Ford v Ferrari

A bit on Carroll Shelby

In my car club, we have someone whom I would call a character and a free spirit. There are a number of stories about him, but the one I will mention tonight involves a claim of his of some years ago.

Tony casually told me that he had a dinner with Dan Gurney, Phil Hill, and Carroll Shelby.

You can imagine what I thought about that.

Of course, since he was a friend I merely smiled upon hearing this.

Then he showed me a snapshot of him standing next to them.

It seems that an art gallery in Marin County had a showing of race-oriented paintings, and if a patron bought one, he was invited to a dinner that evening and seated at a table with one of these legendary drivers.

Tony didn’t buy a painting but the gallery owner liked him and invited him to the dinner.

He found himself at a table sitting next to Carroll Shelby.

And as he told me, with this opportunity, what do you talk about?

As he said, that after (then) 40 years, he was certain that Carroll was sick of talking about things like the Cobra, LeMans, the GT40….

So what subject did Tony suggest?

He brought up the subject of Texas Fire Ants, and reportedly (it was Tony’s story!), Shelby loved the conversation.

To a gearhead, the story of Carroll Shelby’s prominence in the 1960s in sports car lore and international racing competition is legendary.

And apparently his company, Shelby American, never had more than 40 employees at one time. This information came from some guys who used to work for him, and are introducing a “continuation series” of the Shelby Mustang GT350R.

Shelby started out building his Cobra, which had a British chassis and body, with a Ford 260 V8, that was later changed to a 289. The 289 was the same block; just enlarged cylinder displacement. Later he dropped Ford’s massive 427 engine in the car and made about 300 of these.

While the original Cobra was no slouch in performance – Road and Track magazine tested an original Cobra and went from 0-60 in 4.6 seconds – amazing even today much less in 1962 – the 427’s performance was in its own class for decades.

But I remember reading somewhere that among the original Shelby people, most will tell you that it was the 289 that won most of the races. It had better balance.

Of course, he didn’t simply drop an engine into this chassis but had engineers, mainly Phil Remington, re-engineer the chassis to accommodate the huge power increase.  Shelby credited Phil for his competition success.

He started out in a small shop in Venice, California (a suburb of Los Angeles) and as his company grew moved his facility to the Los Angeles Airport.

The little Cobra had a huge weight advantage over most of the competition, and with so much power started winning races.

In fact, a popular song in the early 60s was about that car…

A funny story from Shelby himself concerned a 17 year old girl that kept visiting him, saying she wanted a Cobra. I guess Carroll amused her and talked with her over a few days – only to find that she was a songwriter with a hit and could afford one.

She bought a Cobra and then 6 months later wrote the above song.

He talks about Carol at 14:04

Shelby is known first for his Cobra of course. But when the Mustang came out, Lee Iacocca was concerned that in the public’s eye, the little Mustang would be thought of as a “secretary’s car”. So he went to Shelby and asked him to make it a race car.

The Shelby Mustang GT350 became a legend in itself, beating the Corvettes on the track.

Someone gave the reason for the Mustang’s tremendous success over the decades was that there was a model for everyone. I think that is right.

Among gearheads, the feud between Enzo Ferrari and Henry Ford II was the stuff of legend. Ford vowed to beat Ferrari at his own game – LeMans.

And this era is the subject of the movie.

Shelby and Ford developed the GT40, considered by many, including myself, as one of the most beautiful race cars ever built.

What the movie does not mention is that Ford, in an effort to field a competitive car in a hurry, originally bought the rights to a Lola, designed by Eric Broadley. And here is the car, again on Jay Leno’s YouTube channel.

After a lot of painful trial and error and Phil Remington’s magic, this car evolved to this:

The movie is about the Ford-Ferrari rivalry, of course, and the relationship between Shelby and his test driver, Ken Miles.

I think they made a good effort to get it right, with little Hollywood embellishment or pseudo-drama.

I went to see the movie to hear the wonderful sounds of that GT and track sequences and discovered that they spent a lot of time in the first half telling the audience about Ford, Ferrari, Shelby and Miles.

And that, I believe, should make it appeal to people who aren’t gearheads.

When asked what it took to win LeMans, Christian Bale, who plays Ken Miles, had a wonderful segment. Imagine being in a machine that goes over 200 mph on the Mulsanne Straight, then braking severely through various curves, then full throttle back to 200+ (The Porsche 917 which came later was capable of 240!) .

The brake rotors are glowing red hot – and you are doing this – accelerate, brake, accelerate – for 3,000 miles and 24 hours straight.

They got it right, I think. I smiled when I saw a character with “Phil” on his name tag knowing it had to be Phil Remington, but his character was never introduced.

Those who know, know.

It’s a good movie worth seeing.



Update 11/17/2019 2134  While it would be impossible to either make a movie or a blog post on the entire history of the Ford effort (that would be a boring 5 hour movie or a book),  this article by an industry publication is worth mentioning.

What the movie failed to include, and I failed to mention, is that the effort to build the Ford GT40 (officially called simply the Ford GT, but it being 40″ high the unofficial GT40 moniker stuck), the effort wasn’t simply Shelby American’s but Ford engineers who put a tremendous amount of effort into the project.

And what we both failed to mention is that Ford also signed up Holman and Moody, experienced in NASCAR, to put their own finishing engineering efforts on the GT40.   It really was a competition between the 2 companies within the goal of winning LeMans .

As you can see, the top 3 finishers, all GT40s, place 1 and 2 were prepped by Shelby American, while 3rd place was a Holman and Moody car.

I read sometime ago that if there wasn’t bad blood, there was at least some bad feelings Ford had on behalf of Shelby because very little credit was given to Ford from Shelby in victory talks for its part in the development of the GT40.

I believe things were “patched up” a few years ago before Shelby’s death, but there was an understandable bit of resentment on Ford’s behalf for some years.

But I think this statement from the article sums up the relationship:

“Ford couldn’t have won without Shelby or Holman and Moody, and they couldn’t have won without Ford,” he said.

To put in this kind of successful effort that produced victory in such a short time also required the “deep pockets” of Ford and their engineering expertise.

It’s a good article detailing the history of this effort and worth your time.

Minor Spoiler Alert: The movie really didn’t get into the full reason why the 1966 finish was controversial. Ford publicity wanted all of the top 3 winners to cross the finish line together. Ken Miles was comfortably ahead, but he was told to slow down and let the other 2 catch up.

It was ruled that because car #2, driven by Chris Amon and Bruce McLaren had started further back at the beginning of the race, they were determined to be the winner.

One can only imagine how the drivers of car #1, driven by Ken Miles and Denny Hulme, must have felt to have victory taken away from them because of a publicity shot. But Ford was writing the checks.


Update 12/01/19 0055 – I just came across this on YouTube – what a cool video! Produced by Ford about 1965, it is 16 minutes of Carroll Shelby taking you through his factory telling you what they are doing and the cars they are developing.

Pete Brock *  is at Willow Springs with the Cobra, GT40 (driven by Dan Gurney!) and GT350.

It’s a window back into 1965 and those exciting days.

** Pete Brock at age 22 or so, developed the Cobra Daytona Coupe, a car not covered in the movie but was quite a competitor in its own right


Filed under Car Pr0n, Movie Review

2 responses to “Ford v Ferrari

  1. Pingback: The Definitive Carroll Shelby Documentary | The Lexicans

  2. Pingback: A Couple of Stirling Moss Stories | The Lexicans

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