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"Ford vs. Ferrari" – Will Hollywood Do it Right This Time?


Shelby at LeMans in 65

Shelby at LeMans in 65

Shelby in 66 (painting by Wallace Wyss)

Shelby in 66 (painting by Wallace Wyss)

Carroll Shelby as race driver mid 50s (painting by Wallace Wyss)

Carroll Shelby as race driver mid 50s (painting by Wallace Wyss)

Henry Ford II backed the GT40 after Ferrari slammed the door in his face on a buyout

Henry Ford II backed the GT40 after Ferrari slammed the door in his face on a buyout

British engineer Roy Lunn working in Dearborn for Ford developed the design (Long nose prototype)

British engineer Roy Lunn working in Dearborn for Ford developed the design (Long nose prototype)

Ferrari 250 GTO side view

Ferrari 250 GTO side view

Gulf-blue GT40 (painting by Wallace Wyss)

Gulf-blue GT40 (painting by Wallace Wyss)

 

In the ‘40s it was a formula that worked — there would be this poor schlep who couldn’t get a break and then he takes up a new profession and the story becomes a rags-to-riches model.

There actually was a guy like that in car racing who did fit that role. His name was Carroll Shelby, a failed chicken farmer in East Texas. When all his chickens up and died in the early ‘50s, he decided to go car racing, even though, as an amateur you weren’t supposed to be paid. Within five years he had won the biggest race of all, the 24 Hours of LeMans.

Finally, over half a century later, Hollywood is making a film on Shelby. Big studio — 20th Century Fox — with big budget. Just filming in four counties in California will total $67 million. Another location is France, the home of LeMans.

The stars are big and bankable. Matt Damon, who at 5’10.5” is close to Shelby’s 6-foot stature, looks good in a cowboy hat. His right-hand man, British test driver/engineer Ken Miles, is played by Christian Bale.

From preliminary publicity put out on the film, which is filming right now with a release date of June 2019, it appears it will not follow the ‘40s standard rags to riches formula. Instead it focuses solely on the period in the Sixties when Shelby created the iconic AC Shelby Cobra, and helped Ford win LeMans with their GT40.

The film has the working title Ford vs. Ferrari, but the name could still change. The business side of Ford will be much more part and parcel of the story than is usual in a racing film, with parts already cast for Lee Iacocca (who later went on to “save” Chrysler) and other key Ford personnel operating out of the “Glass House” (Ford HQ in Dearborn, MI.)

Hopefully we will see how Shelby, using copious amounts of snake oil, hornswoggles Ford into an ever-bigger budget while Enzo Ferrari tries to outfox Ford by manipulating the rules (such as getting the 250 GTO approved as a production car, when not enough were built to meet the rules).

One wonders if they are going off-track plot-wise because, according to trade paper Variety, the film focuses on Shelby and Miles conceiving the GT40 from scratch. As a Shelby biographer, this writer can tell you that the GT40 had arrived on their doorstep already completed, key in the ignition. Their job was to turn a loser into a winner.

Another focus will be the family of the late Ken Miles (killed testing a Ford GT prototype). Caitriona Balfe from Outlander has the role of Ken Miles’ wife. There's no mention of casting for Shelby's wife, though at one point in the Cobra era, he was married to a glamorous movie star.

20th Century chose an action director, James Mangold of Logan, 3:10 to Yuma, and Walk the Line. The British brother team of Jez and John-Henry Butterworth are the script writers. They previously penned the Tom Cruise sci-fi flick Edge of Tomorrow while Jez had a screenplay by-credit on the James Bond movie Spectre.

Several False Starts

The story of a giant American automaker fighting tenacious tiny automaker Ferrari at the 24 Heures du Mans has been brewing in Hollywood for a long time. A TV production company optioned this writer’s Shelby bio SHELBY The Man, the Cars The Legend back in 2011, but decided to do a Sci Fi series instead.

Also, Tom Cruise initiated a Ford vs. Ferrari feature in 2013 for a planned release in 2015. Although Cruise was a foot short of matching Shelby’s 6-ft stature, he had pegged the part of Carroll Shelby for himself and had the charm Shelby could exude. Brad Pitt (who has been seen driving race cars on test tracks in France) was reportedly involved but reportedly egos got in the way, and that project died out.

Chernin Entertainment is producing the Damon-starring film for Fox. Originally Fox had bought the film rights to a successful book entitled Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans by A.J. Baime. But they re-sold those film rights to a small TV production company called Legendary Entertainment which is developing it into a 10-part TV series. That makes it now anyone’s guess what Fox is basing their own script on!

Author: Wallace Wyss
Publications:

  • Shelby’s Wildlife: The Cobras, Mustangs
  • Shelby: The Man, The Cars, The Legend
  • Ford GT40 and the New Ford GT (coauthored with Brian Winer)