'Ford vs. Ferrari' True Story: The Real Life Stories Behind the Film—And the Mystery It Missed Out

Ford vs. Ferrari (known in some territories as Le Mans '66) is in cinemas now, just over 50 years after the events it depicts really happened as two of the world's biggest car manufacturers faced off at the 24-hour race in Le Mans, France in 1966.

In the movie, Christian Bale plays race driver Ken Miles, while Matt Damon portrays automobile designer Carroll Shelby, both of whom were real people, hired by Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) to design and drive a supercar that could beat Ferrari at the legendary endurance race after Ferrari refused an offer from Ford to buy the Italian company. Ford failed in this mission in 1964 and 1965, and so the 1966 race was considered by many the last chance for the Americans to win.

Shelby's grandson Aaron told CBS News that if Ford had lost that race: "I think Ford would've stopped funding the program, and also, at the time, they were still helping to fund Shelby here in Los Angeles, and building the Mustangs and the remaining Cobras as well. And I think a lot of that could have come to a screeching halt, had they not been successful in '66."

The car they ended up making was the GT40, which (spoiler alert for the film) ended up taking the first three places at Le Mans in 1966 and then winning again for the next three years. However, whereas the film argues that the victory was down to the driving, the reality was slightly less sexy according to a piece in Wired.

This article reveals that: "In reality, and in the movie, Ford swept the podium at Le Mans not because Miles outraced Ferrari but because the Italian cars all broke down and the Ford cars excelled. The true drama of the race was in the engineering, a subject to which Mangold paid scant attention.

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Matt Damon and Christian Bale in "Ford vs. Ferrari." 20th Century Fox

"The thing that makes the 24 Hours of Le Mans so bananas is the endurance aspect, the bit that stretches back to the earliest days of auto racing, when the ability to keep a car running was just as award-worthy as the ability to make it go fast. Ferrari's cars weren't just good-looking and quick, they were feats of great engineering."

In the movie, we also seen Miles die a few months after Le Mans '66 in a crash during a race where he was trying out the latest Ford car. However, what the film does not delve into was the mystery around Miles' death, which many have speculated may have been down to a mechanical fault or even a case of Miles faking his own death.

A Car and Driver piece unearthed by Esquire interviews Ford race car collector Fred Jones, who said Miles was still alive, saying: "He [Miles] claimed to have been given a couple of million dollars by Ford to disappear… He said they didn't want a badly injured survivor of one of their car crashes to be in public. After moving to Hawaii, he told me his wife, Mollie, and son, Peter, became estranged and made off with his money."

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The real-life Ken Miles in Le Mans, 1966. Bernard Cahier/Getty

Though this has not been proven, the death has been shrouded in mystery for over 50 years, partly due to Miles' fans not wanting to believe their hero is dead.

For example, a book on the subject titled Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans, said of the accident: "That someone would be blamed for Miles's demise was not something anyone wanted to face, but everyone knew instinctively that driver error was out of the question...But the car was so severely destroyed by impact and fire, nothing could be proven, and the Ford Motor Company had its image to uphold...In the end, all the evidence proved inconclusive. To this day, the cause of the accident that killed Ken Miles has never been determined."

Apart from these minor differences, however, director James Mangold took great pains to make the movie as realistic as possible, including recreating the original 1966 racetrack. He told IMDB: "The main grandstand of Le Mans was shot in an airport in California, whereas the track of Le Mans was shot in Georgia, on the opposite side of the country...each was scooted to match how it really looks it France...the track doesn't exist at all looking like it used to any more."

Ford vs. Ferrari is in cinemas now.

'Ford vs. Ferrari' True Story: The Real Life Stories Behind the Film—And the Mystery It Missed Out | Culture