Yes, “Ford v Ferrari” is a movie about automobile racing, but it is not exactly a racing movie — at least not in the sense of “Days of Thunder,” “Le Mans” or “Grand Prix.” It’s more of a buddy movie about a crazy entrepreneur and his irascible British pal, a pair hired by Henry Ford II to help him get revenge on Enzo Ferrari for spurning an offer to buy the Italian maker of fast sports cars.
Carroll Shelby was a cowboy-hat-wearing race car driver, chicken farmer, land developer, chili cook-off impresario and automotive engineer. He was named “Driver of the Year” by Sports Illustrated twice in the 1950s. You may remember him as the designer of the AC Cobra and the Shelby GT500 Mustang.
Henry Ford II was known as “Hank the Deuce” to his co-workers. He badly needed a win, having failed with his introduction of the Edsel and having been outmaneuvered in his dealing with the savvy Italian auto executive.
Lee Iacocca: “Mr. Ford, Ferrari has a message for you, sir.”
Henry Ford II: “What did he say?”
Lee Iacocca: “He said Ford makes ugly little cars in ugly factories.”
Henry Ford II: “And uh ...”
Lee Iacocca: “He called you fat, sir.”
Henry Ford II: “We’re gonna bury Ferrari at Le Mans.”
The Deuce was determined to have a Ford beat a Ferrari in the 24-hour endurance race at the little French town of Le Mans, the competition where Ferrari had built its fast-car reputation.
So, Iacocca recommended that Ford hire Shelby to help them build a car that was light enough to go 200 mph and tough enough to endure the grueling terrain of Le Mans.
Because Shelby’s own racing days had slowed due to a congenital heart problem, he insisted that Ford hire Ken Miles as driver of the new car. And Miles was a pretty good engineer himself. The two made a good team, coming up with the Ford GT40 despite a lot of corporate interference.
The rest is history.
In all, eight versions of the GT40 were entered in the 1966 Le Mans race. Amazingly, these cars captured first-, second-, and third-place victories.
In a bizarre twist, Miles, who was in the lead, slowed down to let the next two cars — G40s driven by his teammates — catch up and cross the finish line alongside him. As it happened, the car that had been in second place was declared the winner, with Miles losing his well-deserved victory due to this publicity stunt.
“Ford v Ferrari” tells this story. You can catch it all at AMC Classic Town Crossing 8, 925 W Andrew Johnson Hwy., as if sitting behind the GT40’s steering wheel. You can practically smell the burning rubber and melting brake pads.
A racing movie, a bromance, a biopic? It is all of that. But it’s also an underdog story, if you can imagine the mighty American car manufacturer as an underdog. People thought of Ferraris as sleek, powerful sex symbols that won races, while Ford conjured up images of family cars you’d take on a leisurely Sunday drive.
Even knowing the outcome of this historical racing event, you will be hunkered on the edge of your seat, rooting for Team Ford.
Of course, director James Margold (“3:10 to Yuma,” “Logan,”) and his scriptwriters have taken a few liberties with the true story. Miles wasn’t at that first LeMans where the Ford GT40 overheated. The three Fords crossing the finish line together didn’t happen exactly as portrayed. Shelby never locked an exec in his office to get a private meeting with Ford. And Ferrari was not present at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans. But these fudges make for better storytelling.
The film is bolstered by its stars: Likeable Matt Damon as Carroll Shelby and chameleon-like Christian Bale as Miles.
Also, Tracy Letts shines as the Deuce; Josh Lucas delivers as a threatening Ford exec; Jon Bernthal is on the mark as Lee Iacocca; and Remo Girone scores as Enzo Ferrari.
Ford Motor Company wasn’t involved in making this movie (they did provide some historical photos). Nonetheless, Ford issued a press release saying, “The ‘Ford v Ferrari’ film provides an opportunity to look back with pride on all that was achieved over that period and to recognize everyone who worked so hard to make it happen.”
Ferrari has no comment.