THE NEW ‘FORD V FERRARI’ MOVIE IS AS REAL AS IT’S EVER GONNA GET
Epic racing movie tells one part of the big story very, very well.
Ford v Ferrari is a terrific movie, which may not be all that surprising considering it’s based on an epic story.
You and I know the story well, some of us a little too well. Don’t let that knowledge of the actual history on which this Hollywood fantasy is based bog you down as you watch the movie. Don’t say to anyone within earshot in the theater, “They didn’t have that brand of shoelaces until the following year, this is (malarkey)!” No one will likely care and you will never get a second date with the date you brought with you. Just watch it and let yourself be drawn into what is among the greatest stories in racing history.
If Steve McQueen’s Le Mans had the best racing sequences but little to no discernable plot, and The Art of Racing in the Rain had a plot that was too long and manipulative and got in the way of the few, nicely filmed racing sequences, and if John Frankenheimer’s 1966 hit Grand Prix is the closest any filmmaker had previously ever gotten to the total package, despite its schmaltzy subplots, then Ford v Ferrari is your new Best Racing Movie Ever. Except for maybe Rush, which was also great… or Pixar’s Cars.
Go ahead and argue that one out for the next couple of weeks.
But go see this new one. And bring all your non-racing friends, too. They will enjoy it as much as you because Ford v Ferrari is above all else a story, a story well told, and that is the basis of any good movie.
Ford v Ferrari chronicles the epic battle between the two automakers, but also the fight between American racing hero Carroll Shelby and Ford, and between Shelby and his British driver Ken Miles, between Miles and evil (only in the movie) Ford executive Leo Beebe and even, comically, between Miles and the trunk lid of his 289 Cobra (Miles wins with the help of a ball peen hammer). There’s a lot of fighting going on here. The best might be a hilarious wrestling match between Shelby and Miles after Miles punches Ol’ Shel right in the nose with a left jab that’ll wake you right up and make you say, “Ouch!”
On the surface the story is about Ford’s all-out attempt to beat Ferrari at Le Mans. Henry Ford II might have seen the value of racing as a sales tool or maybe he was jealous of Ferrari’s ability to craft beautiful racing machines that went as fast as they looked. Maybe both. At the time Ford had the Mustang, Ferrari had the P3. I personally believe Henry Ford II was just trying to impress his new second wife, the Italian socialite Maria Cristina Vettore Austin, whom he had married the year before Ford’s win. You might have your own speculation about Ford’s motives.
In the movie the motive is presented as a sort of revenge. Enzo Ferrari rebuffed Ford’s attempts to buy his company but did it in the form of a stream of Italian insults at Ford, his factories, his cars and even his waistline (“He said you were fat, sir,” the character of Lee Iacocca tells his boss.) And while Ford really did try to buy Ferrari, it didn’t play out as neatly as it is presented here. No matter, it’s a movie. Again, don’t let your knowledge of the real story get in the way of your enjoyment of the movie.
Thus is launched the GT40 project, Ford’s “all-out assault on Le Mans.” I don’t suppose it spoils the ending to tell you who wins, but you already know. The story is more than just the race. It is about the sometimes-strained friendship and ultimately the great collaboration between racing entrepreneur Shelby and the often-acrimonius British driver Miles. The movie strips away almost everything else, both historically and factually, to present the efforts of this pair to carry out their orders from Detroit.
Along the way a surprising amount of real detail about developing the GT40 is presented. Shelby’s shop in a hangar at LAX is a central set, with the space-age Theme Building visible in the background to set the scene. Races are shown in three different locations—Willow Springs, Daytona and Le Mans—but required several more locations to shoot. While Willow was relatively easy to portray as the scene of an early sports car race (that Ken Miles wins, of course), Daytona and Le Mans were harder. Thus, the big, D-shaped oval of Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, stands in for Daytona, and if you didn’t recognize the stonework at the SoCal track you might just believe it’s the real Florida oval.
Then there was the Le Mans set. That took a lot more work. The scene of the Le Mans pits and start/finish was built from scratch at an airport in Southern California. A country road in Georgia stood in for the Mulsanne. The Dunlop Bridge was re-created on a section of Road Atlanta. There are scenes shot at Roebling Road, as well. It all works, as long as you don’t look too closely.
There are many happy surprises among the casting, too. Phil Remington, the great innovator and fabricator who worked for Shelby at the time and who developed the quick-change brakes crucial to the team’s success in the 24 Hours, is given a fairly prominent part in the movie, played by actor Ray McKinnon. John Bernthal brings the role of Iacocca to life with a sympathetic twist as the intermediary between the scrappy California hot-rodders and the towering edifice of FoMoCo. Real-life Ford executive Beebe is portrayed with cunning evil by actor Josh Lucas. And Enzo Ferrari gets the angry bad guy treatment by Italian actor Remo Girone.
The supporting cast and some stunt drivers include the sons of your favorite drivers: Derek Hill drives in the movie; Jeff Bucknum, son of Ronnie, drives one of the GT40s; and Alex Gurney gets a speaking part playing his dad Dan. Other stunt drivers include two Formula Drift champions—Samuel Hubinette and Tanner Foust—as well as driver Kelly Collins, who recently piloted Corvettes at Le Mans.
The cars are star-worthy, too. You’ll see replicas of cars that raced at Le Mans in 1966, including Porsche 906s, 911s and replicas of the beautiful Ferrari 330 P3s, one of which is actually launched into the air by a cannon to film a crash scene. And of course, there are enough GT40s to fill a grid, which they did. Most of those are continuation cars provided by SoCal dealer Shelby Legendary Cars in Irvine. They are constructed by Superformance to the originals’ exacting specifications.
There is a lot to look for in the movie, so plan on seeing it a few times. And don’t complain that Matt Damon, who plays Shelby, is too short, or that Christian Bale, who plays Miles, is too, well, you’re not going to find fault with Bale’s performance. Oscar talk ain’t cheap but it’s out there. (You could question whether Shelby/Damon’s black cowboy hat is on backwards throughout the movie.) Realistically, a single movie couldn’t really tell all the stories and all the history that went on around that central struggle. To do so in cinematic form would take months, and even then not everybody would be happy. Nitpickers should be content to know that this is the closest any Hollywood production will ever get to telling the real story of America’s greatest racing victory. And that is more than enough.
By MARK VAUGHN