Following the recent release of Le Mans 66 – or Ford v Ferrari if you live in America – the heated rivalry between the two car giants has been brought to the big screen like never before.
While there has always been a bit of a rivalry between the American and Italian car manufacturers, the feud was seen to become particularly fierce during the 1960s, before culminating in an epic showdown race at the 24 Hours of Le Mans back in 1966. This race forms the premise of the upcoming film release, which stars Christian Bale and Matt Damon.
But what exactly was the story behind the feud? And why is there such a bitter feeling between the two car giants?
In this article, we take a detailed look at how the rivalry first came about, delving deep into the story behind the feud and seeing why it still rages to this day.
Ferrari looks to sell
Back in the early 1960s, Enzo Ferrari started to think about selling his company – the aptly named Ferrari. The reasons as to why he wanted to sell remain relatively unclear to this day, but it didn’t take long before the news had traveled right the way across the Atlantic.
At the same time, Ford was struggling with the design of their race cars and was looking to add a new car to its portfolio. At this point, the famous Mustang was still many years off of being produced and Ford was nowhere near the level of motoring powerhouse they are today.
Ford looks to buy
After receiving the news about Ferrari, Ford began talks with the Italian company to take over the brand. Following many months of negotiations, the manufacturers finally settled on the decision that Ferrari would be sold to Ford for a fee of $18 million. Pretty straightforward, right?
Well, not quite. It later transpired that the final figure included a clause that enabled Ford to control all decisions related to Ferrari’s racing team. Unsurprisingly, Ferrari didn’t like or agree to this and, following a rather heated meeting with certain Ford representatives, Enzo decided to pull out of the deal, saying he would ‘never sell to an ugly company that builds ugly cars in an ugly factory’.
Later on, just to rub salt in the wounds, Enzo then sold a majority stake in Ferrari to Fiat, effectively proving that he had Ford them to drive the sale price up. As you can imagine, Ford wasn’t best pleased with Enzo’s actions and swore to get even where it mattered most: the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Ford begin building
However, it turned out that building a so-called ‘Ferrari Killer’ race car was much easier said than done, and many of Ford’s early experiments struggled against the Italian giant. Known as the GT40, Ford’s initial race car designs were found to not only be incredibly unstable and unreliable, but also featured brakes which would heat up to 816oC within a matter of seconds.
It wasn’t looking good for Ford at this point, but that was all set to change after car designer Carroll Shelby (portrayed by Matt Damon) and his trusted friend Ken Miles (portrayed by Christian Bale) came on board. Completely reinventing the GT40, the duo went on to revolutionize the racing industry forever, utilizing their ingenuity and incredible engineering skills to design an updated – and much safer – GT40 Mk. II.
Source: Men’s Journal
Ready, set, go…
At Le Mans 66’, Ford’s upgraded car didn’t go on to just beat Ferrari, it absolutely destroyed them. In fact, Ferrari didn’t even finish the race, while Ford took first, second and third place, respectively. It’s safe to say that Ford’s revenge was certainly served cold, with the American manufacturer biding their time in getting their own back.
However, despite getting the win, the race wasn’t without its controversy. In an attempt to add further insult to injury, Ford’s PR guru Leo Beebe wanted the race to finish with a picture of all three winning Ford drivers crossing the line together. Despite being miles in front of the second and third-placed drivers, Ken Miles was therefore told to slow down in order to let the other GT40 drivers catch up with him. He did as he was told but, during the photo finish, was shown to actually finish second behind his teammate Bruce McLaren. As you might imagine, he wasn’t particularly pleased.
The never-ending story
To this day, the rivalry between Ford and Ferrari has remained fairly ill-tempered, with the two car behemoths often seen clashing heads at major racing events. However, it has certainly added to the thrills and level of excitement for the spectators, making race fans all over the world want to get behind the steering wheel and experience a race of their own.
Plus, you have to think: what would motor racing be without a little competition?