All great tales of rivalry are shrouded in legend and myth—perhaps it’s this that makes these tales great in the first place. In the world of motorsport, there are few tales of rivalry as renowned as the Ford vs. Ferrari rivalry that started as a business negotiation gone-wrong and soon became a decade-long feud both on and off the racetrack. The 2019 movie, Ford vs. Ferrari, depicts this story with Matt Damon and Christian Bale occupying the lead roles. But, what really happened between these two giants of the car world? Here’s the true story!
*** Warning: This blog post contains spoilers for the movie! ***
Enzo vs. Henry
The feud started as a disagreement between two of the world’s most famous automobile businessmen—Enzo Ferrari and Henry Ford II. These two contrasting characters—Ferrari the fiery Italian racing driver-turned-entrepreneur and Henry “Hank the deuce” Ford the quintessential American businessman—butted heads over a deal that involved Ford buying a controlling share of Ferrari. With the deal about to go through in 1963, Ferrari pulled out at the last minute after being extremely offended when finding out that the deal would essentially give Ford control of the Ferrari racing team—Enzo’s true passion.
Ford was furious, especially after Ferrari then sold his company to Italian manufacturer Fiat, so he decided to build a car that would rival Ferrari’s on the track to show who was the best in the automobile world. But things didn’t start out well. The first two versions of Ford’s new track vehicle—the GT40—failed to beat Ferrari at Le Mans in 1964 and 1965, owing mostly to an inability to make a vehicle that could sustain the wear and tear of a 24-hour track race. It looked as if Ford had been beaten…
Enter Shelby and Miles
In true Ford fashion, Henry Ford II pushed on after 1965, hiring California-based car designer Carroll Shelby to help his race and design teams. Shelby then recruited his friend, Ken Miles, and the two of them revolutionized the Ford car design. They made it more aerodynamic, increased its stability, added an ingeniously designed changeable braking system that allowed the Ford team to swap out the old breaks during the race, giving the drivers an added advantage over other teams. The result was the Ford GT40 Mk. II.
The Ford team fielded three drivers in 1966, including Miles and Bruce McLaren—who was given the winner’s medal after Shelby ordered Miles to slow down so the PR team could get a photo of all three Ford cars finishing at the same time. With Ford finishing is 1st, 2nd, and 3rd positions, it looked as if Ford had come back in style against Ferrari.
But then, not long after the 1966 race, Miles was tragically killed while testing another Ford racecar in California. He never got the chance to regain his first position title that was thrown away for the sake of a PR photo earlier that year.
The legend of the Ford GT40
The Ford GT40 then went on to win again in 1967, solidifying its place in the history books as one of the greatest supercars of all time. This race has gone down as one of the best in the history of motorsport as Ferrari came in at a close second! It’s simple design, ingenious handling, and timeless body, mean the Ford GT40 will live on in American automotive memory—but it’s this story of triumphing against the odds and getting back up and trying again that really makes this vehicle special.