Book Review: Go Like Hell- Prelude to a Movie

Editor’s note: I read this book to refresh my memory of the time period in preparation to seethe movie Ford vs Ferrari. I recommend it to anyone who plans to see the film. It provides great background.

Two determined men and their prestigious car companies compete to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the mid 60’s. Go Like Hell by A. J. Baime chronicles the efforts by Ford to win the race and the efforts of Ferrari to maintain their six year win streak. It is a study of contrasting styles.  Henry Ford II tries to create a fresher look for the company his grandfather started, and Enzo Ferrari who wants to continue his car’s dominance of the world’s most famous sports car race.

The book also chronicles the stories of Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles.  Shelby develops the Cobra with an investment from Ford. Miles, an accomplished racer who excelled at developing race cars, tests Shelby’s racers. Like Ford, Shelby has a reason to beat Ferrari.

The story switches back and forth between Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari, presenting a brief biography of each man. The rivalry begins in earnest in 1963 when at the last minute Ferrari rejects an offer from Ford to buy the famous Italian company.  Ford decides to build its own race cars and challenge the Le Mans champions directly.

The book is brutally honest about the fatalities which occurred too often at the time. Ferrari’s attitude seems to be that drivers are expendable. Phil Hill walks away after winning the world championship in 1961, saying he didn’t want to die for Ferrari. We also see a glimpse of the politics of racing as John Surtees quits the team on the morning of Le Mans in a dispute over who would start the race.

The 1966 Le Mans roster of drivers mentioned is an all star list of the middle 1960’s.  Some of Ford’s lineup includes Mario Andretti, Mark Donohue, Bruce McLaren, Chris Amon, Dan Gurney, Lloyd Ruby, Ken Miles, Denny Hulme, and Ronnie Bucknum.

Ferrari counters with Pedro Rodriguez, Richie Ginther, Masten Gregory, Bob Bondurant, and Richard Atwood.

The 1966 Le Mans finish  is controversial, and the story ends by relating what happens to the principals in the years following.

For those in my age bracket, it is a great retelling of the times.  I learned some things and recalled several of the races and drivers mentioned. For younger fans, it is a good introduction to that era of sports car racing. . If you see Ford vs Ferrari first, I would still recommend the book to fill in the background.  I’m looking forward to the movie this weekend.