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Jim Weed

Volume 45 Issue 02

Jan 19, 2020

If you haven’t seen it yet, you must go. Like most movies that represent true events the movie does a good job setting the stage for an epic battle at Le Mans in 1966.

    If you haven’t seen it yet, you must go. Like most movies that represent true events the movie does a good job setting the stage for an epic battle at Le Mans in 1966.

    The movie accurately portrays the Ford point of view. The early 1960s was a time of covert racing by the Big Three manufacturers. There had been an agreement between Ford, General Motors and Chrysler to not be directly involved in racing.

For several years all three did abide by the gentleman’s agreement but the horsepower war was about to heat up as the new decade dawned.

    Racing in America consisted of mainly drag racing in which maximum horsepower was needed and the oval dirt tracks that dotted the landscape where jalopies could battle on Saturday night. Stock car racing was mainly a southern thing.

    The one thing they all had in common was the maker of the car that came in first experienced a bump in sales. Hence, the “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” saying. The manufacturers were not going to just sit on the sidelines and hope their car was going to win.

    Engineering departments were designing higher performing parts and engines. These would be sold (given?) to a selected few racing teams and through these teams Ford, General Motors and Chrysler could ‘help’ Monday sales without being directly involved in racing.

    It didn’t take long before the surreptitious actions became full blown acceptance of factory help in providing parts and engineering help to win races.

    Ford was looking for an edge.  Ferrari seemed to have the technology to provide the best in racing automobiles. Ferrari was winning races all around the world, and Ford took notice. It happened that Ferrari might sell and Ford was a willing buyer.

    The movie portrays the story fairly true to form. The negotiations were intense and it did come down to a signature on the contract. Ferrari was not going to give the power of funding his racing to Detroit and walked away from the deal.

    The head of Fiat, Giovanni “Gianni” Agnelli, did ultimately buy into Ferrari but not with the timely phone call as depicted in the movie. A bit of poetic license here, but it did happen two years later.

    Once the movie gets to this point the stage is set.  Henry Ford II is hurt to be treated so roughshod by Ferrari. How dare a small company like Ferrari refuse the might and power of a company as large as Ford.

    If Ford can’t buy Ferrari then by God, Ford will beat them at their own game and the place to do that will be Le Mans. Where could Ford buy the expertise and knowledge necessary to put a race team together?

    Enter Carroll Shelby. He was building Cobras in California and the cars were creating a good record of wins in sports car racing circles. Shelby, played by Matt Damon, is a struggling car constructor when Ford executives come to recruit him into the racing program.

    Shelby brings Ken Miles, played by Christian Bale, into the fold as a development driver and the stage is set. Trials and tribulations abound as the two work with, and against, the Ford company bureaucracy.

    The big showdown is the 1966 Le Mans. Of course, we know who wins and the story is a bit of fantasy as the cars grid up and the race begins.

     The chaotic start of the 1966 Le Mans - Fords lead the way, the Ferraris are right behind

    I was hoping to see real Ferraris, vintage footage, and maybe a bit less Hollywood, but it was not to be. The Ferraris were clearly mockups with no inner structure when viewed in the frontal shots. At one point the rear lid is opened on one of the cars in the pits. Not a single Ferrari in the race had the rear deck open like a Boxer. They do not clamshell hinge from the rear.

    The drama on the track was a bit contrived but necessary to keep the story going. There were some light moments like Shelby liberating a couple of stopwatches from the Ferrari team. There was also a gratuitous stunt when Shelby tosses a lugnut onto the ground at the Ferrari pit and causes a lot of excitement.

    Of course, Ferrari lugnuts are not five to a wheel. That is an old NASCAR trick, but the producers must have felt it needed to be added here.

    The hero of the race is Ken Miles. It was his help in developing the GT40 to be a winner. It was his goal to win Le Mans. He had already won Daytona and Sebring; to win all three in the same year would have been a great achievement.

    Miles did lead the pack across the finish line, but due to finagling between the Ford execs, a vendetta against Shelby and the race organizers Miles was not declared the winner. The photo finish allowed the second place car to close up on the leader. Miles had not traveled the most distance due to the second place car starting a little farther back on the grid.

    I felt the movie could have been called The Ken Miles Story as it did a respectable service to this scrappy racer who was not only quick, regardless of the car, but was also technically capable of determining what a car needed to go fast.

    Miles was killed driving shortly after Le Mans at Riverside while testing another GT40. The movie did not shy away from the contributions of Miles and the effect he had on his co-workers and family.

    Was the movie worth seeing? Absolutely! Should you go to see the Ferraris? No, there weren’t any. Unless you can count a pretty yellow 275 GTB quickly shown in the famous Ferrari courtyard when the Ford execs come to visit.

    Ignore the fake Spyder California also in the same yard. Could they not find another real Ferrari to present? The racing cars were clearly mockups and so disappointing.

    The story is good, the action believable, if a bit contrived, and the racing, well, it’s not Gran Prix but it is tolerable. Matt Damon as Carroll Shelby, and Christian Bale as Ken Miles, were well cast.

    The rest of the story…

    So, Ford won Le Mans in 1966. The movie didn’t really explain the attempts of the Ford Advanced Vehicles Division created after the breakdown of the Ferrari negotiations in 1963. The development was handed to England and over the next three years the results were disappointing.

    It finally came together when Shelby and Miles could get better control of the development. In 1966 Ford won Daytona and Sebring and was on track to finally win Le Mans. Ford sunk several millions of dollars to make a point.

    Ford supplied eight cars: three for the Shelby team; three for the Holman & Moody team; and two for Alan Mann Racing team. Ferrari brought two.

    There were a total of thirteen Fords in the race as there were privateers running the older model. Ferrari had a total of fourteen cars. The Ferrari privateers were NART with five cars; Maranello Concessionaires and Ecurie Francorchamps with three each; and Scuderia Filipinetti with one.

    Scuderia Ferrari had two 330 P3s.

    S/N 0844: This car won its first race at the 1966 Monza 1000 km. In the Le Mans race it had transmission failure. Its next race was Ferrari’s revenge at Daytona in 1967 when driven to a third place by Pedro Rodriguez and Jean Guichet (race #26) and was immortalized in the famous 1-2-3 photo finish designed to thumb the nose at Ford.

                                      Race #21 S/N 0844 at Le Mans

    This car would be turned into a 412 P Can-Am and used with poor results in the late 1967 season. Sold into private hands it was owned by Harley Cluxton III and Walt Medlin before being returned to its original configuration in 1998. Today it still can be seen at many historic races throughout Europe.

    S/N 0848: It appears this chassis was new for the 1966 Le Mans. Driven by Lodovico Scarfiotti and Michael Parks this was the only Ferrari to have an accident in the race. Ferrari sold this car to Scuderia Filipinetti where it had lackluster results in several races. It also failed to finish the 1967 Le Mans race. It did better in several hillclimbs.

    It was gifted to Pierre Bardinon by Filipinetti. Sold to Switzerland in 1991, we have not seen this chassis but you can be sure it is still around.

    The privateers brought a diverse group of racing cars to the fray. Dino 206 SPs (3), 275 GTB/Cs (3), and a lone 250 LM were brought by the NART, Maranello Concessionaires and Francorchamps teams. Each team had one of last year’s Le Mans entries except NART who had also brought the newest P-car, besides the factory cars, which had competed in the 1966 Sebring race.

    The 1965 Le Mans cars did not do well. The two Ferrari entries, S/N 0828 and S/N 0832, did not finish and were ultimately sold to Francorchamps and Filipinetti respectively.

    S/N 0828 was sold at the end of its career and owned by Fabrizio Violati, most recently offered in 2015 by Talacrest.

    S/N 0832 also was sold at the end of its career. Like most of these racers, life on the track is hard. This car was damaged in Nassau but has been restored to new and lives a comfortable life in the USA.

    The other two 1965 Le Mans cars were S/N 0826 and S/N 0838. Each campaigned by Maranello Concessionaires and NART respectively.

    S/N 0826 was used when new by Maranello; it was sold and ultimately restored. It has spent many years being well-cared-for in a large collection in the USA.

    S/N 0838 was a NART car and was the only one of the above P-cars to finish the 1965 Le Mans race. It finished 7th overall and 1st in class. It is currently in the states and can often be seen at various concours.

    The other NART car, S/N 0846 (#23), was one of the three famous 1967 Daytona cars lined up for the finish. This chassis did finish 1st overall, avenging the 1966 Le Mans defeat. The chassis was damaged in the 1967 Le Mans race and spent many years in storage. It has since been resurrected and can be seen at various concours in the USA.

    The lone 250 LM S/N 6023 was campaigned by Francorchamps and had an excellent winning career. It has had a long list of owners since being retired but still soldiers on today at many vintage events across Europe.

    There were three Dino 206 S racers at Le Mans. Unfortunately the little Dino was still new and fragile. None of them lasted long in a 24-hour race. The Dino serial numbers were S/N 008 and S/N 014 for the NART team and S/N 012 for the Maranello Concessionaires team. All three survive and sustained no major damage.

    Lastly there were three 275 GTB/Cs. These were competition models of the beautiful 275 GTB. Built as its own special series, Ferrari ultimately built twelve chassis. All had alloy bodies and dry-sump engines. While looking very similar to their street brothers, these were very potent machines.

    Only a handful were completed before Le Mans 1966. S/N 9015 was a NART car and did not finish but the other two did. The Maranello Concessionaires car S/N 9035 finished 8th overall and 1st in class. S/N 9027, the Francorchamps car, finished 10th overall 2nd in class.

                             Race #29 S/N 9035, 8th Overall - 1st Class

    All three of these cars survive today. While S/N 9015 remains in original as-raced condition, the other two have been exercised in vintage events around the world.

    When watching ‘Ford v Ferrari’ take heart. Ford did win the overall race, and won Le Mans for the next three years. But Ferrari won its class and took the 8th and 10th spots with what was essentially a modified street car.

    Ferrari came back at Daytona and humiliated Ford in their own backyard with a 1-2-3 finish in 1967 and took the 2nd and 3rd spots at the 1967 Le Mans. Ford spent millions of dollars to prove its ability to win. Ferrari was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in its racing, and that included not only sports cars but the Formula One program.

    Ford moved on from sports car racing and Ferrari has never left. You could almost say, Ford won a battle, but Ferrari won the war. Forza Ferrari!



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