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Ford vs Ferrari & Carroll Shelby Story

and The 24 Hour War

Editor’s Note: Like most of us, I have seen the Ford vs Ferrari movie and walked out very impressed but also a little disappointed. It seemed to be a good movie for the masses but for a gearhead who was alive at that time it seemed to be missing some important details. I had previously watched the documentary on Shelby and seen the movie The 24 Hour War a few years back. If you have not watched either of these, please take the time to do so you will be rewarded with a much fuller understanding of the history of the GT40 Fords and Mark IIs.

DOCUMENTARY  REVIEW: Shelby American: The Carroll Shelby Story

Produced by Chassy Media

Producers: Adam Carolla, Nate Adams

Length: 2 hours

Review by Wallace Wyss

If you know about Sixties’ endurance racing, I mean you can tell a GT40 Mk I from an Mk. II at a glance and you saw Ford vs Ferrari you were no doubt left a little lost in the chronology.

Shelby’s efforts to make the loser 64 into FordsGT winner are chronicled in the documentary film. Painting by Wallace Wyss.

For those who are not regular nostalgia fans, it was a good family drama set within the racing world of over 50 years ago.

But now there’s a way to feel better about the 20th Century Fox drama and that is to view The Carroll Shelby Story, a documentary made by two veteran documentarians who only three years ago debuted The 24 Hour War, also about LeMans in the ‘60s, focusing on the battle between Ford and Ferrari.

ACCORDING TO THE DOCUMENTARY, SHELBY CAREFULLY CALCULATED HIS JUST-OFF-THE-FARM IMAGE WEARING FARMER’S OVERALLS EVEN AT LEMANS; THIS AFTER ONE OF HIS EARLIER RACES WHEN HE LOST A RACE ONLY TO GET MORE ATTENTION FOR HIS OUTFIT THAN THE RACE WINNER

Painting by Wallace Wyss.

The difference between the two is that the new one is totally about Carroll Shelby’s life and the LeMans ‘60s effort is only part of it.  The reason the second one got made was, when editing the first documentary in 2016 Carolla and Adams were given a lot of rare footage of Shelby driving other cars during his racing career. They decided there was too much footage on Shelby not to do a separate one on him. To do so they enlisted two grandsons of Shelby to help produce.

Movie Poster for Documentary

The documentary starts out chronologically, right from Shelby sitting in a wooden toy cart, looking like a serious racer and then segues his failure as a chicken farmer led him to compete in sports car racing. His career as a race driver rocketed form regional races to being offered a ride from Aston Martin at LaMans only five years later.

When he won, you think his career would have been golden; but this doc reveals that heart ailments (specifically angina) were tertiary in his family and that his father had died at age 46. Shelby decided, once his doctors ruled him out of racing, to spend the rest of his life (and he was already in his ‘40s) making that dream car. It only took him a couple of years to have a finished driving saleable car.

The film is fun because it has a lot of quotes from former Shelby drivers he employed, or employees. One of them, Dan Gurney, even implies Shelby was a bit of a flim-flam man, and several more say when Shelby went to Ford with his idea for the Cobra, he was broke but acted like they envisioned a Texas wheeler-dealer would act (even for instance marrying a film star and going on his honeymoon in a borrowed Rolls Royce). 

Winning the 24 Hours of LeMans in 1959. Chassis Media Image

The Cobras are given the proper amount of time in this documentary, different from the feature film where their rejection for long distance racing is never explained (in a nutshell, their top speed was 165 mph but to beat Ferrari prototypes Ford needed a car that could top 200 mph).

But the documentary has its own internal drama, in which the real life participants, such as mechanic Charley Agaipou and racer John Morton, are quoted on film in interviews, and tell how, as spectacular as the Cobra was, it quickly was shunted aside by Ford once Henry Ford II in Dearborn decided that beating Ferrari at LeMans was the be-all-end-all goal.

Shelby in 1966 with the help of Pete Brock designed the Cobra Shirt. Painting by Wallace Wyss.

And the car to do that with was the Ford GT Mk. II, powered by a 427 big block. The documentary like the feature film still skips the key moment that happened in real life when the new manager of racing, Leo Beebe affectedbut this change; after 289 small blocks blew left and right, he asked the engineers “What engine do we have around here that doesn’t blow up” and they all pointed to the engine used in NASCAR. So Ford asked Shelby to run that in ’65 to see if they could get it sorted out. But even though the documentary doesn’t mention that impetus, you get the idea that the 1965 year was the really trying one for Shelby in that he failed to win for Ford at LeMans but at least Ford was willing to go one more year, and in ’66 they won.

The saddest scene, besides when they talk about Shelby’s ace driver, Ken Miles, being killed testing a prototype, is when Agaipou tells about the LeMans crew coming back from Europe only to find out that many of them had been fired as Ford was beginning to replace Shelby’s original crew with crew cut engineers from Dearborn as the GT40 would take more than by-guess-and-by-gosh hot rodders to fettle.

Pete Brock is especially vocal about how the front engine Daytonas, which he styled, were tossed aside to make way for the high tech mid-engined GT40s.

Agaipou is on far left and Remmington on the right. are mentioned in the documentary. The car is a 289 Cobra. Wallace Wyss Painting.

This is the first documentary on Ford that gives any time on screen to Ferrari participants, including a driver and the chief racing engineer. In the Fox drama, they portray Ferrari and his men as petty, but in this documentary, they come across as reasoned men with too small a  budget.

I think the best way to view this film is as a companion piece to Ford v. Ferrari. One is just for fun, to see the characters and the other is to set it in your mind in terms of historical accuracy.

How many folks who went to see the mass audience movie want to see a documentary with a lot of facts remains to be seen. But I predict it’s a long-range thing, first people will tell their friends they’ve seen Ford v. Ferrari but then their more car-hip friends will say “Yah but have you seen the documentary?”

THE CRITIC: Wallace Wyss is the author of three books on Shelby. More recently as a fine artist, he has prints of then of his paintings of Shelby, Cobras, and GT40s. For a list and prices for prints, write mendoart7@gmail.com

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Richard

I grew up and lived in Iowa for a good portion of my life before moving to Southern California. After 20+ years we now live outside Nashville Tennessee. I have been into cars since I was old enough to remember. I don't have a brand loyalty although I do prefer American Muscle especially the 1969/1970 NASCAR Aero Cars. (Check out our other web site at www.TalladegaSpoilerRegistry.com site) As long as it has four wheels and an engine I get excited. Few men are lucky enough to be able to share their passion for cars with the woman they love. Fortunately, my wife, Katriana, is also a gear head and many of our activities revolve around the cars. We have a small collection that includes at least one car from each of the Big Three. It includes a Best of Show winner, a survivor, a driver with lots of patina and several others. Katrina prefers all original cars while I like to modify them so we have a few of each. When we aren't playing with cars we are out working with or showing our miniature donkeys. You can see more about that part of our lives at http://www.LegendaryFarms.com.

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