One of my few pleasant memories of my father was sitting down on a particular Sunday in October to watch Bathurst.
For those who are not Australians, Bathurst is a large country town in New South Wales which hosts an iconic annual endurance motor race.
Back in the 1970s Australia had a motor manufacturing industry and the race came down to one of two teams Ford vs Holden (owned by General Motors).
The 12 hour race involves production cars rather than especially designed racing cars. The model of car you saw race at the weekend was once you could drive from the dealers yard.
Win on Sunday, sales on Monday was the mantra. Bathurst is Australia’s Le Mans.
And the rivallry between the teams and among their fans was fierce. My father was a Ford man and I became a Ford girl and even today I have a friendly dig at a cousin who is a staunch Holden man.
Funnily enough I’ve only ever owned one Ford and that was a 1973 Mustang with a 302 V8 under the hood.
Mustangs are considered exotic here in Australia and thanks to the Ford v Holden rivalry on the track, Mustangs hold a special place in Australia’s heart even though they’ve only been reliably available to purchase off the lot since 2015.
So being an owner of such an exotic beast as a 73 Mach 1, I became an enthusiast of all things Ford during the ‘first generation’ Mustang era of between 1964 (and a half) and 1973.
I have an autographed photograph of Carroll Shelby in my garage, I’ve read Lee Iaoccoca’s autobiography, so when I saw a film called Ford vs Ferrari had been released, then I just had to see it.
The film, starring Christian Bale as driver Ken Miles and Matt Damon as Carroll Shelby is phenomenal.
It spans a period of four to five years from 1962-1967. Ford Motor Company is in the doldrums and sees the opportunity to capture the teenage Baby Boomer market who crave speed an excitement by going after the holy grail of motorsport achievement – a win at Le Mans. Thus came the GT40, to this day the only American-made car to win Le Mans.
The only man to have done that is Carroll Shelby, sidelined from his sport because of a heart condition, he is now producing race cars and limited edition production cars – the iconic Shelby Cobra.
The only man Shelby know capable of winning against the all dominating Ferrari is scrappy British driver Ken Miles who is a demon on the race track but struggles to support his wife and son.
But to only see Ford vs Ferrari as simply a motorsport story or a Ken Miles biopic would be to miss out on so much more.
This is one of those ‘they don’t make ’em like that any more’ films, except they have, and they did.
As heart-pounding as the race action scenes are, where you can experience every down shift and have your heart pound at the redline, this is a character driven story and a love story at its core.
This is a man’s story and I mean that in the best, most positive way, and I would love to see Hollywood make a return to these kind of films. This is an honest and positive portrayal of men and masculinity – their drive for purpose and perfection is something which drives Miles and Shelby. They butt heads – even comes to blows – but the respect is there from the beginning and remains strong, right to the end.
The film understands the male psyche and brings it to the fore. I highly recommend that every female romance writer watch this film to understand how men think, feel and act.
I said this is a love story and it is. Ken Miles loves his wife Mollie (a strong and sympathetic portrayal by Outlander’s Caitriona Balfe), adores his son Peter and the feeling is mutual.
Ken also loves racing and the cars he brings to the track. That is no tossed off description. Ken brings as much dedication and his focus to his sport as he does to his family.
We really get to know this man during the course of the film, played to perfection by Christian Bale. He’s an intense actor at the best of times. The nervous energy he brings to the character is perfect, showing the drive takes Ken to the brink of danger in the drive for the perfect car and the perfect lap.
Matt Damon is never better as Carroll Shelby, a man who understands the drive and passion of a race car driver, but he’s taken a new venture – becoming a business owner with all of attendant risks that involves.
He is offered a deal of a lifetime from Ford – to build a Ferrari-killing race car but there are catches in dealing with such hide-bound bureaucracy in all its Mad Men-esque Mid-Century Modern glory.
Do see it at the cinema, the action scenes are best experienced on the big screen in its digital Dolby surround sound glory.
And Hollywood, keep producing films like this instead of, oh I don’t know, pointless remakes of Ghost Busters, then you might recapture your glory days.
P.S. If you think all of this motor racing is silly ‘boys and their toys’ nonsense, as this reviewer does, then I suggest you park your car and hand in your licence because the direct line benefit of motorsport exists in better, safer and more reliable cars for the rest of us to drive.