Movie Review : Ford vs. Ferrari

I’m not sure Ford vs. Ferrari is the appropriate title for this film. Shelby vs. Ford, Miles vs. Beebe, or The Ken Miles Story might have more aptly described the content. Ferrari plays just a small part in the overall plot. The good news is this is a very entertaining film, well acted by Matt Damon and Christian Bale. It features some decent racing sequences of LeMans, including some shots at night. I found those especially good.

The first two thirds of the film focuses on Henry Ford II’s plan to pull his company out of its sales slump. In the early sixties, sales had dropped as the baby boomers sought sleeker, faster cars. He decides on the quick fix of buying financially strapped Ferrari. On the verge of the sale, Enzo Ferrari rejects the offer because  he would lose of the control of the racing program. Ferrari then accepts an offer from Fiat for the same price.

Ford soon introduces the Mustang under Lee Iacocca’s direction and plans to build a LeMans car to beat Ferrari. They reach an agreement with Carroll Shelby to build what became the Ford GT40.  Shelby and his friend and test driver Ken Miles don’t exactly see eye to eye with the Ford executives. Miles and Leo Beebe in particular don’t care for each other. Shelby and Miles are abrasive characters who have issues following the company line.  However, when they win the 1966 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring, Ford grudgingly gives them some respect.

After Ford’s disastrous showing in the 1965 24 Hours of LeMans, Shelby’s team continues to develop the car with the aid of a larger 427 engine. Miles, who was not allowed to drive in the 1965 race, starts the 1966 event and charges from a lap down at the start to a commanding lead. The controversial finish of that year’s race, dictated by Leo Beebe, is still contentious.

If you go expecting lots of racing, you will be disappointed. Almost all the racing footage takes place in the last third of the movie. I was expecting more racing. There are lots of shots of the speedometer(?) and the tachometer hitting 7,000 rpm. And of course some crash scenes, a few of which seemed gratuitous.

A subplot involves Miles, his supportive wife, and his son Peter, who adores his father. Theses scenes help round out Miles’ character and give him a sympathetic touch. Shelby races vicariously through Miles after Shelby’s career was cut short by a heart condition.

As a film Ford vs Ferrari is entertaining. I liked the depictions of the characters, especially since last week I read Go Like Hell. I found their screen portrayal true to the book. I was a bit disappointed that most of the other stars of the era were not depicted, even in a cameo. Several were mentioned, but not portrayed.

My book review:

If you want to see a racing movie with lots of racing, I recommend Rush or Grand Prix. I recommend Ford vs Ferrari as a study of the era when the business model of racing began to change as Ferrari’s dominance begins to fade from the sports car scene.

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.