Richard Nisley


Ford v. Ferrari
Car Culture Released - Dec 16, 2019
The following is my review of the movie, Ford v. Ferrari.

It was over the summer of 1963, on the heels of Ford's near miss at the Indianapolis 500, that Ford sent representatives to Modena, Italy, to begin negotiations to buy Ferrari. However, Lee Iacocca was not a member of the negotiating team; that is among the errors of Ford v. Ferrari. I will discuss the others later.

At the time of the movie setting, Iacocca was president of the Ford division and far too busy to be involved in such negotiations. Not only that but much of his time was then occupied with the introduction of his–and Ford's–latest creation–the sporty Mustang.

What he did do was convince Henry Ford II (a.k.a. "The Deuce") to spend big on motor racing, as a way to improve Ford's staid image in the marketplace. At the time, GM (in particular the Chevrolet and Pontiac Divisions) was creating high performance cars that were winning races on drag strips and on the NASCAR racing circuit. The cool cars (the ones with bucket seats, dash-mounted tachs, multi-carburetors, and "four on the floor") were coming from GM, not Ford.

What Iacocca did do was arrange the deal that brought Carroll Shelby into the Ford fold, by getting the company to sponsor Shelby's ingenious idea of putting Ford's new compact V8 engine into a lightweight English sports car, thus giving birth to the legendary Ford Cobra. On road racing tracks across America, the Ford Cobra absolutely destroyed the two hottest sports of the day–the Chevrolet Corvette and the Jaguar XKE. That, and the Mustang, gave Ford's image a much needed boost, that generated new car sales and increased corporate profits.

It's true, however, that Henry Ford II, was deeply upset by how his negotiating team was rebuffed by Enzo Ferrari, and thereafter was determined to beat the patriarch of Italian motor racing were it mattered most–at Le Mans.

It was around this time in the movie that Roy Lunn's name surfaced. Roy Lunn was an Englishman who helped Aston Martin develop its winning sports car that, in the movie's opening scene, Shelby drove to victory at Le Mans, in 1959. Lunn was hired by Ford to develop a sports racing car that would beat Ferrari. What he actually did was negotiate a deal with a small English race car builder that had a small lightweight Le Mans sports coupe ready for competition. This was the sleek Lola sports coupe, a small and compact two-seater designed to accept either a Chevy or Ford V8 engine. Ford's styling department redesigned the body, creating the arresting shape that became known as the Ford GT40. Meanwhile Ford's suspension guru Klaus Arning re-engineered the fully independent suspension, that created a sweet-handling car that drivers raved about. In the movie, this was the car that suddenly appeared on the apron outside Shelby's shop. The problem with the car was two-fold–it was heavy and the aerodynamics was faulty–at speed the car lifted in front and literally wanted to fly ("take off for Hawaii," as they put it so colorfully in the movie). These were the two bugaboos being addressed in the movie by driver Ken Miles and by Shelby engineer Phil Remington.

Note: the Ford GT40 program was taken away from Roy Lunn and turned over to Carroll Shelby, after Ford's disastrous first attempt at Le Mans in 1964. Shelby and company developed the car into the front-runner that won the 1966 race as depicted in the movie. In turn, Ford gave the Shelby-developed GT40 to Ford's NASCAR team of Holman and Moody, to help increase its odds of winning. This was the car Miles was competing against at Daytona.

Another error: early in the movie Miles in a Cobra is shown competing against Dan Gurney in a Corvette. Fact: Gurney was a Ford man, and never once drove a Corvette. Also in error, Miles is shown intimidating Gurney on the track and forcing him to spin off course, thus clearing the way for Miles's victory. No one ever intimidated Gurney, and he rarely erred on the track. The year depicted was 1963, by then Gurney was under contract to Shelby to drive Cobras in sports car races all over the world.

Finally, I enjoyed the movie a lot. My hats off to Matt Damon for his spot-on portrayal of Carroll Shelby, and to Christian Bale as gear-head/driver Ken Miles. Kudos also to Tracy Letts, for his powerful portrayal of Henry Ford II, and to Caitriona Balfe, as Miles's long-suffering wife Mollie.

Final note, I saw Shelby win a race at Riverside Raceway in 1961, driving a Maserati Birdcage. Finishing second was Ken Miles in a Porsche Spyder. Shelby retired soon thereafter and started Shelby American, in Venice, California.

Also I really enjoyed the scenes filmed at Willow Springs Raceway which, when I was in high school, was about a 30-minute drive from our house.

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