In the Rearview Mirror: Hollywood knights

November 30, 2019

Hagerty Drivers Club Magazine
A word from McKeel

I’M GOING TO GO WAY OUT ON A LIMB here and predict that you will never see a movie called Frigidaire v Whirlpool. There’s just not a lot of inherent drama in kitchen appliances.

But there is in cars—and the people around them. Which is why, in November, millions of people will lay down their money for Ford v Ferrari, which tells the tale—familiar to racing fans—of the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race in France.

Matt Damon plays legendary race car designer and driver Carroll Shelby. (Unapologetic name-drop: My wife, Soon, and I had the chance to work with Mr. Shelby later in his life.) Christian Bale plays Ford GT40 race car driver Ken Miles, one of the pilots vying for victory over the vaunted Ferrari team. Lee Iacocca and Henry Ford II are major characters, as is Enzo Ferrari. It’s like The Avengers of the car world from that time period. Every car fan I know can’t wait to see it, me included. There are precious few big screen stories about cars and car people. Cars are usually the spice in films—stunts and car chases, for instance—not the main course. So this is going to be a real treat.

If you don’t remember the true backstory, Henry II was furious at Enzo for backing out of a deal to sell his company to Ford. Ferrari balked when he learned that his beloved racing program, Scuderia Ferrari, was included. (Scuderia is Italian for a stable reserved for racing horses. A fitting name, indeed.) In response to the snub, Ford hired Shelby and Miles, who together (as one melodramatic plot summary puts it) “battle corporate interference, the laws of physics, and their own personal demons” to create the GT40 that wins the race. And also finishes second. And third. A remarkable sweep!

There’s a surprise twist at the finish line of the actual race that I hope is captured in the film because it’s so incredible it sounds like something cooked up by a scriptwriter. Even if it isn’t included, I don’t plan to complain. Why? Because it’s a movie. Racing historian Preston Lerner delves into the matter here on page 56.

Hollywood is in the business of telling compelling stories, not reciting history. It will surely turn up the wattage on parts of the Ford-Ferrari battle that you or I might think are unimportant and completely ignore others. I’m quite certain car buffs are going to be breathlessly watching for details that aren’t quite right. From the movie trailer, one expert I know has already noticed front fender vents on a Cobra that didn’t exist at the time. He also noted modern radial tires. Apparently, there’s even an open-hood shot of a GT40 with (prepare yourself for a shock) electronic fuel injection. The horror!

But I say it’s all good. Even if Ford v Ferrari takes liberties with the details, getting the Carroll Shelby story to the big screen and introducing this larger-than-life character to new generations is a net positive for the car community.

As I’ve mentioned before, our mission at Hagerty is to save driving and car culture for future generations. If getting Shelby and Enzo on screen requires a few purist peccadilloes, I say no problem. Saving driving will take millions of future fans. And we will need our heroes to help us pull them together.

I’ll see you at the movies. Onward and upward!