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Cool car flicks: Ford v Ferrari

By Tim Robson, 14 Nov 2019 Car Style

Ford vs Ferrari 2019

Matt Damon and Christian Bale star in Ford v Ferrari, which tells the story of the 1966 Le Mans race

So, what’s Ford v\ Ferrari about? Is it just another racing movie?

Ford v Ferrari – also known as Le Mans ’66 in other markets – examines one of the most storied tet-a-tets in the history of the automotive industry.

Here's some historical background. Looking for a way to sass up its car division, the great-grandson of Ford's founder, Henry Ford II (“James Bond doesn’t drive a Ford, sir,” he was told) sent an envoy with US$10 million to Enzo Ferrari with an eye to purchasing the then-fledgling sports car maker, but they were sent packing by the irascible Italian.

Ford vs Ferrari 2019

A fire was lit, and Henry Ford II gave noted US racer and car builder Carroll Shelby (played by Matt Damon) carte-blanche to build a racing car capable of showing Ferrari who was boss. In just three months.

Give or take some movie-house timeline stuff, Ford v Ferrari is a pretty accurate depiction of what happens when a mega-rich automotive titan’s ego is bruised.

But it’s also a story of Shelby’s rise to fame, the untold tale of his British friend and driver Ken Miles and the uneasy pivot for them both between the maverick ways of true garagista racers and the corporate subterfuge the runs rampant through one of the world’s true industrial powerhouses.

Is Ford v Ferrari for car nerds, or can I take the family to watch?

Director James Mangold, whose credits include the excellent Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line and the last Wolverine tale Logan, has woven reasonably decent racing action among the drama of a typical ‘beating impossible odds’ tale. It’s reasonably long at almost two and a half hours, but it’s pretty entertaining all the way through.

More: The cars that shaped Le Mans

There is some poetic licence if you know what you’re looking at – the scenes at Ferrari aren’t shot within 5000km of Maranello, for example – but on the whole, Ford v Ferrari is a car flick even the Better Half will enjoy.

What about the cars in Ford vs Ferrari?

Well, of course the main protagonist is the Ford GT40 MkII, which (spoiler alert) swept the 1966 Le Mans podium, with New Zealanders Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon in the lead car.


Some 420 cars were sourced for the movie, including 50 race cars… but don’t think for a moment that any of the on-track action is shot using original cars. Conservative estimates on the replacement cost of a 1969 Le Mans-winning GT40 are in the region of $150 million!

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A South African company, Shelby Legendary Cars, provided most of the Shelby Cobras, GT40s and Daytonas used in the film.

It’s a similar story for the Ferrari 365 Spyders seen in the movie, as well as the countless period cars scattered throughout the shoot.

Cool. Anything I should watch out for in Ford v Ferrari?

The bloke who plays Ken Miles, Christian Bale, apparently had to lose 30kg for the role, after beefing up for another part. The Brit was also, according to the movie’s stunt coordinator Robert Nagle, the best actor ever to pass through his race driving school.

While the part in the film where Ford II is taken for a ride in the GT40 is true, Miles actually did the driving – and there’s no evidence that the boss broke down in tears at the end.

If you’ve got eagle eyes, former Le Mans winner Jackie Ickx can apparently be spotted in a crowd scene at Le Mans.

Ford apparently spent US$25 million in the months leading up to the 1966 race – or the better part of US$200 million in today’s numbers – to field 15 cars in the race.

Compare that to the estimated 2018 spend of Mercedes F1 - $400 million against income of $405 million for an entire season – and you get an idea of how committed Ford was to the cause.

And if you don’t think Matt Damon is right for the role of Carroll Shelby, then consider that Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt were both considered.

Ford vs Ferrari 2019

Interestingly, the project has been on the drawing board at Fox Studios for the better part of a decade before making its debut on the silver screen.

Is Ford v Ferrari worth seeing?

It’s a long film, and you’ll enjoy it more if you’re a racing buff, but it’s a lot more accessible than the Steve McQueen arthouse-styled Le Mans, and (in my opinion) it’s a better flick than the recent 1970s F1 pic Rush.

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