Ford v Ferrari is based on a true story and, if you’re a petrol head, car enthusiast, motorsport fan or anything related to the field, the probability is quite high that you already know the history. The film is directed by James Mangold, who, for the most part, sticks as close as possible to the real events, with some leniencies for the standard Hollywood excessiveness. Thankfully, the latter doesn’t feel out of place amongst the story-driven film, which relies heavily on the relationship between Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles, played by Matt Damon and Christian Bale, and their pursuit of building a championship-winning car for the 24-hour endurance race at the legendary Le Mans.
Back in the 1960s, Henry Ford II (played by Tracy Letts) was slowly running the company into the ground. After an intimidating speech at the Detroit plant, he requests that someone comes up with an idea to help save Ford. One idea is to change the branding and marketing, moving away from the everyday car and bringing in some prestige with a car fit to win motor races. Ford company then aims to join forces with Ferrari, who they discovered are going through worse financial difficulty.
As it turns out, Ferrari is also strategising to broker a deal with Fiat. With Ford attempting to win Le Mans alongside Ferrari, the double-cross sparks Ford II into assembling a team that could win him the race, dethroning Ferrari in the process.
There have been countless films about cars. Almost as many about cars racing, with a large subset of those about historical motorsport, mainly focusing on some great rivalries. Such is the love for the genre, it’s also crossed over into an animated feature with Lightning McQueen in the Cars franchise. The relationship between McQueen and Matar is very similar to that of Shelby and Miles. Ford v Ferrari takes us through their ups and downs, right down to the actual fight between the two, one of the highlights of the film.
What we’ve seen on countless occasions in past is an over-reliance on the cars and the racing to drive those films, even while there’s great substance and subject matter at hand. But Ford v Ferrari doesn’t fall into those same tropes. Instead, it focuses on the complexities of putting a team together, the different relationships at play, as well as highlighting the dangers of racing from the era, even for GT-class racing. That said, there are still a few great in-car and racing experiences throughout the film to keep you on the edge of your seat. One such moment occurs when Shelby takes Ford II onto their test track to demonstrate what they’ve been working on and what’s at stake for the drivers. The experience leaves Ford II in tears.
For the longest time, Ken Miles was more legend and folklore than rather than a decorated racer. In the past two decades, however, things have changed quite a bit, with Miles being inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2001 for his contributions to the sport. The odds were always stacked against him, racing well into his 40s without earning much of a living from it. The role was fittingly played by Bale, who engrosses himself in the role as only he would.
Ford v Ferrari does a great job of portraying a lot the goings-on from the era, even going into the typical Ford Company bureaucracy, which I was surprised got the green light. Where it does go a little astray, however, is the portrayal of Enzo Ferrari as some kind of pantomime villain bent on taking down Ford and the world. This wasn’t the case, with company sticking to their traditional manufacturing and processes, hand-building a limited number of cars per annum compared to the millions that roll off the Ford lot during the same timeframe. As a result, the likes of Shelby and Miles weren’t battling for funding or manufacturing constraints as the film makes it out to be. Instead, they had both the financial resources, as well as the knowledge and experience of industry experts to draw upon, seeking every edge they could to beat Ferrari. It’s also worth mentioning that Ferrari held out on a bid to buy out the company, with the Fiat deal only going through some three years later.
Ford v Ferrari is a great, feel-good movie. It’s not the standard racer film with the endless gear shifting. Instead, it’s pieced together quite well, focusing a lot on character-building and struggles of building a team from the ground up.
As part of the marketing campaign for the film around the country, Shelby South Africa hosted a premiere event at Nu Metro, Emperor’s Palace. The team didn’t disappoint, bringing out a few of the premium lineup of Shelby-enhanced Ford machines. An interesting fact about the replica Ford GT40 Mk II models used in the film itself is that the cars were built right here in South Africa – Port Elizabeth to be more accurate. The cars were built by Jimmy Price at his Hi-Tech Automotive factory at the coast, where he continues to build various GT40 and Shelby Cobra classic models. Most of the models are registered under the Shelby American licence, which are mainly exported to the US and UK.
Ford v Ferrari
Ford v Ferra may not be completely factual, extending a little towards US propaganda, but there's enough substance to make it quite a good and entertaining film.