The true story of Ford v Ferrari… Or is it?

Tate Larsen, Staff Writer

Like some movies, “Ford v Ferrari” is based on a true story. It tells the story of how Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles teamed up to compete in the European race called “The 24 Hours of Le Mans in France.” They thought they could beat Ferrari in their newly developed Ford GT40. In some ways, the movie is historically accurate. In others, not totally.

Fact #1

Shelby quit racing because of his health. In 1959 the British race team, David Brown Racing Department, won at Le Mans when their two drivers Roy Salvadori and Shelby piloted a DBR1 Aston Martin to victory. Although not shown in the film, Shelby was forced to stop racing in 1960 due to a heart problem from his childhood. He received a heart transplant in 1990 and a kidney transplant in 1996. 

Fact #2 

Miles owns his own mechanic shop in California. During the World War II, Miles was a tank commander for the British territorial army. In 1942 he was promoted to staff sergeant and in 1944 had a role in landing on Normandy. Following the conclusion of the war, Miles moved to California in 1952 where he set up a small auto shop in Hollywood to fix the British imported cars that American mechanics had trouble working on. In 1963 the IRS padlocked the shop just like in the movie because he could not pay his bills. 


Fact #3

Shelby and Miles fight. In the movie, Shelby and Miles get into two fights, one involves Miles throwing a wrench at Shelby, while the second takes place at a park in front of Miles’ house where they punch each other. While this adds drama and comedy to the movie, it never really happened according to Matthew Phelan in an article for “Slate” magazine. 

Fact #4

Leo Bebee feuded with Shelby and Miles. Throughout the movie there is tension between Leo Beebe, a Ford executive, and Shelby and Miles because he believes Miles is not the right driver for the GT40 at Le Mans. Shelby says if Miles wins at Daytona that he gets to race at Le Mans. If he loses, Beebe gets Shelby’s company. This did not happen. 

Neither did the scene at Daytona when Miles is in third place in the final lap and Shelby runs out to the track with a sign that says “7000+ RPM Go Like Hell”. It was Bebee’s idea for all three GT40s to cross the finish line together at Le Mans for a historical photo/public relations stunt for Ford even though Miles was leading the race by far. Because of a technicality, this move did rob Miles of first place at Le Mans. He would have been the first racer to win 12 hours of Sebring, 24 hours of Daytona, and 24 hours of Le Mans in the same year. While Beebe disagreed with Shelby and Miles for pushing the GT so hard at Le Mans, it was never to the point of sabotaging Miles as it is played up in the movie. 

Fact #5

A brake malfunction kills Miles two months after LeMans. The conclusion of the movie is also not completely accurate. Just two months after Le Mans the brakes stop working in Miles’ car during a test run causing him to crash, get ejected and die on impact. In reality, he was testing a honeycomb panel design for the GT40, which was created to help keep the car from flipping, but on the last turn of the track the car caught air and flipped.


Recreating history is impossible but the makers of “Ford vs. Ferrari” managed to tell a great story about teamwork and dedication while also taking some creative liberties.The team at Ford truly did develop creative ideas about aerodynamics, brake systems and making cars lighter.