It makes for a great Hollywood script. The underdog takes on the high-profile competitor in the first-ever of its kind race and wins. But, is it realistic? If you haven’t seen the official trailer yet, check it out. Christian Bale’s new movie, Ford v Ferrari, depicts such a tale. Spoiler alert, we took a look back in history to see if the 1966 race at Le Mans actually ended the way Hollywood says it did.
A little history between Ford and Ferrari
Before the epic race depicted by the Christian Bale movie, Ford v. Ferrari, there had been in real life, a series of significant losses. Henry Ford II was looking to improve Ford’s image by winning a few races on the track.
Since Ford didn’t know much about building race cars, he sought to find someone who did. In 1963, he did just that by entertaining a $16M deal with Enzo Ferrari to buy his company. Ferrari, who was experiencing financial troubles at the time, was considering the deal until he realized the contract would imply giving up the Ferrari racing team.
What was intended to be a mutually beneficial collaboration and gentlemen’s handshake, turned into flared tempers, raging curse words, and no deal. Thus, the birth of the Ford and Ferrari feud.
Ford gets crushed by Ferrari at first
Henry Ford II took his frustration out on Ferrari by making it his mission to beat him on the track. He assembled his executive team and was prepared to throw all financial resources at the endeavor.
The first two Ford GT40s were destroyed within days of testing. With the 4.2L V8, it was capable of 170 mph. But, it was incredibly unstable. Several attempts at the drawing board and Ford did officially show up to the 1964 Le Mans with three cars ready.
Unfortunately for Ford, not only did his three cars end up on fire by the end of the race, but Ferrari took first, second, and third. What a punch to the gut.
Carroll Shelby & Ken Miles to the rescue
When you want the best, back then, Ken Miles was it. Considered one of the best drivers in the country, Ken was a WWII tank commander turned pro-racer.
Carroll Shelby was a top-notch designer, racing driver, and entrepreneur. The two reworked Ford’s vision and gave the GT40 the much-needed overhaul. It is suggested they both insisted on improvements in braking, suspension, and aerodynamics.
It was all day and all night for everyone involved, in preparation for the next Le Mans. They managed to get six cars in contention in 1965, none of which crossed the finish line. It wasn’t until 1966 that Miles was able to take a victory lap in a Ford, the very victory immortalized on the big screen by Christian Bale.
How Christian Bale went to great lengths to prepare for his role
Christian Bale plays Ken Miles in Ford v. Ferrari. Being a powerhouse to many of the characters he portrays, Bale was ready to immerse himself in the ’60s racing history and culture.
To do that, he spent time at Bondurant High Performance Driving School. Not only did Bale learn how to drive for his scenes, but he also spent time with the school’s founder, Bob Bondurant. Bondurant and the real-life Ken Miles were actually great friends.
So, did Ford really win? Yes, in 1966, Ken Miles pushed his car to double-check lap times. They won a first, second, third, and gave the American team a first-ever win at Le Mans. It’s a classic Hollywood tale of the hardworking underdog coming back from a loss to achieve victory. The cool part? It’s a true American story.