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Revisiting “Ford v Ferrari” a year later

by DrivingEnthusiast

Ford v Ferrari [2019]

Revisiting “Ford v Ferrari”, the 2019 film about the epic manufacturer battle leading up and in the 1966 24 hours of Le Mans race. This battle between the two brands is legendary: heroes earned their place in history, tragedies were endured, legends were made and the Ford teams clearly earned their wins. But let’s keep the history and legends accurate and honest.

When we saw this the first time we had one single and very clear thought: the film is factually inaccurate in several spots. We already knew the story in great detail: we have several books on this topic and have read about it extensively and from the perspectives of each team so our problems with this film are much more than just having to cut the story down to size for the movie. We also didn’t feel any emotional connection with the teams or cars from watching this.

We will start with the portrayal of Henry Ford: we didn’t like it because he contributed much more to Ford’s racing in several venues than was shown. His interest was not just the financial bottom line. And although he did have several personal issues by this time in his life, we can’t believe he would be crying in the GT40 test drive (and remember that in later years he would repeatedly get picked up for drunk driving, often with a prostitute in the car with him – sad, after smart start to his career, replacing his then crazy nuts father, and finally to a bad ending to his own career). Leo Beebe was probably accurately portrayed as a corporate butt-kisser of the worst type. And we don’t think that Lee Iacocca was correctly portrayed: we’ve seen him in early videos and read his books so we can’t understand why his portrayal in this film is such a mess: what does he contribute, what does he want, does he just seem to be avoiding Henry’s attention?

Then there are the other GT40 teams that ran LeMans in those years – and even more professionally run than Shelby’s, even if they didn’t have the absolute top driver. Nothing at all was said of their drivers in this film. Only one was named, and almost not a word on the contributions of the other terrific drivers.

Matt Damon as Shelby

Shelby was probably necessary to help get the GT40 straightened out (and this movie ignored the entire Lola part of the story), but that was certainly just a part of a far larger effort far beyond just Shelby. Nor were major improvements made just by the “seat of Ken Miles pants”. Neither can get sole credit or even anywhere near that. There was significant work done by Ford in the wind tunnel, for example, that wasn’t shown and the work in Ford’s durability labs on the 427 was significantly underplayed. Both were critical. And hundreds of Ford engineers were involved in development and testing, as was the other drivers and teams.

While we give Shelby credit for his work up and including to Le Mans, after that was over that it was all downhill and even worse his signature snake-oil ego just got worse. He tried to claim some work with the awful Chrysler FWD cars, later licensed his name to Ford in 2006 and onward (having no input whatsoever to the cars bearing his name) and ending with the scandal of keeping funds donated to his charity. And we didn’t like his eulogy at the end of the film portraying him as the “greatest American car designer” – he absolutely was not a designer and was not even close. And let’s certainly not forget Peter Brock for his ground-breaking work on the Cobra Daytona Coupe – the legal and engineering credit for which Shelby tried to steal from him for years. You could also make a better case for Bill Mitchell as the top American designer, tough bastard that he was. And there are many other examples such as Franz von Holfhausen.

So, mixed feelings on entire film because of this portrayal of Shelby.

Technical aspects: very good, especially using real cars and not CGI. They did some good work here and we’ve enjoyed seeing the “Making Of”.

The actors: Christian Bale did a fine job of acting, perhaps the best in his career. Matt Damon… well, he was just being Matt Damon (adding a fake Texan accent that comes and goes) so we can’t see any significance in his acting here. We did like the characters of Ken Miles wife and son (who is still alive) – we thought they were very well done, and we were sad when they lost Ken. We were wondering how his death was going to be portrayed, and it was shown as a very unnecessary waste of his life – testing a prototype at full speed (~200), without an ambulance or fire crew. Miles wasn’t the only death in the development process, and in fact Mario Andretti was almost killed as well.

So there it is, an honest appraisal of the film a year later. It was great to see it on a big screen, but it was also inaccurate in so many ways that any real Ford enthusiast should recognize.  We’ve watched it again, we have a copy in our library, but it will also fade completely from memory in a few more years. It’s not on our “Top 10” car movie list, perhaps it’s a “Top 20”, but there are certainly far better car racing movies including “Grand Prix” and absolutely Steven McQueen’s “Le Mans”.  

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