My review of the Ford v Ferrari movie. Plus the truth about the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans finish

Back from seeing the Ford v Ferrari movie. Overall, this was a very entertaining movie that I highly recommend to the average movie-goer from a pure theatrical standpoint. However, I know way too much about the actual story which prevents me from giving it 5 out of 5 stars.

If a movie producer wants to hit a home run on a movie based upon a true story, you’ve got to find a reasonable balance between truth and fiction while maintaining historical accuracy.

I had hoped Ford v Ferrari would be the greatest movie ever, at least based on racing, due to my friendship and admiration for Carroll Shelby. This movie falls too short of the mark. Let me explain.

The acting and cinematography was very well done. Matt Damon did a fantastic job playing Carroll Shelby. Overall, I feel very confident that Carroll would have liked the job Damon did portraying him. This is coming from someone who got to know Shelby by virtue of writing a book on one of his friends Masten Gregory.

Carroll Shelby could be a bit cantankerous, very particular and sometimes not the easiest to work with. This Ford vs Ferrari movie had been talked about for years and perhaps this is why the movie was finally made after Shelby’s death. However, beneath that hard as leather Texan exterior, as I found, Carroll Shelby had a heart of gold and had a great sense of humor. Shelby’s candidness, sense of humor and salesmanship is captured well in this movie by Matt Damon.

Shelby would be happy that Phil Remington had a significant role in the movie as he credited him for a large part of his success. However, I felt that they could have found an actor who looked more like Remington. With Ken Miles, Christian Bale looked close enough to him from a casting standpoint and Bale was British. Bale was an excellent casting selection for Miles’ part.

For pure sports car racing action scenes, it is very hard, perhaps impossible, to top Steve McQueen’s movie Le Mans. Remember, Steve McQueen had 1970s technology at his hands in making that movie. Not all of the computer technology and aids available today.

The 1966 Daytona 24 Hours

The Ford v Ferrari movie depicts a very fierce battle at the end between Ken Miles and Walt Hansgen in the 1966 Daytona 24 Hours. My close friend, the late Michael Argetsinger, who won an award for his biography on Hansgen, would be very happy that his biography subject would figure so prominently in this movie. But Ken Miles and co-driver Lloyd Ruby won this race comfortably (by eight laps) over 2nd place finisher Dan Gurney who co-drove with Jerry Grant.

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Leo Bebee as the Villain

One of my beefs in the movie is how Leo Bebee was portrayed as a smug Ford executive and internal villain in the movie. It is true that Bebee did not think as highly of Ken Miles as did Carroll Shelby. The original Ford GT team had four drivers at Le Mans in 1964: Phil Hill, Bruce McLaren, Masten Gregory and Richie Ginther. Miles was originally hired as the competition director and test driver for the Ford GT team.

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It is true that Bebee called for Ken Miles to slow down in the final hours of the race for the blanket 1-2-3 Ford finish. Bebee didn’t want the drivers racing each other or risk pushing the Fords too far and having one of them retire due to mechanical failure. Plus, a photo finish displaying all three Fords crossing the finish line 1-2-3 would be ideal for a headline newspaper photo.

But Leo Bebee never desired for Ken Miles to lose the race as the movie might lead you to believe. In a book titled Ford: The Dust and the Glory by Leo Levine, when Bebee learned that a tie would relegate Miles to second place, his reaction was: “Oh my God, that’s not what we wanted it all.”

The ending of the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans

The key race in Ford v Ferrari is the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans. I am aware that movie directors sometimes take certain liberties when making a movie and deviate a bit from the actual story. Sometimes this is due to keeping production costs down and other times to embellish the story to make it better. But the movie depicts the blanket 1-2-3 Ford finish that Ford had envisioned. But the real truth is that Bruce McLaren finished first by a noticeable margin (shown below) at the finish. Plus, it was raining at the time.


For more on this controversy, I highly recommend watching this YouTube video below. Over the years, there have been so many stories about how this race unfolded and the reasons why. This video dispels many myths. My personal belief is that Bruce McLaren gassed it a bit to cross the finish line first. McLaren was upset that he was asked to slow down earlier and Miles didn’t and passed him.



Other Key Factual Errors

The movie depicts Carroll Shelby downing a bunch of pills for his heart issues. Shelby did take nitroglycerin pills for chest pain but you don’t swallow a bunch at a time. You take one tab sublingually every five minutes until relief is obtained for a maximum of three tablets.

The movie also leads you to believe that Carroll Shelby was the first American driver to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This is supposedly one of the reasons why Shelby gets the gig from Henry Ford II for his all out assault on Ferrari and winning the most prestigious and coveted 24 Hours of Le Mans race.

But Luigi Chinetti Sr was the first American driver to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1949 with co-driver Peter Mitchell Thomson. Chinetti Sr was born in Italy but became an Americanized citizen in 1946.

Phil Hill was the first American-born driver to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Hill won the 1958 24 Hours of Le Mans with co-driver Olivier Gendebien. Granted, Shelby was the first American to win Le Mans that also wanted to build his own cars. However, this leads me to my next criticism of the movie.

Co-Drivers Left Out or Marginalized

In a 24 Hour endurance event, you simply cannot leave out, not mention, gloss over a co-driver who was part of a major win. Yet, this was the norm in this Ford v Ferrari movie. That is a bit disrespectful, a huge No-No in the racing fraternal community and especially at that time when there were only two drivers for 12 hour and 24 Hour endurance events.

New Zealander Denny Hulme was Ken Miles co-driver in the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans. From my memory, Hulme never got one full name mention in the movie.

Leading up to the Climax

In any great movie, there has to be a conflict identified early on to capture the viewer’s attention. There has to be interesting characters and adequate character development going along. This movie does a good job in all of those areas. But any great movie has to properly lead up and built to a climax.

The climatic point in this movie was great, Ford finally beats Ferrari with Enzo Ferrari in attendance. However, this feat was a bit underwhelming in this movie because it didn’t build the viewer up properly to the ultimate climax. Ford failed miserably in the 24 Hour of Le Mans in 1964. Ford failed miserably again at Le Mans in 1965.

In my opinion, this movie glosses over a lot of Ford’s struggles trying to beat Ferrari the previous two years. The 1965 24 Hours of Le Mans race, in which Ferrari won, seemed noticeably absent and was a part of that struggle.

Masten Gregory was a part of the original Ford GT team in 1964 but canned by John Wyer towards the end of the year. Wyer accused Gregory of wrecking the gearbox on one of the Ford GTs. However, Masten Gregory came back and won the 24 Hours of Le Mans the following year in 1965 in Cinderella fashion co-driving a privateer Ferrari with Jochen Rindt.

Gregory was a huge player in this Ford vs Ferrari battle in the 1960s and he was on both sides of the battle. However, Gregory got mentioned one time in the movie. I was disappointed by this and I feel that Carroll Shelby would be unhappy about it as well.

Overall, I am very glad this Ford v Ferrari was made and I hope it exceeds all expectations at the box office. I’ll give it 4 1/2 out of 5 stars. But I feel that a movie on Masten Gregory during that same time frame, in that same Ford vs Ferrari battle, would make a much, much better movie.

4 comments

  1. I would only give it 3 out of 5 stars since there were so many historical inaccuracies. Not just the Le Mans finish but the Daytona stuff where they did not go to Daytona for some reason, the shots toward the end of the movie where the car Miles dies in looks nothing like the J Car and the car shown that supposedly wins Le Mans is ’67 is a Mark II, not a Mark IV. Many of the racing shots that are supposed to be Le Mans were actually shot at a small track near Savannah GA.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jim, I knew that they did not shoot the Le Mans scenes at Le Mans but this was probably due to increased production costs to shoot there. But I think they did an OK job in recreating the Sarthe circuit. I didn’t catch the GT that they depicted winning the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans but you are right, it was a Mark IV.

      Like

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