Here is how the pick-up team (I knew them all) behind Ford v Ferrari, the ’60’s epic 24 Hours of Le Mans race,s got the cars ready for their close-ups.
The new movie Ford v Ferrari coming to theaters in NA on 15 November stars Christian Bale and Matt Damon and the iconic racing cars.
This film revisits perhaps the fiercest rivalries in motorsport history: the thwarted efforts by Ford to purchase Ferrari and its racing team in the early 1960’s and Henry Ford, II’s decision to launch FoMoCo’s own team, recruiting legendary automotive designer Carroll Shelby to create an entry that could beat the champion Maranello Outfit on 3 annual outings.
The result of Mr. Ford’s investment is the GT40, an aerodynamic racer with a low profile with an American V-8 engine. Ford’s GT40s went on to sweep the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places at the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race in Y 1966. The Ford Team won that race for the next 3 years, the only American cars to win in the event’s 96-year history.
With this storied pedigree, and only 133 produced, GT40s are now worth between $3 – 6-M, though the Ferrari’s are worth many time that. Making them too valuable to purchase or borrow for a film shoot, given the risks and rigors of filming.
“If you’re going to spin them around and slide them,” says North Carolina car collector Rob Kauffman, who owns the 1966 Le Mans winning GT40, “you probably do not want an original.”
Director James Mangold was opposed to excessive digital manipulation because of the way it disjoints reality. “It’s hard to convey a sense of time-travel, backwards, through artificial means,” says Robert Andrew Johnson, the film’s vehicle art director, who also designed the largely digital spaceships in Avatar.
Mr. Johnson and his team of experts ended up assembling about 60 cars for the shoot, mostly replicas of Fords, Ferraris, and Porsches, outfitting them with reliable engines and dressing them to make them appear historically accurate.
The job also involved seeking out the unknown. “The cars’ exteriors are very well documented,” down to the dings and traces of brake dust, he said. “But no one was taking photographs of the interiors.”
He acquired shots of a GT40 interior from the shop that restored Mr. Kauffman’s car, and was able to create period-correct components and logos. He crafted ersatz elements for the engine compartment, such as air intakes and carburetors made from aluminum shoebox lids. He was even able to recreate stick-on Dymo labels on the dashboard as they were in the race. “There was a button for the car horn, but the guys at Shelby had put horny—they added a y to it. So we put that in,” he says.
The Ferrari interiors, well that is a different story. No photos of the cars’ cockpits were available. “The person I contacted at a restoration shop said, ‘If you want info on the Ferrari you should just talk to Ralph.”
When Mr. Johnson asked for contact information, he was told that the owner was hard to reach. “It was Ralph Lauren.” Indeed, the designer was not available. He shrugged. “You sometimes have to spin the wheel, cover your eyes, and put your finger down on what your best guess is.”
Have some fun, see this film