make him nearly 70 years old today).
Peter Miles is still actually around. In fact, he attended the premiere of Ford vs. Ferrari, and attended a private screening with Christian Bale. Here he is at the premiere:
Peter Miles also consulted with Bale on the film, at least in a limited capacity, as he told LeMans.
I gave Christian Bale info about my dad from press clippings and magazine articles, and I showed him personal photos and shared audio recordings with him. Bale was looking to remain as faithful as possible to my father. I also met Caitriona Balfe and gave her snapshots of my mother and described her as best as I could.
From what limited information is available online, it appears that Peter joined his father in the car business, and oversaw the development and production of ten Ken Miles Limited Edition 427 Cobra replicas. He is also the executive administrator of a vintage car collection valued at over $80 million. Peter was also an off-road racer himself. In fact, in the 1990s, he was a mechanic and crew chief for Ivan Stewart, a hugely successful off-road racer known as the “Ironman,” who was later inducted into the Off-road Motorsports Hall of Fame.
Peter, as depicted in the movie, was on site when his father died in the car accident (although, he was kept from the immediate scene). “It was the last lap of the day, and I just saw a ball of fire. They kept me away, but I could see him…” Also, as depicted in the film, he did not attend the ‘66 Le Mans, but Peter Miles did attend the ‘65 Le Mans, where his father did not finish. It’s the last Le Mans Peter Miles ever attended.
Many have also asked about Mollie Miles, the wife of Ken Miles, and unfortunately, there is very little information available about Mollie after the death of Ken, except that she remained in California, as she wrote in Road and Track soon after Miles’ death:
May I, through Road & Track, express my thanks to the hundreds of people who, from all over the world, sent flowers and messages. Nothing could ever replace what I have lost—but the love and kindness showered upon me has been unbelievable. I am trying to acknowledge all the messages, but inevitably there are a few addresses I do not have.
It has been a great life out here (in California)—sometimes controversial, sometimes turbulent, but we have been happy, and when I was asked if I planned to continue living here, I was honestly dumbfounded. All I could think of to say was “Of course, this is our home.” And it is. Thank you all for making it so.
Very sincerely, Mollie Miles, November 1966