Ford VS Ferrari: Separating Fact From Fiction

1966 LeMans Race
Image Via: Autoweek

Most every self-proclaimed performance enthusiast today has seen, or at least heard of, the 2019 “auto-drama”, Ford Vs. Ferrari. This movie details Ford’s attempt to capture victory at Le Mans during the 1960s, though doing so would mean toppling perennial heavyweights of the global racing scene, specifically Ferrari.

With a star-studded cast, including the likes of Matt Damon and Christian Bale, it is little wonder that this film achieved a substantial degree of box office success. However, many viewers were left to question the degree of accuracy with which such events were portrayed. How much of this famed feature film was actually true, and how much was purely a work of Hollywood fiction? Buckle up, as we attempt to get to the bottom of these questions and more.

Ford Almost Purchased Ferrari: Fact

In the film Ford Vs. Ferrari, the rivalry between these two automakers began when Enzo Ferrari pulled out of a deal to sell his company to the Ford Motor Company. This, for all intents and purposes, was a true depiction of actual events, detailing the beginning of this historic feud.

As Ford struggled to gain a following from youthful motorists of the day, a plan was hatched to purchase Ferrari, thereby adding a dose of performance vigor to the company’s portfolio. However, Enzo Ferrari balked at this notion after learning that he would no longer be in full control of his beloved race team. The falling out that ensued became rather personal, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Enzo Ferrari
Image Via: EVO

Fiat/Ford Money Grab: Fiction

In Ford Vs. Ferrari, Enzo Ferrari’s late refusal to sell his company to Ford is depicted as an act of leverage, ultimately dragging Fiat to the negotiating table. However, this, in itself, was quite the stretch and is rooted in little actual fact. At the time, Enzo Ferrari was acting to guarantee the survival of his struggling brand, which was running desperately low on financial capital.

Though Fiat did eventually buy into Ferrari, this did not take place until almost three years after Ford and Ferrari’s historic showdown at Le Mans. Additionally, as already mentioned, Enzo Ferrari did have every intention to sell his company to Ford, though the prospect of losing control over his race team proved to be more than he could stomach.

Three-Way Finish: Fact

In Ford Vs. Ferrari, Ken Miles, Bruce McLaren, and Chris Amen all crossed the Le Mans finish line at the exact same time, initiating a three-way tie between all competing Ford drivers. This, as it turns out, was also accurately depicted. Miles was instructed to slow his pace, allowing a three-way finish among teammates to take place.

Also accurately depicted, was the fact that Miles, by happenstance, lost his potential victory and placed second, officially, on a technicality. At the time, Le Mans rules stated that the driver covering the greatest distance in the course of the race would be declared winner, in the event of a dead heat. Since McLaren and Amen started behind Miles on that fateful day, Miles was forced to forfeit his win.

1966 LeMans Photo Finish
Image Via: Motor Sport Magazine

Carroll Shelby Gave Up Racing Due To His Health: Fact

In Ford Vs. Ferrari, Carroll Shelby is depicted as a celebrated driver that gave up his career due to a heart ailment. This was true to history as well. In fact, Shelby dealt with some degree of cardiac issues for most of his life and was eventually diagnosed with a heart condition known as Angina Pectoris. Continued issues would see him permanently withdraw from competitive racing in 1960.

Interestingly enough, Carroll Shelby would ultimately receive a heart transplant in 1990. This prolonged his life, allowing him to live until 2012, when he passed away at the age of 89. Additionally, this was not the only transplant surgery that Shelby underwent in his life, as he also received a donor kidney from his son in 1996.

Enzo Ferrari Attended Le Mans 66′: Fiction

The feature film depicts Enzo Ferrari being in attendance at Le Mans 1966, watching as his race team is shamed by Ken Miles and his fellow Ford teammates. As it turns out, this was a work of Hollywood fiction, intended to further dramatize the plot, as Ford took the checkered flag, finally toppling Ferrari’s dominant performance team.

In reality, Enzo Ferrari was not present at Le Mans 1966, though we are relatively sure that he was no more pleased with the race’s outcome than the movie itself depicted. All told, nobody at Ford received the satisfaction of witnessing Enzo Ferrari’s displeasure first-hand, though this improv did add a little gusto on the silver screen.

Miles/Shelby Physical Altercations: Fiction

While it is true that Ken Miles and Carroll Shelby butted heads on more than one occasion, there is no recorded proof of a physical altercation between the two taking place. In fact, it appears that these arguments were never more heated than the typical workplace quarrel, with little in the way of lasting effects.

Ken Miles and Carroll Shelby were both strong-headed and opinionated without exceptions. Each had their own creative spin that they intended to apply to any endeavor in which they were involved. However, there is good reason to believe that the movie’s production team took ample opportunity to play on the drama regarding these circumstances.

Legend Carroll Shelby

Shelby & Miles Engineered The GT40: Fiction

In Ford Vs. Ferrari, the Ford GT40 is portrayed as the work of Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles. While it is true that both were heavily involved in the development and testing of the GT40, there is much more to the story. There was an entire design and development team to credit for the GT40, each member of which played their own pivotal role.

One should also mention that top Ford brass was quite a bit more accepting of this endeavor than portrayed. While some within were skeptical toward the GT40 project, efforts continued largely unabated. Ford also invested ample time and money in the GT40 program, levying resourcing and assistance every step of the way.

Henry Ford II’s Distaste For Ken Miles: Fiction

Those watching Ford Vs. Ferrari would be inclined to believe that Henry Ford II despised Ken Miles. In fact, in the movie, this point climaxed with Carroll Shelby taking Ford on a wayward test drive to secure Miles’ spot in the cockpit. However, this simply was not true and was a work of Hollywood fiction.

While it is true that many regarded Ken Miles as a risk taker, he was never on the verge of being blacklisted by Henry Ford II because of this. Ford was adamant that his race team win at all costs, no matter who resided behind the wheel. It was clear that Ken Miles was the man for the job, and Henry Ford II was in no place to argue.

Ken Miles
Image Via: Road and Track

Ken Miles Fatal Crash: Fact

Ford Vs. Ferrari depicts the last moments of Ken Miles’s life, leading up to a fiery crash while testing the new Ford J-car. This, sadly, was a rather accurate account of the true events of the day. Ken Miles did, indeed, die in a violent crash approximately 2-months after Le Mans 1966, during standard testing and tuning exercises.

The crash in question took place on August 17th, 1966, at Riverside International Speedway, located in Southern California. Multiple accounts, including those by Miles’ son Peter who was present that day, suggest that Miles was traveling at approximately 200 MPH at the time of his wreck, ejecting him from the vehicle itself.