Ford vs. Ferrari was one of the hotly anticipated movies of 2019. Based on the true story of the rivalry between car manufacturers Henry Ford and Enzo Ferrari that played out during the annual Le Mans race, it featured an all-star cast.
That included Christian Bale as racing driver Ken Miles, Outlander star Catriona Balfe as his wife Mollie and Academy Award-winner Matt Damon as car designer Carroll Shelby. Damon is a major box office draw, having starred in movies like Good Will Hunting, The Martian and the poker thriller Rounders that pre-dated the passion so many now have for playing a poker game online.
The film did well, making $225.5 million when it cost $97.6 million to make. But how close is the story depicted on the screen to what actually happened?
A Story of Rivalry
Ford vs. Ferrari is a story of the rivalry between two visionary men – Henry Ford and Enzo Ferrari. In the movie, the moment that lights the blue touch paper on that battle is an aborted bid by Ford to buy the Ferrari company in 1963.
That bruises the ego of Ford and makes him determined to get even by defeating the dominant Ferrari cars at the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France. Alongside its depiction of the struggle to create a car that can deliver that win, the movie also captures the excitement and mod glamour of the mid-1960s that many people still find very compelling.
The excitement about the movie ahead of the official release was so great that it was even leaked online beforehand. Despite that, it was still a reasonably big hit and earned critical praise and award nominations.
In actuality, the finished film is a mix of fact and fiction though. So which is which?
Key Historical Events
Much of the timeline of historical events in the movie is true to life. The film begins in 1963, with Henry Ford attempting to buy the Italian car manufacturer Ferrari, only to be rebuffed.
The way that this is told on screen is true, with Ford reacting furiously to the collapse of the deal and vowing revenge on the race track. However, the film shows the deal falling apart after a photographer informs Giovanni Agnelli, the owner of Fiat, who subsequently outbids Ford.
That is not quite the way it happened in reality. Enzo Ferrari never wanted to sell out to a US firm for patriotic reasons, and Fiat did not buy Ferrari until 1968.
Furthermore, there were other motivators for Ford to create a sports car. His company was trying to recover from a slump by adapting to a new generation.
The movie then shows Ford engineers working on the GT40 that is planned as its answer to Ferrari, only to encounter persistent problems with braking and stability. This cost them the 1964 and 1965 Le Mans races, both of which are won by Ferrari.
That aspect of the movie narrative is more or less the way things played out in reality. Equally, the decision by a desperate Ford to put ex-driver Carroll Shelby in full control of the project instead of a mere consultant role is what happened in the real version of events.
The movie then shows Shelby turning to a man he trusts, in the shape of UK-born racer Ken Miles, to drive the car as he tries to get it ready for Le Mans 1966. Again there is not much that is inaccurate about this.
Where the movie does sometimes change things a little is in the depiction of the relationship between Shelby and Miles. Some of the more dramatic movie scenes, including the fight that sees a wrench thrown at Shelby by Miles, are not believed to have happened in real life.
The Main Characters
Most observers feel that Matt Damon’s portrayal of designer Shelby is one of the parts where fiction closely mirrors fact. His visual resemblance was impressive, thanks to a perm haircut, and he captures the real-life Shelby’s fast-talking skills as a salesman for Ford.
Indeed, in real life, Shelby actively sought out financing rather than having it come to him as it does in the film.
The depiction of Ken Miles by Christian Bale is felt to be even closer to the real man. The only differences were in scenes of conflict between Miles and aeronutronic pros at Ford, which were exaggerated for dramatic effect.
This accuracy also applies to his sacrifice of first place at Le Mans in 1966 so that the three Ford cars could photo-finish and his tragic death in a crash just months later.
Ford vs. Ferrari depicts the intense rivalry between the two teams with just a little dramatic license.
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