Contrary to what the title of the film may lead you to believe, Ford v Ferrari is not actually about Henry Ford or Enzo Ferrari. Instead, the cast is led by Matt Damon, who plays automotive designer Carroll Shelby, and Christian Bale, who plays one of the men who raced in Shelby's Ford GT40 invention, Ken Miles.
Ford v Ferrari is based on a true story and it's centered around a real race, but the heart of the story is the men behind the scenes who helped make Ford's GT40 the symbol of international motor racing.
Ford v Ferrari's true story starts with a deal that went sour and a grudge.
Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari weren't always enemies. Though they were competing in the same market, ultimately the then-63-year-old Enzo was getting older and was considering selling his company to Henry to the tune of $16 million. The deal, however, went south when Enzo backed out at the last minute.
According to his personal secretary, he was upset over a clause that would force him to have to seek approval for racing budgets. Up until that point, the Ferrari name had proudly been the center of international motor racing and Enzo was not willing to give that up. Embarrassed about losing the deal and eager to get revenge on Enzo, Henry decided to hit him back where it would hurt him the most: on the race track.
In 1964, Henry developed new cars for Ford Motors to enter into the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance races. Though the cars were sleek and very expensive, they didn't even manage to cross the finish line. Meanwhile, Enzo saw his company continue to win the race year after year.
In 1966, Henry tried again, but this time with former racer and automotive designer Carroll Shelby creating his cars. The GT40 prototype was created with a design meant to improve Ford's old transmissions and thus improve reliability on the course. Eight of the new Ford cars were entered into the Le Mans race, one of which was driven by Ken Miles.
So who won the Ford v Ferrari race?
The simple answer as to who won the Le Mans is Ford. But there's more to the story than that. The race was marred by crashes and inclement weather and, six hours into the race, it seemed that Ferrari would again come out on top.
To the surprise of racing fans everywhere, Ford pulled ahead, finishing in first, second, and third place. The victory was the first ever for an American car. Henry had wanted three of his cars to finish in a dead heat, to demonstrate that the new GT40 was not only the fastest, but reliably the fastest every time. And two of them did. But unbeknownst to Henry, that actually couldn't happen.
Before the race, the cars are staggered, taking off at different locations and different lengths away from the finish line. So despite the fact that Ken and his partner Denny Hulme's car and another Ford racing team, Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon's car finished at the same time, Ken's car would ultimately come in second. Ken and Denny had started the race closer to the finish line than Bruce and Chris.
Ken would be killed two months later testing the next generation of the Ford GT40 at Riverside International Raceway in California. Although Ken would never race for Ford again, the Ford cars went on to win the Le Mans in 1967, 1968, and 1969, effectively ridding Ferrari of the winning streak they started in 1960.
To see Matt Damon and Christian Bale take on the challenge of playing these racing legends, see Ford v Ferrari, in theaters Nov. 15.