Movie Review: ‘Ford vs. Ferrari’ victory lap



“Go like hell.” That was Carroll Hall Shelby’s instruction to his driver, Ken Miles, at the 24 hours of Daytona, when Ford Motor Company’s corporate weenies were instead trying to tell Miles to take it easy on the Ford GT-40, the company’s ambition to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans.  

If you don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, I’ll introduce you to an America that wasn’t populated by a bunch of spineless snowflakes. 

The book “Go Like Hell, Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans” by A.J. Baime, tells the story about the Ford vs. Ferrari battle of the mid-Sixties. Now there is a movie, “Ford vs, Ferrari.”  

If you like good movies and great stories, see it.

The 1960s really weren’t about acid, incense, and balloons.  Not many people even noticed Woodstock, and at about the same time Woodstock was happening, America landed men on the Moon;. People noticed that. 

Thanks to Walter Cronkite’s hysteria, the war in Vietnam was becoming unpopular.  Nevertheless, the most popular song in the Billboard charts for 1966 was Barry Sadler’s “Ballad of the Green Berets.”  Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth,” touted by many as the anthem of the Sixties, also released in 1966, only made it to 27 on the chart. Unless you were there, the 1960s weren’t what you think they were.

Even though America was still reeling from President John F. Kennedy’s assassination and the South was in turmoil from the civil rights movement, in 1966 America was going to the Moon and the Ford Motor Company was going to win the 24 hours of Le Mans. Americans kind of expected to win things in those days.  We’d had a setback with the Apollo 5 fire and Ford’s first attempt at Le Mans had been disappointing, but in those days Americans simply expected to push through setbacks and still prevail; there had also been dark days in World War II.

In those days every young man’s dream was a Pontiac GTO.  The GTO ostentatiously stood for Grand Tourismo Homologate, which meant that it had been certified by the FIA, the Federation International d’ Automobile as a grand touring car for racing purposes.  Of course it wasn’t, but Car and Driver magazine tested a Pontiac GTO against a Ferrari GTO in 1964; the Pontiac didn’t do badly.  These days a Ferrari GTO is a million bucks or so, but a matching-numbers ’64 Pontiac GTO will fetch a quarter million.

In the spirit of the times, Ford Motor Company was looking to revamp its staid image.  Lee Iacocca, later of Chrysler fame, was one of the young firebrands in Ford’s management. He brought us the Ford Mustang. Even though it was only a well-dressed Falcon, it set a new paradigm.  

Iacocca convinced Henry Ford II that Ford needed to go racing at the international level, and the key was buying the Italian automaker, Ferrari, the icon of GT racing.  Enzo Ferrari dissed Ford and sold his company to Fiat.   Ford didn’t take it well and decided the only thing for that was to defeat Ferrari at Le Mans.

There is a scene in the book “Go Like Hell” that doesn’t make it into the movie in which Ford II, known as “deuce” is challenged by the bean-counters on his Board about the cost of the Le Mans endeavor and how he can justify it.  His response: “Because my name is on the building.”

There is a whole lot of corporate BS in the story, but fundamentally Ford listens to road racer Carroll Shelby, played by Matt Damon in the movie, and puts together a successful racing program  The racers have to struggle past pencil necked weenies with MBAs to put a fast car on the track.  

We can have a good argument about Ford executive Leo Beebe’s role in the program, but all of us who’ve worked for a major corporation or for government have worked for some pencil-necked weenie like the character in the movie. There’s a good argument that the real Leo Beebe, played by Josh Lucas, wasn’t a weenie, but there is an equally good argument that he was.  

Anyway, the story is about manly men doing manly things, and to the extent that there are women in it, they love their manly men.  If you like fast cars and pretty women, go see it. 

Art Chance is a retired Director of Labor Relations for the State of Alaska, formerly of Juneau and now living in Anchorage. He is the author of the book, “Red on Blue, Establishing a Republican Governance,” available at Amazon. 


  1. It’s worth the ticket, Joe. I’m thinking of actually buying a copy on Blue Ray; it’ll be the first movie I’ve bought in a decade.

  2. The Mercury dealership had one of the campaigned GT-40s in its showroom. British Racing Green .. I slid my foot under the door sill and lifted my foot… couldn’t… that low. Turns out Le Mans rules said 4′” clearance, so Shelby put wooden wedges in the springs to make it 4″ and then in the race they fell out and back down to 3″ for the race.

    Best GT-40 scene… Emma Peel in a GT-40 (“laser car”) in the Avengers.

  3. Art was right. Good movie. Worth the $12 admission price to see on the big screen.

    And for bonus laughs, read a dozen reviews of the movie for insight into how folks think about contemporary life.

    If you read the movie reviews of this flick from the swell set in places where there you have ready access to salt water, e.g., San Francisco, New York City and Los Angeles, you will note the reviewers philosophical problems with not having enough women in the show, that the women are too passive, that the movie is some sort of celebration of male dominated life, an overly zealous pursuit of cars and other inanities. But even assuming all that is true, the movie tells a decent story in a decent fashion. Hey, at least it’s not yet another in the seemingly unending comic book super hero stories that are designed for 12 year old boys and totally disconnected from reality.
    Interestingly, the reviews by folks who are not close by salt water seem to reflect a more mature view of the movie. The take the competition between Enzo Ferrari and Henry Ford II for what it is and mostly just enjoy decent performances by Damon and Bale and the supporting cast. Is it possible that reviewers in places like Iowa and non-coastal states are less judgmental and not so inclined to view any form of entertainment for what it is and not some political expression that they think ought or should contain some normative value statement.
    Go see Ford v. Ferrari because it’s entertaining. The movie is fun. And it’s a nice diversion from all the political silliness that saturates our contemporary scene.
    And while I’m at it, go see Midway. Another decent movie that tells a story and mostly in a fashion that puts bravery and the old American value of getting the job done front and center, just like Ford v. Ferrari.

    • This is a great movie to book end with Steve McQueen’s Le Mans. While the Ferraris are great machines (P4 and 512), the Ford GT40 and Porsche 917 are my favorites. Le Mans did have a somewhat peripheral female in the movie, the total of that film is the 917 as full song running down and then blocking Ferrari by McQueen’s character. I’d add “Grand Prix” with James Garner. All of those films cover when racing was…. dangerous and Armco barriers weren’t everywhere.

      • I have a copy of Grand Prix in a box around here somewhere; now you’ve made me have to find it and watch it again. I’ve only driven a Ferrari once, a Daytona. I don’t think Ferrari has ever made an ugly car; even the race cars are elegantly beautiful. I’ve just never been able to afford one; they were always just one or two promotions away. One of the saddest events in my life was passing on the opportunity in the early ’70s in Atlanta to buy a pretty well used up Ferrari for $5K. I had the money, but there would have been a whole bunch of Holy Acrimony had I spent it on a hole in the driveway that you poured money into, so I passed. It was a 250 GTO Berlinetta Lusso, and if I’d just taken it down to my parents’ place and put it on blocks in the barn and left it there it would be worth several million bucks today.

        A Fiat 850 was as close to a Ferrari as I could get in those days and I was cruising down I-16 between Macon and Savannah at 80 or so, pretty close to top speed, when I heard a howl coming up behind me and then flashing by me; it was a Daytona with that V-12 at full song doing at least 150 mph. It had a semi-open exhaust, probably a Borla or something like it, but the induction howl from six Weber carburetors was louder than the exhaust. Years later I had a Porsche 911 with the twin triple gang Webers. Typically German it was so muffled and the intake so restricted it sounded like an old man with COPD, but a set of K&N air filters and a straight through muffler fixed that; at high RPMs it sounded like you had a pipe organ behind your head. Synchronizing those Webers was a total PITA. I finally learned to get snow machine plugs for it when I had to tune it because they wouldn’t foul. Back then only Porsche and a few exotics used Bosch platinum plugs and the things were about $8 each when most plugs were a buck or two, and a carbureted 911 was notorious for fouling plugs if you lugged it or when you were trying to sync the carburetors. I still have a Uni-Syn in the bottom drawer of my tool chest; probably nobody under 50 or so even knows what that is. I’d hate to know I had to replace one of those triple gang Webers these days; those Holley 4Vs we used to buy from Honest Charley for $69.95 are over $400 new these days. My last boat had twin GM 305s with QuadraJets. You can’t buy new ones anymore, and used ones rebuilt to marine specs are over $300 each. Back when all cars used carburetors, you couldn’t give one of those things away.

        My messing with cars days ended when I bought a ’99 Chrysler 300M. I opened the hood, couldn’t see the ground, and the only thing I recognized was the distinctive Mopar alternator. I have two M-Bs these days, both with V-8s. They look like traditional automotive engines, though really more like aircraft engines, but what you are actually seeing is just a plastic shroud that looks like a traditional engine, and if you take it off, there’s nothing familiar looking under it.

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