Want a Slice of Ford History? Watch Ford vs. Ferrari
In an industry focused on remakes and unrealistic action movies, it can be refreshing when Hollywood comes out with a new story.
In late 2019, 20th Century Fox and director James Mangold released a cinematic gem documenting the 1966 Le Mans race triumphed by The Ford Motor Company, Carroll Shelby, and driver Ken Miles. Although the film brushes over a few of the finer details of the movie to make it more accessible to all viewers, Ford Vs. Ferrari gets a lot right.
More importantly, this historical film shows just how impactful Ford was on the motor industry and history. It also highlights the ways through which Ford has triumphed over hardship. Without the drive to make it into Le Mans, and without the hard-working team assembled by Ford and Carroll Shelby, Ford would be a significantly different company today.
Let’s Discuss Ford vs. Ferrari
The Plot & The Actors
Ford vs. Ferrari documents the months leading up to the 1966 Le Mans race in which Ford vowed to make a car that would compete with famed sportscar creator Enzo Ferrari. The push to get into racing, which came after the release of the Mustang (and which we will discuss later on in the article), was made by former Le Mans driver Carroll Shelby and Ford executives.
In the movie, Shelby (played by Matt Damon), longs to be part of the race scene again after his retirement. The opportunity to do this happens when Ford approaches Shelby with a plan to beat Ferrari at the Le Mans race. Carroll Shelby and his team of mechanics begin work on the GT40. It’s then skilled mechanic, and amateur racer Ken Miles (Christian Bale) begins to test drive the car, fine-tuning it and eventually becoming its primary driver. Miles is loveable but rough around the edges, and it’s that edgy personality which initially turns off Ford from letting Miles compete in the race. However, once they realize Ken Miles is the only man who can drive the GT40 into victory, they agree to it.
Shortly before the race, the Ford team runs into a problem – the brakes on the GT40 experience brake failure, which nearly kills Ken Miles. This problem seems unavoidable, but with the help of some quick thinking and a loophole in the Le Mans rulebook, the team quickly realizes they can work around this issue by replacing the brakes during the 24-hour race. At the Le Mans, Ken Miles breaks multiple speed records and slides into first place after Enzo Ferrari’s cars break down. Although he is laps ahead, Ford decides that Miles should slow his pace and let the other two Ford drivers catch up to him; that way, all three could cross the finish line at once. Shelby is furious with this decision, and ultimately leaves the call up to Miles, as doing this would lose Miles his triple crown title. At the last moments of the race, Ken Miles takes a moment to consider what his end goal is, and slows down to let the others catch up.
All three Ford cars cross the finish line at once, scoring a historic moment for the race and The Ford Motor Company.
How Did Ford Get Into the Racing Business?
In the late fifties and early sixties, Ford saw a slump in business due to the changing habits of the newest generation of consumers – Baby Boomers. This generation made significantly more than their parents and wasn’t living in the wake of the great depression and world wars. Therefore, they sought out something more than just a reliable car to get them to and from work. They looked for a vehicle that had a little bit of pizzazz, something which Enzo Ferrari offered with his handcrafted, unique, and custom-made sports cars. With the unveiling of the Ford Mustang, Ford’s first sports car, the company understood that they would need to go hard when it came to its marketing to sell the Mustang.
Luckily for them, their most significant competitor was also having sales issues.
As Ferrari neared bankruptcy, Ford saw an opportunity to increase sales and step a foot in the sports car industry. Ford Motor Company first offered to buy out Enzo Ferrari, but after a failed attempt, the company decided instead to race against Ferrari in the Le Mans race, in which Ferrari was usually the lead.
Why Caroll Shelby?
Carroll Shelby initially approached Ford with the idea for a race car built and sponsored by Ford. Shelby believed that Ford could do it, and other executives, like Lee Iacocca, thought that winning the Le Mans was one of the best ways to put Ford back on track with young consumers. Shelby had a history of working with Ford and had won the Le Mans in 1959. His knowledge of cars and the racing industry made his offer valuable to Ford, who began production on the GT40 (the car to be raced at the Le Mans) shortly after that.
Carroll Shelby, of course, could not race in the Le Mans for Ford. His retirement in 1959 was due to a heart condition that could become potentially fatal under the right circumstances – specifically when there was too much strain being put on it. Therefore, Ford (albeit reluctantly) allowed Shelby to make the call when it came to who got to drive the GT40, which is how Ken Miles came on the scene.
The Impact of the Le Mans Race on Ford and the Future of Racing
Sure enough, the Le Mans race brought Ford into the limelight again and provided the company with enough fame and notoriety to get buyers interested in their cars in the years to come. The GT40 won the manufacturer championship after the Le Mans, due to the combined Ford driver scores.
The Le Mans made a few changes to their rules after the 1966 race. A notable one – brakes could no longer be replaced during the race. However, that didn’t stop Ford from racing in future championships.
The film Ford vs. Ferrari deserves the critical acclaim that it received. The story was thrilling and well told. The grit, the anger, and heartwarming moments between all the characters only solidified the values upon which Ford was founded and on which it continues to run.