Meet the Men Behind the Myth
Despite its title, the 2019 movie ‘Ford v Ferrari’ is much more than a speed fest for race car fans. The plot centers on automotive designer Carroll Shelby and race car driver Ken Miles. The duo played by Matt Damon and Christian Bale join forces to develop a trailblazing race car to compete against Ferrari.
The movie grossing $225-m worldwide was a box office winner. Let’s face it, though, any storyline featuring Ford’s lumbering carthorse teaching Ferrari’s prancing stallion a lesson was sure to be a big hit.
Within a thrown conrod of the truth, Hollywood can’t help but tweak the facts to spice things up. But here, we will look at the real stars behind the story.
Winning at Any Cost
Enzo Ferrari had an interest in two things, racing and winning. For him, selling luxury sports cars was a necessary evil to fund his company’s racing arm.
In the early ’60s, looking for ways of injecting cash into his Formula 1 efforts, Enzo heard that Ford may be open to a deal.
The Italian began negotiations that would see Ford as the majority shareholder for building luxury sports cars. Ferrari, meanwhile, would remain a major shareholder for the merged company’s racing department.
After months of intense negotiation, the $16-m deal was racing towards the checkered flag. However, at 10 pm on the 20th of May in 1963, Enzo Ferrari read a particular contract clause. He blew a fuse and told the yanks to pack their bags.
The clause said if the annual racing cost went over budget it would need Ford’s approval. That was a step too far for Ferrari, who hit the brakes on the deal.
Ford takes the Fast Track
Henry Ford II and General Manager Lee Iacocca wanted to break into international racing. They didn’t want to waste time on lengthy research and development, so decided to buy into the sport instead. When word got out that Ferrari might be ready to talk, Ford’s 14-man negotiating team headed for Italy.
Motorsport legend has it that one of the deal’s sticking points was Ferrari demanding that Ford drop their collaboration with Carroll Shelby. At the time, Shelby was developing the Ford Cobra, so Ford’s response was a big fat no.
A little bit later talks broke down. And Ford, whose management style was just as dictatorial as Ferraris, went after the Italian on the one place it counted, the racetrack.
Henry Ford II spent around $500-m to win the Le Mans 24 hour race. It was money well spent, though! The glory of beating the Europeans at their own game launched Ford’s sports car range to a new younger generation of buyers.
Ford has Designs on Shelby
The enigmatic Carroll Shelby was as passionate about women as he was about racing. He also liked wearing bib overalls and swearing at his race mechanics.
At the time of the failed deal, Shelby was already collaborating with Ford. As the only American driver ever to knock Ferrari off the winner’s podium at Le Mans, Henry Ford II made a beeline to get Shelby onboard the GT40 project.
The seven-time married racing-entrepreneur was also a charismatic marketing genius. As for taking ‘Hank the Deuce’ for a squealing tire ride in the GT40 and making him cry, sorry guys, that’s pure Hollywood.
Going the Extra Mile
An army mechanic who took part in the Normandy landings British born Ken Miles, moved to California in 1952. The naturalized American made a name for himself racing a modified MG in which he won 14 straight races.
In 1955, he beat an aspiring racing driver in a Porsche 356 into third place. The driver was James Dean. Seven months later, the movie star died behind the wheel of his Porsche on his way to compete in a race.
Miles was as good a driver as he was an engineer. He could drive a car for one lap and produce enough detailed technical notes to turn it into a race winner. Shelby seeing the potential of the stubborn Brit, took him on board as a lead test driver.
He went on to win at the Daytona and Sebring races and at the infamous 1966 Le Mans 24 hours, led by several laps. He was all set to become the only driver in racing history to win the Triple Crown.
However, Ford’s head of special vehicles, Leo Beebe, stepped in, ordering all three Ford drivers to cross the line together. Two Ford race cars crossed the winning line with the third a little behind.
The organizers of the French race announced Miles, the winner. When realizing he had slowed to turn the end of the race into a Ford PR stunt, the title got stripped away.
The Final Finishing Line
Just two months after the race, at 47 years of age, Miles died at the Riverside Raceway testing the experimental Ford J-car which flipped at over 150-mph.
Known by his race crew as Teddy Teabag for his love of a good cup of tea, controversy still surrounds the crash.
A team from Ford’s aerospace division examined the wreckage but the car was too badly destroyed to reveal the cause of the crash.
Back in the Pits
Did Hollywood get it right? For once, they weren’t far off, but this is one case where the major players were a lot more interesting in real life than those on the silver screen.