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Film / Ford v Ferrari

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Go like hell.
Ken: So the great Carroll Shelby is going to build a car to beat Ferrari, with Ford.
Carroll: Correct.
Ken: And how long did you tell them that you needed? Two, three hundred years?
Carroll: Ninety days.

Ford v Ferrari is a 2019 film directed by James Mangold and distributed by 20th Century Fox, centered on the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans. It stars Matt Damon as Carroll Shelby, and Christian Bale as Ken Miles.

Sales are slumping for the Ford Motor Company. The first baby boomers are growing up and they don't want Ford's 50s-style cars. They want something cool and sleek, like a race car. Vice President Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) proposes that Ford go into racing, specifically the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race, to boost their credibility and public image. Ferrari has won four of of the last five Le Mans races, and Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) is nearly broke; why not buy him out? However, Ferrari rejects their offer in favor of a deal with Fiat, and insults their president. Furious, Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) wants to strike back. He doesn't want to just beat Ferrari at Le Mans; he wants to bury them. And for that, he needs a car.

Enter Carroll Shelby. Shelby won Le Mans several years ago before a heart condition forced him to stop racing, and now he builds high-end sports cars. Ford approaches him with a blank check to build a car to beat Ferrari, and Shelby knows just the man to drive it: Ken Miles, an expert driver and close friend whose temper puts him at odds with Ford's higher-ups, particularly Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas). As the car takes shape, Shelby's and Miles' scuffles with Ford's management may prove just as tough a battle as Le Mans itself.

It premiered at the Telluride Film Festival on August 30, 2019, and was released into theaters on November 15, 2019. The film subsequently received four Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, and won for Best Film Editing and Best Sound Editing.

Previews: Trailer 1, Trailer 2.

No, it's not a sequel to Ferrari.

Ford v Ferrari contains examples of:

  • Alliterative Name: Not stated outright, but Mollie, being married to Ken Miles, would be Mollie Miles.
  • Ambiguous Situation: In real life, Leo Beebe genuinely didn't know that having the Ford cars cross the line side-by-side would cost Ken Miles the victory on a technicality, until it was too late. Here, his Historical Villain Upgrade and previous attempts to screw Miles over make it more ambiguous, and while he protests to a furious Shelby that he didn't know, he may well have been lying.
  • Anti-Climax: Of a sort. Being Based on a True Story, the goal to beat Ferrari happens a little past the mid-point of the final race, where Ken and Ferrari driver Lorenzo Bandini push their vehicles to their limits and Bandini's engine blows out. This gives Ken the absolute lead in the race, and the last 15 minutes is more about how Ford is looking to market the upcoming victory.
  • Anti-Villain: Enzo Ferrari is really only the side villain of the film. He's ultimately portrayed as a proud and talented Self-Made Man who takes racing very seriously. In the end, he's the only one who gives Ken Miles his due respect while he's pushed aside by the Ford execs.
  • Artistic License – History: It is fair to say that, with the smorgasbord of information surrounding the real-life events to which this film was based, some liberties were taken for the sake of film drama. Notable examples are as follows:
    • While for the most part the orchestrated photo finish for the three Ford GT40 cars were correct, the formation they had in the movie was completely different from the actual photo finish taken during the real-life race.
    • The scene where Lee Iacocca and the other Ford executives visit Ferrari's factory in Italy to provide the purchase offer is a heavily condensed and dramatized version of events that happened in 1963 and 1968 to 1969. Ford Motors had been in talks with Enzo Ferrari about buying his company for quite some time, but as hinted at in the film, taking control of the racing team away from Ferrari was the actual deal breaker. The Fiat buyout hadn't happened until 1968 going into 1969, years after the events of the film.
    • The GT40 had already been well into development, especially after Ferrari had decided to walk away from the buyout deal in 1963, and was driven in the '64 Le Mans. Shelby and Miles were in turn hired on to improve the design and drive the car after its early problems and performances, working with (and competing against) several other teams brought on by Ford to work on the car.
    • Ken Miles actually did race in the '65 Le Mans in the Ford GT40 (though all the GT40 cars did end up retiring from the race due to breakdowns as mentioned in the film). While the real Leo Bebe did raise objections to Ken's behavior, notably criticizing what Bebe felt were unnecessary risks taken by Ken on the track at the 12 hours of Sebring and Le Mans, it never reached the levels of constant corporate maneuvering trying to get Ken (or Shelby's crew) fired or prevented from racing as portrayed in the films.
    • The actions and appearance of Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari at Le Mans '66 are reversed entirely for the purpose of the movie's narrative. Ford did actually attend the race, while Enzo Ferrari had actually stayed in Italy that year.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Part of what makes Ken and Carroll such a formidable duo. As they are both world-class drivers and expert mechanics, they can tell at a glance how certain racing elements will affect their cars.
  • Badass Driver: Ken Miles is one of these. Carroll is too, since he was a participant of Le Mans 1959 and the winner of that year's competition before his retirement.
  • Bad Boss: Leo Beebe is a negative nancy who continually tries to get Ken kicked off the team for criticizing his pet project, is a stubborn asshat who nearly sabotages Henry Ford II's dream project thrice over, and is directly responsible for screwing Ken Miles' out of first place at Le Mans.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Leo Beebe gets his way when Miles agrees to slow down for a tie with the other Ford racers. Not only this, Beebe uses a technicality to grant one of those other drivers the win, spitefully stabbing Miles in the back after Miles had willingly cooperated with Beebe's plan.
  • Batman Gambit: Shelby drops a lug nut on the ground near the Ferrari pit, counting on the Ferrari pit crew to see it, believing that they had missed a nut. It works, and they're sent into a panic.
  • Berserk Button: When Iacocca relates Ferrari's insults to Ford, he's faintly amused at first. Then he learns that Ferrari called him a second-rate knockoff of his grandfather, the smile slides off his face, and he decides that This Means War!.
  • Birds of a Feather: Though retired, Shelby is still passionate about cars and racing and his friendship with Miles is highly based on their mutual love of the sport. At several points in the film Shelby is watching Ken race and knows instinctively how he is about to handle a tight turn to pass another car.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Ken is the clear leader in Le Mans, but comes second due to Ford's Executive Meddling and Loophole Abuse. Even worse, he dies in a crash not long after. However, he had cemented himself as a racing legend in Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2001, and died doing what he loved.
  • Bloodsport: See also No OSHA Compliance. The safety standards of car races at the time were not exactly thorough, and the very real dangers of driving such high performance vehicles on poorly designed race tracks is highlighted throughout. The start of Le Mans involves the drivers having to rush to their cars on foot, and everyone whipping out of their stalls at the same time resulted in more than a few crashes right from the start. Truth in Television, the "LeMans Start" was eventually removed from the rules because it was just too damn dangerous.
  • Book Ends: The movie opens with Shelby visiting the doctor about his heart condition, with him taking his medication while speeding off in his hot rod dodging traffic. The end of the movie is functionally the same, as he takes his medication after visiting the Miles home and drives off.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Ken is very temperamental, practicing Brutal Honesty and hates corporate oversight. At the unveiling of the Ford Mustang, he criticizes everything about it, capping it off by saying that he'd rather have a Chevy Chevelle over the MustangClarification . Shelby brings him in to develop the GT40 because they were friends and he was simply the best driver of his time, but Ford marketing did not like him and kept him from the early races because they didn't trust his ability to promote the company.
  • Butt-Monkey: Chevrolet cars, apparently. None of the characters in the film have anything good to say about them, with Miles at one point outright said that the Chevy Chevelle is a “fucking terrible car!”, and the Chevy cars we do see racing on the screen in the race at Willow Springs end up breaking down mid-race.
  • Career-Ending Injury: At the start of the film Shelby's heart condition has forced him to stop racing, and he now works as a car designer.
  • Casual Danger Dialogue: Even while going over 200mph on some of the most difficult tracks in racing history, Ken has no problem finding time to snark at other drivers' errors.
  • Chromosome Casting: Miles' wife is the only notable female character in the movie, which otherwise centers on a large group of male racers and car designers. Justified by the late-sixties setting, there would have been few, if any, women working on car design, much less in an executive position, at that time.
  • Composite Character: The Ford GT40 was designed by dozens of engineers and dozens of Ford executives; the movie had been in production for a long time because they couldn't quite figure out how to condense it to a handful of characters. The movie does imply a number of others involved, including two other Ford teams at Le Mans and mentions of a design team in Britain, but the bulk of the story surrounds specifically Shelby and his crew along with Miles.
  • Cool Car:
    • Plenty to go around, considering the subject matter, but front and center is the Ford GT40.
    • The Ford crew acknowledge that they "just lost the beauty contest" as the Ferrari P3/4 is wheeled past before the race.
  • Dare to Be Badass: Shelby throws down a couple of times, telling Ford to put his money where his mouth is if he wants to win Le Mans. Zig-zagged in that Ford takes the bait (even telling Shelby to go to war) but then gets influenced by Beebe to weasel the deal with Shelby.
  • Dead Hat Shot: There's one seen after Miles is killed in an accident many weeks after the Le Mans victory.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • Ken is dismissive of a potential Porsche sponsorship because he dislikes Germans, due to being a WWII vet.
    • An enraged Henry Ford II calls Enzo Ferrari a greasy Wop in a time when such racial slurs were more socially acceptable.
    • Phil shortly tells Shelby "sometimes they don't get out of the car" as Shelby is still grieving Ken's death. At the time drivers deaths were far more common than in later decades and even those who were close team members tended to avoid discussing fatalities.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: Despite having a clear lead, Miles decides to be a team player once he had gotten his record setting lap and slowed down to allow the other two cars to finish right behind him for Beebe's publicity stunt, showing he can be a team player when needed. This unfortunately leads to him losing the race on a technicality due to the fact that Miles started the race at a position ahead of Bruce McLaren, another Ford racer, Bruce technically traveled more distance by the time he crossed the finish line despite crossing it after Miles did, leading Miles to end up in second place. As Shelby states, Miles got screwed.
  • Doting Parent: Miles to Peter. Due to his temper and obsession with racing, it would be easy to expect him to either be a Disappeared Dad or "Well Done, Son" Guy. Instead, he's unfailingly supportive with his son, making an effort to include him in with the rest of the team.
  • Double Meaning: Enzo Ferrari insults Henry Ford II by saying that "He's no Henry Ford. He's Henry Ford the Second." Ford takes this as Enzo insulting him that he could not live up to his grandfather, but it could also mean that Enzo thought Ford would always be in the second place behind Ferrari.
  • Drives Like Crazy:
    • Shelby has a tendency to drive like a maniac when he's upset.
    • Funnily enough, Mollie, Ken's wife, drives in this way as well when she's upset when Ken doesn't tell her about his business with Shelby after his shop got closed, to Ken's obvious terror.
    • Subverted by Ken. He's aggressive and pushes the limits when he's racing but he is analytical in his decision-making and puts great emphasis on staying in control.
  • End of an Age:
    • Ken's death signals the end of something truly wonderful on the Shelby team, as newer drivers lack the insight and passion he had for engineering and understanding his cars.
    • In a historical sense, Ferrari's loss at Le Mans is the end of their dominance in endurance motorsport. While they've had continued success in Formula 1, a Ferrari had, at time of release, not won Le Mans again following their loss in '66. The Scuderia's dry spell at Le Mans finally ended in 2023 when the no.51 Ferrari 499P of Ferrari AF Corse beating the second place Toyota by 1:21.793. This was the same race where a NASCAR Chevrolet Camaro was an active participant, to boot.
  • Establishing Character Moment: In the first scene Miles and Shelby have together, Miles yells at a race official trying to disqualify his car over a tiny bit of trunk capacity. Shelby intercedes, and while he's trying to calm the situation and negotiate a solution, Miles grabs a hammer, crudely pounds out the trunk to meet the rules, accidentally smashes the windshield while angrily throwing tools, then proceeds to win the race in a damaged vehicle.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: Justified. Given the high-octane fuel, constantly dealing with overheating components and lax safety standards, this was a common occurrence for the time period. It's not literally every car crash, but it does happen several times.
  • Evil Is Petty: Leo Beebe has a personal grudge against Ken Miles, starting from their first meeting when Miles harshly criticized Beebe's pet project, the Ford Mustang. After this point, Beebe repeatedly pushes to keep Miles from racing for Ford, and later sabotages his win.
  • Explosive Overclocking:
    • Cars can’t simply be fast; their engines also need to be able to handle the stress. Pushing an engine too hard (over 7000 rpm in the GT40's case) can cause it to give out. Part of the reason Shelby wants Miles as a driver is because he knows the car inside and out, including where the engine's limit is.
    • During Le Mans, Miles and Bandini race neck-and-neck down the Mulsanne Straight, both pushing their cars to the limit, before Bandini's engine blows out from the high revs and gives Miles a clear lead.
    • The 1966 24 Hours of Daytona also shows multiple cars blowing out their engines, demonstrating that it's proper handling and management, rather than power that wins endurance races. The race also clearly shows what makes Ken a good driver is his ability to know exactly what the maximum stress that he can put on the car so he can wring out the best performance without blowing anything out.
  • Felony Misdemeanor: Henry Ford II leaves the final race for a nice dinner and a good night's sleep, while his team continues to race throughout the night. Enzo Ferrari snidely comments on this, but seems most appalled that the owner of a car company left in a helicopter.
  • Foil: Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari are both leaders of their respective companies but aside from their mutual dislike of each other, they have almost nothing in common. Enzo founded his own company, and he looks down on Ford as an Inadequate Inheritor of his grandfather's company. Ford's Establishing Character Moment has him chastising the entire workforce of his company for the decreasing sales and threatening to fire them all unless they come up with a good idea that could save the company, while Enzo is first seen calmly observing his mechanics work on his cars to ensure that they're motivated and satisfied working under him. Ford is also a businessman first and foremost (though not one completely without appreciation for his product) while Ferrari clearly views building cars and racing them as an artistic pursuit in and of itself. At Le Mans, Enzo stays with his pit crew through the entire length of the race note  and tips his hat for Ken Miles for being a Worthy Opponent. On the other hand, Ford leaves the racetrack just a few hours into the race in a helicopter to retire to somewhere else before coming back near the end, and doesn't seem to care that his desire for a historic photo finish cost Miles his victory.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Anyone who's familiar with the history of auto racing will already know that Bruce McLaren will win the 1966 Le Mans, Ken Miles will be killed while he's testing the J-car at Riverside International Raceway, and Ford will continue their winning streak at Le Mans for the next three years.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • When we first see Miles at a race track, his car doesn't fit the requires dimensions, so he roughly hammers the car into proper shape. At the start of Le Mans, his car door won't close, so his teammate grabs a hammer and smashes the door into place.
    • After Ford's first attempt at Le Mans ends in failure, due to Executive Meddling, Henry Ford II promises Shelby carte blanche in planning the second attempt. Shelby tells Miles that term is "French for bullshit". Sure enough, Ford quickly falls back into overruling Shelby's decisions and retaking the authority they'd promised him.
    • At one point during testing, the brakes on the car Miles is testing fail and he crashes, with the car exploding. He doesn't die because he is wearing protective gear and is able to get out. Played with in that during the race at Le Mans, at one point the wheels on his car start glowing red just like they did before the brakes went out earlier in the movie. However, they last just long enough for him to reach the pit crew to replace them. The real part where the foreshadowing "pays off" is after the race when Miles is testing a new model of the car. The brakes give out again and the car crashes and explodes again. This time Miles does not survive.
    • When Miles is describing the Circuit de la Sarthe to his son Peter, he initially points at the starting line as the place where the race begins, only for Peter to correct him that technically the race starts when the drivers scramble to get into their cars at their starting positions. When the race ends, Miles was denied the first place after finishing the race because Bruce McLaren, another Ford driver, started the race from the position behind him so he technically ran a little bit further than Miles when they crossed the finish line together
  • Friendship Moment:
    • Miles and Shelby's brawl after Ford loses the '65 race is clearly two good friends blowing off steam rather than any kind of serious fight. From Shelby discarding a can, which could've seriously injured Miles, in favor of slapping at him with a loaf of bread, to Miles spending the whole fight trying to wrestle Shelby to the ground rather than actually hitting him, it's uniquely masculine but undeniably an expression of their friendship.
    • Even though it wasn't his idea, Shelby takes it upon himself to apologize for suggesting that Miles drive in a line with the other GT40s for a photo op, an act that cost Miles a win. But Miles just says, "You promised a race, not a win." and begins talking about ways to further improve the car.
  • Glass Cannon: After a disastrous first race where the gearbox burns out, Shelby convinces Henry Ford II that it was actually a win because everyone, including Ferrari, saw the car reach a record 214 MPH before the collapse. That meant they had developed something special, and just needed more time to work out the issues.
  • Graceful Loser:
    • Ken Miles. While he gets screwed out of first place in the Le Mans race on a technicality, he takes it reasonably well, and thanks Carroll Shelby for the opportunity.
    • Despite losing the Le Mans race to Ford, Enzo Ferrari raises his hat, but only to Ken Miles. Earlier, he gives an approving "Bellissimo" as Ford's team gains a massive lead and solidifies their win.
  • Happily Married: Ken and Mollie are very happy together and she is fully supportive of his passions and idiosyncracies. The one time she's seen getting upset is when he tried to hide Carroll Shelby's offer to join his racing team.
  • Hate Sink: Leo Beebe is an Obstructive Bureaucrat who personifies the bloated upper management of the Ford Motor Company that plagues Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles' efforts to build a world-class race car and beat Ferrari. A smug Control Freak with a personal grudge against Miles, Beebe does everything in his power to deny Miles to chance to race the 24 Hours of Le Mans and later sabotage the team for resisting his authority, even if it means that Ford loses to Ferrari once again.
  • The Heavy: Enzo Ferrari triggers the plot and the main goal is to beat him at Le Mans, but he simply isn't present for most of the film since it focuses on the development of the GT40. Therefore, Smug Snake Obstructive Bureaucrat Leo Beebe is the one who directly antagonizes Shelby and Miles for most of the film.
  • Heroic Second Wind: At the Daytona 24, Miles follows Shelby's orders and drives like a man possessed in the closing hours after his team drove conservatively the rest of the race. This is actually a legitimate strategy in racing, preserving your equipment to easily overwhelm your opponents' worn equipment. However, the real GT40 likely didn't have enough grunt in the upper 1000's of the rev range that simply going "7000+" would have been like an afterburner kicking on.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Close associates of Leo Beebe have protested his negative portrayal in the film, feeling that he deserves better than to be reduced to an obstructive stooge in a suit. In particular, the decision to have all three Ford cars finish in a dead heat is suggested to be a ploy by Beebe to spitefully steal glory from Shelby and Miles. In reality, the rules interpretation that ultimately awarded McLaren the win was sprung on the Ford team by the Le Mans officials halfway through the last lap. Beebe was just as dismayed by the news as everyone else and wanted to tell Miles to speed up, but there was simply no way to communicate with him.
  • Hypocrite: Beebe. He often tells the Shelby team to be "team players" in order to force them to do what he wants, but he regularly sabotages the team in order to make sure he gets a lion's share of the credit.
  • I Can Still Fight!: In the opening scene, Shelby shrugs off being accidentally set on fire at one point in favour of getting back into the race. As he points out, he's not seriously injured and is no longer on fire, so can still race.
  • Inadequate Inheritor: Shelby has this opinion of the drivers to join the team after Miles' death as they don't take the time to gain deep insights into their vehicles.
  • It's Personal: Henry Ford II has no real feelings about Ferrari at first, seeing them as too small to consider a rival. This changes when Enzo plays Ford to get a better deal from Fiat and then proceeds to insult both the Ford company and Henry himself. Ford takes particular offense to the implication that he is inferior to his grandfather and starts the GT40 program specifically to beat Enzo at his own game.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Ken Miles. He's abrasive and temperamental, but also a devoted family man who absolutely adores his son.
  • Karma Houdini: Despite being an Obstructive Bureaucrat the entire movie, causing Miles to lose Le Mans by a technicality for the sake of a publicity stunt, and just generally being a smarmy douchebag overall, nothing bad happens to Leo Beebe.
  • Loved I Not Honor More: In a flip of the usual pattern with these kinds of films, Ken's wife Mollie really doesn't mind his dangerous hobby (especially if he's getting paid for it). She just doesn't want him to lie to her about it.
  • Man on Fire: A recurring theme is the danger fire poses on race drivers. Shelby is introduced catching on fire during a pit stop at Le Mans but he brushes it off. Later, he, Miles, and the crew must confront the fact that they won't always be able to walk away from such serious incidents.
  • Manly Tears: After Shelby takes Henry Ford II for a very intense high-speed ride in the new GT40, Ford breaks down crying...not because the experience terrified him, but because he wishes his father had lived to see his company build such an incredible car.
  • Market-Based Title: In the UK and other markets (including France unsurprisingly), the film is titled Le Mans '66.
  • Meaningful Echo:
    • After his doctor's appointment, Shelby drives away recklessly. During this, Shelby gives the "There’s a point at 7000RPM" speech via voiceover. He does the same just before Miles' fatal crash near the end of the film.
    • At the Willow Springs 100, Shelby whispers to himself "Not yet... not yet... now" as if he's telling Miles when to make an overtaking move for the win. At Le Mans, he says the same thing, this time to un-lap the leading Ferrari.
    • When Lee Iacocca approaches Shelby to design a winning race car, Shelby outlines the many complexities of racing Le Mans before informing him that while he can't buy a win, he can buy the services of the man who can give him a chance at one. At the end, after Miles has been forced to lose his winning spot in order for Ford to have a promotional photo, Shelby tries to apologise to him, but Miles calmly and amiably refuses the need for it: "You promised a race, not a win."
  • Mundane Solution:
    • Shelby and Miles are both fans of this. When facing disqualification due to his car's trunk being too small, Miles grabs a hammer and beats the trunk until it fits the race regulations.
    • Also seen during aerodynamics testing, where Shelby and co. use a roll of scotch tape and some yarn to find issues that the Ford computer could not.
  • Mythology Gag: Shelby holds up a placard saying "7000+ GO LIKE HELL" at Daytona to let Miles know he can push the car past 7000 rpm. Go Like Hell was the working title for the movie, taken from the title of a book about the event by A. J. Baime. In later years Shelby used it as a car name, the Dodge Omni GLH hot hatchback, after Iacocca headhunted him over to Chrysler.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The page quote at the bottom from one of the trailers is from two different scenes in two completely different parts of the film. Ford’s quote is from about halfway into the movie, while Shelby's response is from near the beginning.
  • New Media Are Evil: Parodied - during the initial pitch to market 'cool' cars, Leo Beebe talks about the then-graduating-high school cohort of Baby Boomers with the same dismissive 'these kids'll buy stupid stuff' attitude that boomers now hold towards millennials and Gen Z-ers.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: The one time that Miles chooses to be a team player for the sake of the Ford Company by slowing down and losing his considerable lead at Le Mans in order to have all 3 Ford cars cross the finish line together for publicity, it costs him his win due to a technicality (the Ford driver who won technically crossed the finish line faster than Miles did due to his starting position compared to Miles).
  • No OSHA Compliance: Truth in Television, whereas modern race cars are so well designed that truly graphic crashes are still survivable (via complex harnesses, roll bars and bladder fuel tanks that don't catch fire easily), the time period shows truly dangerous races being done in open air hot rods.note 
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Ford executive Leo Beebe is this, constantly undermining Shelby and Miles' efforts.
  • Only Sane Man: Phil Remington, the most senior member of Shelby's crew, frequently takes this role, managing the business side of the company and putting up with Ken's antics.
  • Papa Wolf: While attending the Mustang unveiling, Ken is holding his tongue. But when Leo Beebe tells off Peter for trying to get a close look at the car, Ken immediately steps in and lets Beebe have it with both barrels.
  • Pass the Popcorn: Mollie simply pulls up a beach chair while Shelby and Miles tear each other apart.
  • Percussive Maintenance: The door to Ken's GT won't shut at Le Mans. While the crew tries to see if there's something wrong with the mechanism, Pops just grabs a mallet and bashes it into place. Also, when a SCCA official tells Ken his car's trunk isn't big enough, he smashes the underside of the lid with a hammer until there's just enough extra space from all the dents to qualify.
  • The Precious, Precious Car: Ken deals with an angry customer complaining about his MG's performance. Ken condescendingly explains that the customer has no idea how to handle the car's capabilities and gives some practical advice, only to be promptly ignored and for the customer to drive away with the car's engine protesting at the poor handling.
  • Precision F-Strike: Twice, though one is in Italian, so it didn't raise the films rating to an R.
    • When Miles tells Beebe that he'll take a Chevy Chevelle over a Ford Mustang any day, despite the Chevelle being "...a fucking terrible car."
    • Bandini fires off a shocked and frustrated "Cazzo!" when his engine explodes from the strain of keeping up with Miles.
  • Pretender Diss: Enzo Ferrari rebuffs Ford's offer of a buyout with several insults, ending by saying (in his only English line in the film) that their boss isn't Henry Ford, he's Henry Ford II. It's strongly implied that this insult, more than the others, is what makes Ford so determined to beat Ferrari.
  • Product Placement: After their Wimp Fight, Shelby and Miles reconcile over Coca-Colas, and the scene ends with them clinking bottles with the labels turned to the camera. And during the fight, Shelby rejects a can in favor of a loaf of Wonder Bread.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality:
    • One might wonder who the underdogs are in a story about the massively wealthy but inexperienced Ford racing team against the small and artisanal but successful Ferrari team. The fact that the protagonists are at Ford makes that choice easy. Played with in that Ferrari is presented as a Worthy Opponent, while all of the Ford executives besides Lee Iacocca are a bunch of Obstructive Bureaucrats; Shelby and Miles make the most headway when allowed to build and race their way, much like Ferrari. In many ways, the Ford team's real antagonist is itself (or at least the corporate-suit side of itself); Ferrari just happen to be the team they're racing against.
    • Shelby's pranks on the Ferrari pit crew could have real consequences on the race and would be considered dirty tactics if done by an antagonist, but because our hero does them, they're just funny hi-jinks.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Lee Iacocca tries to be this, allowing Carroll and his crew to do what they need to in order to win. Zig-zagged with Henry Ford II, who generally gives Carroll considerable leeway, yet seems easily swayed by Beebe who is frequently able to convince Ford to go back on things he promised to Shelby.
  • Red Herring: Ken's second fiery crash is heavily foreshadowed about a third of the way through the movie. His subsequent races contain several shots and scenes that imply that it's going to happen at any moment (glowing brakes, having to have his door smashed in to keep it closed, etc.), but it happens after Le Mans.
  • Retired Badass: Carroll was one of the world's top racers before a heart condition forced him to retire and move to design his own cars. He's still a good enough driver to make Henry Ford II openly weep in regret that his father Edsel Ford (who loved sports cars) wasn't alive to experience the power of the GT40 for himself.
  • The Rival: For Ken Miles during the races, there are two: Walt Hansgen during the 24 Hours of Daytona (a driver from the Ford team Leo Beebe deployed specifically to prevent Ken Miles from winning the race, complete with top class NASCAR pit crew that allowed for quicker pit stops) and Lorenzo Bandini from the Ferrari team during the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
  • Rule of Three: How the '66 Le Mans race ends; all three Ford GT40s cross the finish line.
    • Miles experiences brake issues behind the wheel of a GT40 three times in the film.
      • The brakes of the protoype overheat during testing, causing him to crash on the test track.
      • Miles' brakes overheat again at Le Mans, but the team is able to replace them.
      • While testing the J-Car at Riverside, Ken's brakes completely fail, causing him to overshoot the next corner and roll. To this day, nobody knows exactly why he crashed, Ford engineers suspected the car suddenly generated lift at speed.
  • Rules Lawyer: Happens multiple times; the characters have to be very precise in what they do in order to not be disqualified on a technicality.
    • Ken's first race in the movie almost has him being rejected because the trunk of the car was not deep enough by a matter of centimeters. His response was to take a hammer and pound out the trunk cover until it fit the specifications.
    • The Shelby team works out a brand new system of replacing brake pads, figuring it will be more efficient to swap out the entire brake assembly while switching tires rather than just the pads. The Ferrari team notices this and starts crying foul, but Shelby shuts them up by showing how the rules clearly state they can replace any part during the race; there Ain't No Rule about the brake assembly being an exception.
    • The Ford marketing team suggests a photo finish of the race with three Ford cars side-by-side. Shelby hates telling Ken about it, but leaves the decision in his hands while he is in the car, arguing that tying for first is still an accomplishment. Ken reluctantly agrees after proving everything he needed to, but the official first place is given to a different Ford driver (Bruce McLaren), as he started the race further back and thus had to drive a slightly longer distance to complete the race. By all means Ken was the best driver of the race and was screwed out of that victory.
  • Running Gag: Several times, Miles and Shelby deal with smug customers who quickly reveal that they know nothing about cars.
  • Second Place Is for Winners: In the end, Miles is cheated out of the first place of ''66 Le Mans due to a technicality (see Rules Lawyer above) but he earned the respect of Enzo Ferrari himself (who tips his hat for him) and he has no hard feelings toward Shelby who suggested him the photo finish idea that cost him his victory, saying that Shelby "promised a race, not a win", and he's satisfied enough to had a chance to compete in the event.
  • Seen It All: During Ken and Miles’ Wimp Fight, Miles’ wife Mollie calmly sets up with a lawn chair and a magazine to wait until they finish, suggesting that this sort of disagreement has happened before.
  • Self-Made Man: Henry Ford II talks about how his grandfather started the business from a lowly position. This is contrasted to Ford II himself, who takes it as a point of pride that he was born into the company but is also very thin-skinned about comparisons to his more accomplished grandfather. Enzo Ferrari is another self-made man, so when he insults Ford II along this line, it strikes Ford II particularly hard.
  • Signature Headgear: Being a Texan, Shelby often wears a cowboy hat. Miles also has a straw hat that he's quite fond of, which the camera lingers on following his fatal crash.
  • Slave to PR: Ford Motor Company's Fatal Flaw is that their entire operating procedure is a victim of this and it drives the main conflict of the film in addition to their rivalry with Ferrari. Having suffered from decreasing sales to the point that the company is threatened to go out of business, they decide to battle Ferrari at 24 Hours of Le Mans and win in order to better their brand image and thus more sales. Unfortunately, this results in their marketing department getting too much say in everything, including forcibly controlling their racing divisions to obey to their will even at the cost of quality. This puts Shelby and Miles, who prefer to play by their own rules, into conflict with the higher ups numerous times throughout the movie. Miles himself suffered the most from this at the conclusion of the final race, as Henry Ford II wants all three GT40s to have a photo finish together to create a historic moment, which costs Miles his win due to a technicality just because the higher ups in Ford want to solidify their reputation to boost their sales.
  • Slobs vs. Snobs:
    • The film sees Ford (slobs), a company that churns out mass-produced consumer cars, go up against Ferrari (snobs), a company that painstakingly makes luxury sports cars for individual customers, at Le Mans, a race that was dominated by Ferrari from 1960 to 1965. This is clearly demonstrated by visits to a Ford and a Ferrari factory: the Ford factory is a utilitarian assembly line, the Ferrari factory seems to be a repurposed barn where every part is made by hand and the owner eats lunch at a table just off the factory floor.
    • The relationship between Ford (snobs) and Shelby (slobs) also has echoes of this on the cultural side. Ford is very conservative and bureaucratic, which makes them disdain the more free-wheeling, hands-on Shelby.
  • Southern-Fried Genius: Carroll hails from Texas and has a pronounced Southern accent, and is one of the greatest automotive designers in the world.
  • Sudden Downer Ending: A few weeks after the '66 Le Mans race, Ken dies in a car crash. Although, as mentioned above, this is presented in a bittersweet light.
  • Take That!:
    • Miles provides an extended analysis of why the Ford Mustang sucks and is inferior to the Chevrolet Chevelle.
    • Racers take several cracks at NASCAR, such as saying the racers only need to "turn left for three hours."
  • Technology Porn: Testing, constructing and refining a world class racing car is the focal point of the film. The racing scenes by themselves are gorgeous.
  • Testing Range Mishap: Shortly after the climactic race, Ken Miles is killed in a crash while testing the proposed successor to the GT40 he drove in the race.
  • This Means War!: When Ferrari calls Ford a pathetic knock-off of his grandfather, Ford declares in no uncertain terms that he is going to demolish him at Le Mans. He outright tells Shelby to "go to war" later in the film.
    Ford: See that little building down there? In World War II, three out of five U.S. bombers rolled off that line. You think Roosevelt beat Hitler? Think again. This isn't the first time Ford Motor's gone to war in Europe. We know how to do more than push paper. And there is one man running this company. You report to him. You understand me?
    Carroll Shelby: Yes, Sir.
    Ford: Go ahead, Carroll. Go to war.
  • Too Many Cooks Spoil the Soup: Ken outlines this early in the story to Shelby after the initial proposal. Experts like Ken and Shelby know exactly what is needed to make a world-class race car and win races, but layers upon layers of executives will demand every small change trying to earn some level of credit for victory. This is largely represented by Leo Beebe who tries to control the race with phone calls from the executive booth and is always thinking of the marketing potential, which results in Ken slowing down to let the other Ford cars meet him at the finish line, which in turn robs him of his rightful victory due to Rules Lawyering. This is explicitly called out by Shelby when Ford asks why he shouldn't fire the Shelby team after the '65 loss. Shelby notes the red folder in Ford's hands (the analysis of the loss), and comments how many people worked to make it, then transfer it up to Ford, and how many people might have gotten a look at it on the way. His point quickly becomes "you want to win, back off and let me make it happen." Ford agrees... temporarily.
  • Tranquil Fury: Ford doesn't raise his voice a single octave as he declares his intention to utterly crush Ferrari at Le Mans. Ditto when he calls Shelby into his office after the embarrassing fiasco of all the cars retiring from their first race due to mechanical issues, calmly telling him: "Give me one reason why I don't fire everyone associated with this abomination, starting with you."
  • Troll: During Le Mans, Shelby steals Ferrari's stopwatches, then nonchalantly drops a lug-nut near their pit box, causing the crew to assume they didn't reattach the wheels properly and panic.
  • Vast Bureaucracy: Ford Motor Company, particularly within Dearborn HQ.
  • Versus Title: Two of the most famous car companies in the world facing off against each other in a race.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Carroll and Ken seem to have this relationship.
  • Wimp Fight: When Shelby asks Miles to drive again after getting fired, a comically clumsy and un-damaging tussle ensues. Part of it is that they both suck at fighting, but the other part is that no matter how angry they feel they don’t want to actually hurt each other: Shelby can be seen finding a can from Miles's groceries, only to discard it and hit him with a loaf of bread instead. The cherry on top is when Miles’ wife Mollie, instead of running out to try and stop the fight, calmly picks up a magazine and a lawn chair, and sits down to read while they finish.
  • Worthy Opponent:
    • Despite being condescending towards the racers from Ford's team in Le Mans earlier, Enzo openly expresses his utmost respect for Ken due to his unmatched performance in the competition. He doesn't show this sentiment to other Ford's racers, however, mainly since it is Ken who clearly wins the competition and the other racers are wrongfully having the glory for themselves.
    • Earlier, when Ferrari's lead driver suffers a serious car malfunction and it's clear Ford's team will win, Ferrari only murmurs an approving "Bellissimo".

Ford II: Give me one reason why I don't fire everyone, starting with you?
Carroll: Well, sir, we're lighter, we're faster. And if that doesn't work, we're nastier.

Alternative Title(s): Le Mans 66