by Geoffrey Churchman
In several countries this was released as Le Mans ’66, but NZ has retained the American title of Ford v. Ferrari which, as is apparent, deals with the motor sport rivalry between Ferrari and Ford in the 1960s, particularly after Ferrari rebuffed an offer from Ford to buy Ferrari for $18 million and, if the dialog in the film is to be believed, Enzo Ferrari added gratuitous insults to Ford. Fiat was the successful bidder for Ferrari.
Ford weren’t going to take that lying down — the challenge was there and Ford set about creating its own top notch racing car with the GT 40 (the 40 being the height of the windshield in inches) to compete with whatever Ferrari came up with. The most prestigious motor sport prize was a win in the Le Mans 24 Heures of France.
The names involved at Ford with this challenge became legends in the American automotive industry — Lee Lococca, best known for the development of the Ford Mustang and Pinto cars, later for reviving the Chrysler Corporation as its CEO during the 1980s; racing car driver then designer and constructor Carroll Shelby, played by Matt Damon, and racing car driver/engineer Ken Miles, played by Christian Bale.
Those into motor sport history will be aware of the outcomes: Miles wins the Daytona 24 Hours and then the top prize, the Le Mans in a GT 40. However, New Zealanders Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon, racing in another of the three GT40’s of the Ford team at Le Mans were declared the winners because of an absurd technicality and Ken Miles had to make do with second place.
The race was an enormous publicity success for Ford since their cars finished 1, 2 and 3 (a photo of the three cars arriving at the finish line together caused the technicality mentioned that deprived Miles of his deserved victory).
The movie delivers for petrol-heads (or gearheads as they are known in America) with lots of racetrack and test-track action and descriptions of the technical needs that the team had provide innovations for — a 24 hour high speed race is going to strain all the cars’ components to the maximum, requiring change-outs at pit-stops and in the case of the Ford team, complete brake assemblies were so changed.
But the high speed thrills and spills — Ken Miles came close to being killed before and during the races; and was after the Le Mans event in California (Bruce McLaren was also later killed on a test in 1970 in England) — aren’t enough to appeal to mainstream audiences: interpersonal drama is also needed and the movie delivers on that, too; Miles’ wife sees the vagaries of racing as not suiting family life and a reliable steady income, the boss of Ford, Henry Ford II, and his minions constantly interfere in the dedicated work of Miles and Shelby, and there are periodic arguments between the two of them. All of it absorbs the viewer for the 2 hr 32 minutes running time.
Of course, it’s car enthusiasts who will appreciate the movie most and apart from the high performance Fords and Ferraris there are MGs, Cobras, a Porsche and numerous American classic cars of the 1950s and early 1960s used as background vehicles. Great! 🙂
Ford v. Ferrari is currently screening at the Shoreline.