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Ford vs. Ferrari (Real Story)

Updated: Aug 27, 2021

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.


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