Speed Racer

Hollywood portrays Ford’s winning ways in a lavish new film.
Le Mans
“Ford v Ferrari” tells the story of Henry Ford II’s desire to best business rival Enzo Ferrari on a racetrack in Ferrari’s European backyard — Le Mans.

After a string of films left negative impressions of the automotive industry, the much-anticipated “Ford v Ferrari,” in theaters Nov. 15, is unusual for its positive portrayal of an automaker.

Released by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, “Ford v Ferrari” is a lavish $97.6-million adult drama based on the true story of Ford Motor Co.’s 1966 conquest of the 24 Hours of Le Mans — the world’s greatest sports car race. Matt Damon and Christian Bale star as maverick Carroll Shelby and brilliant engineer-driver Ken Miles, respectively. The racer they developed, the Ford GT-40, shoved Ferrari off the podium, proving again the invincibility that Detroit had established as the Arsenal of Democracy during World War II. 

The film is full of heroes. Henry Ford II, played by Tracy Letts, feels chagrined after an aborted attempt to acquire Enzo Ferrari’s company, so he bucks Ford Motor Co.’s ban on manufacturer-sponsored racing activity and commissions the project.

Ford’s current leaders are just as excited as anybody. “With the upcoming release of the ‘Ford v Ferrari’ film, this is a great time to look back with pride on all that was achieved over that period of our history and recognize everyone who worked so hard to make it happen,” says Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford.

Even though he’s not “car-obsessive,” director James Mangold, known for movies as diverse as “3:10 to Yuma” and “The Wolverine,” shows his genre mastery through scrupulous attention to dialogue and detail. The production team is said to have spent $3.5 million to replicate the pits at Le Mans, located in northern France. Cars for racing sequences had convincing replica bodies, and the V-8 engines peaked at 150 mph. Real-life racing drivers such as Tanner Foust and Alex Gurney appear as Ronnie Bucknum and Dan Gurney, while other racers contributed to the stunt driving.

Besides rooting for a hometown company to prevail over the European elite, Detroiters will note small details. For instance, in an arrival scene at Ferrari’s factory in Italy, why is a DIVCO milk truck, made in Detroit, wearing Ferrari livery as it sits at the factory entrance? DIVCO house-to-house delivery trucks were made for the American market. Is it the set director’s joke?

In 1988, “Tucker: A Man and His Dreams” showed Detroit manufacturers hindering the startup operation that made the “car of the future.” In the following year, “Roger & Me” unforgettably slung mud at General Motors. And in 2006, “Who Killed the Electric Car” depicted GM as cynical and conniving. It’s a rare experience to see auto executives wearing the white hats. Not that a trend of Hollywood smiling upon industry in general is indicated, but sit back with your popcorn and enjoy this adventure of Ford’s honorable contribution in an era of firsts.