This article discusses the end of “Ford v Ferrari.” Don’t read the article until you’ve see the film starring Matt Damon and Christian Bale.
LOS ANGELES — “Ford v Ferrari” takes movie-goers through a turbo-boost of emotions with its stunning triumph-and-tragedy finish.
It’s not a surprise for those who know the true saga of driver and engineer Ken Miles (played by Christian Bale) and car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) during the infamous, controversial ending of the 1966 Le Mans endurance race.
“We could have done a whole movie about the ending, just the ending,” says Damon.
Shelby’s grandson, Aaron Shelby, was pleased with the way the “Ford v Ferrari” conclusion did not veer far off course from the basic truths.
“People are going to be surprised, certainly those who don’t’ know the story,” says Shelby. “That’s not your typical movie ending.”
The film shows Miles and Shelby’s David vs. Goliath effort to put Ford Motor Co. ahead of rival Ferrari at Le Mans. The Italian car company had triumphed in seven of the previous eight years (except in 1959, when Shelby drove a British-built Aston Martin to victory before having to drop out of racing due to his heart condition).
Miles was out front at the end of the 1966 race with their GT40, which would have made him the first driver to win the triple crown of Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans in a single year. Ford executives in attendance, including CEO Henry Ford II, realized the possibility of having all three Ford GT40s crossing the finish line ahead together to show their corporate dominance.
“Ken had won Sebring and Daytona. If the story became about this incredible driver who just won the Triple Crown — no one has ever done that — it would have overshadowed that significant (Ford) investment,” says Damon. “As his crew chief Charlie Agapiou said to us, ‘There was no way they could let him cross first.’ “
While Miles’ lead varies in accounts, it’s clear, says Aaron Shelby: “He was in front and he was told to slow down. Ford wanted to see the 1-2-3 finish, all coming through at the same time.”
Miles was not happy about the decision when he found out during the last driver change. But ultimately, the film shows the principled, hot-headed Miles realizing that he needed to slow down for the team.
“It’s my favorite scene in the movie when Christian’s Ken Miles makes that decision. For the first time in his life he compromised,” says Damon. “And he does it for his friend (Shelby) because he realizes what his friend has done to put him there. It’s a beautiful moment.”
Miles crossed the line door-to-door with Bruce McLaren, driving the No. 2 Ford car, and the third Ford just behind. The photo opportunity was achieved.
But the decision becomes a calamity due to an unforeseen rule. Since the Ford car driven by McLaren started the race furthest back, it covered the furthest distance by about nine yards over Miles. McLaren’s car was declared the victor and Miles the second-place driver — hee and his car were denied entry to the winner’s circle.
Miles and Shelby were crushed over the technicality, and Shelby, who died in 2012, would always regret the decision. But they ultimately shrugged off the snatched victory knowing they had such a great car.
“That is in essence what they thought, they thought,‘This car is going to win.’ And it did. The car won for the next three years. Nothing could touch that thug of a car,” says Damon. “The tragedy is what happened after that.”
In August, 1966, two months after the race, Miles died in a fiery crash while testing a new car in Riverside, California.
“What really affected Carroll was not the finish — they were going to win next year,” says Aaron Shelby. “What affected him, of course, was when Ken Miles died. He always got a little choked talking about Ken.”
Director James Mangold says the ending shows a different kind of hero in Miles.
“To me the movie says it’s really hard to be a victor in this world,” says Mangold. “And sometimes the real measure of a man isn’t winning, but it’s actually giving up. In the case of (Miles), the fact he ends up slowing up is his character growth. It’s doing something for his friend, but obviously he thought he’d still have the victory.”
“This was a bittersweet race and it’s too bad it’s the last time Ken ever race,” says Mangold.