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While the timeless tale of Ford vs Ferrari is now legendary in automotive circles and has even been translated to the silver screen, what really happened? 

Having a rival of equal skill or status helps us define who we are, and how far we can go. A good rival makes us more ambitious, pushes us to set higher goals for ourselves, and raises our standards. In the car world, there’s arguably never been fiercer rivals than American automotive manufacturer Ford, and the Italian racing giants at Ferrari. 

Although the epic saga that is now known as Ford vs Ferrari goes much further back than the fateful race at Le Mans, the genesis of the tale starts with a business deal gone wrong, the ego of an automotive titan, and millions of dollars spent in the name of revenge. Despite this, at the heart of the conflict stood two men, Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles, who proved that an authentic partnership can stand the test of time. 

The Origins Of The Ford Vs Ferrari Rivalry 

After the globally catastrophic events of World War II, America’s appetite for cars had changed. While their parents prioritised comfort and style, the post-war generation valued speed – particularly those who had returned from the conflict in Europe, and were enthralled with the continent’s concept of the ‘sports car’. 

Fully aware of the market changing directions, Henry Ford II wasted no time in acquiring this type of vehicle for American auto enthusiasts. The iconic Mustang was still years away, and Ford was already under pressure from the likes of General Motors and Chrysler to release a car that would hold its own against the competition. 

Instead of building their own version of a sports car, Ford looked overseas, and it was decided that the most efficient way to bring this type of vehicle to the market was through the acquisition of a well known Italian sports car manufacturer: Ferrari.

In the sixties, Ferrari was primarily known as a race car company that produced and sold street legal machines, purely to fund their exploits on the track. In 1963, and after months of negotiations, Enzo Ferrari agreed to Ford’s proposition to buy out the company. As a former racer himself, Enzo was eager to relieve himself of the burden of the day to day company operations.

However, legend has it that Enzo had a change of heart at the eleventh hour, and reneged on the deal. Allegedly, Enzo baulked at a clause in the contract that said Ford would control the budget and, thus, all the decisions governing the Ferrari racing team. Not content with passing on the control of the motorsport program to anyone else, Enzo not only rejected the deal, but it’s said that he personally insulted Henry Ford II by stating that he not only produced ugly cars, but that he had nowhere near the expertise of his grandfather, Ford founder Henry Ford I.

To make matters worse, Enzo then proceeded to sell a majority stake in Ferrari to fellow Italian automaker, Fiat. Many Ford executives have since speculated that Enzo was never truly serious about selling to the American manufacturer, and that the negotiations were to simply place pressure on Fiat to come up with a higher purchase price.

Enraged with the unforeseen turn of events, Henry Ford II was determined to hit Ferrari where it hurt. The 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France had long been dominated by Ferrari, and Ford was determined to take home the prized trophy to America – and away from Ferrari.

Ford proceeded to lay the groundwork for their first serious attempt at the now legendary GT40 race car. Despite not finding any major success in the first three years at Le Mans, that all changed thanks to a now globally famous partnership, with none other than Carroll Shelby, who would later come to be known for the iconic Shelby Mustang.

Amidst their ongoing feud with Ferrari, Ford enlisted the services of renowned automotive legend Carroll Shelby and his team as a means to develop their race program. Born and bred in Texas, Shelby was quite simply a man that had been obsessed with speed his entire life, and his colourful career already included highlights such as being a war veteran, racing Aston Martins professionally in Europe, and being named Sports Illustrated’s “Sports Car Driver Of The Year” not once, but twice. 

Shelby was a man who knew his engines, and how they needed to be able to perform to meet market demand. Shelby managed to completely reinvent the GT40 together with its fellow engineer Ken Miles, and the two professionals enhanced the handling, stability, and aerodynamics altogether. 

Their tests were particularly interesting, especially the one when they taped wool streamers to the exterior to test the aerodynamics, which was notably portrayed in the award winning ‘Ford vs Ferrari’ movie, with Shelby played by Matt Damon and Miles by Christian Bale. 

Thanks to the collaboration with Shelby and Miles, Ford didn’t just defeat Ferrari at Le Mans in 1966, but it well and truly humiliated the Italian stallions. While Ferrari didn’t even have a car that completed the race, the new GT40 Mk II managed to capture first, second and third places.

Sadly, Le Mans 1966 would be one of Miles’ final races. Later that year, the driver died testing a new experimental Ford in California after the vehicle flipped at 150 mph, cutting short the partnership between Miles and Shelby that had proven to be revolutionary for Ford on the racing track. Despite his untimely death, Miles is remembered for his pioneering work on cars and his contribution to the legend of Ford vs Ferrari. 

Your Guide To Everything Classic Cars 

Finding a fellow vintage auto enthusiast can feel a bit like finding a needle in a haystack, but rest assured that Classic’s Garage understands the thrill more than most. Having spent forty years collecting anything and everything from matchbox cars to hub caps, he’s successfully followed his passion to source, collect and stock beautiful and low mileage classic automobiles from around the world.

Although his passion is for automobiles built before 1978, with a particular love for Buicks, Cadillacs, Lincolns, Oldsmobiles and even Fords, Wayne is just as passionate about the stories of the owners. If it’s even remotely different, rare or just plain unusual, Wayne will overcome the relevant logistical and geographical challenges of bringing the cars to his showroom in Australia. 

Classic’s Garage is a showroom conveniently located at Seventeen Mile Rocks, that specialises in the restoration and sales of vintage automobiles. If you’re on the hunt for Brisbane classic cars – quite simply, Wayne is your man. If you would like to arrange a viewing or inspect any other of our classic vehicles, please get in touch with us today.