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Warning: SPOILERS for Ford v Ferrari ahead!
Director James Mangold’s highly entertaining Ford v Ferrari tells the story of the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s a true story, but as is the case with pretty much any film that is based on a true story, Ford v Ferrari takes some creative license. According to Tracy Letts, who plays Henry Ford II in the film, the scene of his character leaving the race by helicopter to go have dinner was true, but there is one scene in Ford v Ferrari that James Mangold made up for the movie, as he explained:
And it’s true. That’s from the actual history of the thing. The cheat, in some ways maybe the biggest cheat in the movie, and Mangold admits to this, is that Ferrari was not at the race. Yeah. Ferrari actually did not go to the races. Now, one of the reasons he didn’t go to the race, whether or not it was superstition or who knows. But his drivers had a knack for dying on the track at a lot of those races. And so, maybe that’s why he didn’t go, but he was not actually at Le Mans in ’66. That’s the biggest bit of dramatic license I think we take in the film.
In Ford v Ferrari, the legendary Enzo Ferrari, played by Remo Girone, is present at the film’s climactic race. Enzo Ferrari sits in the stands at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is actively monitoring his team’s progress. He is also shown with barely contained disdain for Henry Ford II and we see him carefully considering his competition, in the form of Matt Damon’s Carroll Shelby and Christian Bale’s Ken Miles.
But according to Tracy Letts, none of this actually happened. As the actor told Uproxx, Enzo Ferrari was not at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966. The founder of Ferrari did not go to the races, despite his own history as a driver and his passion for the sport. Tracy Letts speculates that this may have been superstition or the fact that he didn’t want to see his drivers die in the dangerous endurance race.
Either way, the scenes of Enzo Ferrari at Le Mans in 1966 were a fabrication, something that was made up for James Mangold’s movie. So the filmmakers took some dramatic license there, which is ultimately to the film’s benefit. You could argue that the fight in the film is really about Ford versus Ford, with the free spirited Ken and Carroll railing against the powers that be in the corporate suits of Ford.
However, the competition is still against the racing powerhouse that was Ferrari. So it’s helpful to have a face representing the opponent and not just the marque’s prancing horse symbol. Enzo Ferrari’s presence in the film, as this true master of motorsport and someone who Miles and Shelby probably have more in common with than Henry Ford II, raises the stakes and makes the whole thing more dramatic.
It’s a worthwhile diversion from the actual history of the event and that’s the great thing about films that are “Based on a true story.” If you want the exact true story of what happened, you can watch a documentary. Films based on a true story can give you an approximation of what happened while adding in an entertaining layer of drama and intrigue.