- My 10-year-old was so inspired after seeing "Ford v Ferrari" with her grandpa she whipped up a quick birthday card complete with Carroll Shelby's "autograph." Images: Lisa Tate

What 'Ford v Ferrari' Meant to Me

"Ford v Ferrari" may have been a racing movie to some, but to my 80-year-old dad, it was the best birthday present ever

1y ago

By now, every movie reviewer and writer with a knowledge of racing history or filmmaking has given their assessment (mostly glowing) of the James Mangold film "Ford v Ferrari," so I will spare you another review.

That doesn’t mean I’m not going to talk about this film. As a matter of fact, I feel I have to talk about it, because this has kind of been a movie I’ve been waiting for my entire life.

Here’s why:

I grew up in car family. My dad was a car lover. Okay, more specifically, my dad was a “Ford Man.” His brand loyalty was a strong as some people’s political affiliation, patriotism, or religion, and he was devout in his views on all these things as well.

Yet it was his love of these cars that made the name Carroll Shelby as well known as any current movie or rock star in our home.

Rather than rehashing some older stories I’ve written about my pop, I’ll let you read a little background on my dad in "Irresponsible $#%! My Dad Taught Me" as well as on our own family car in "Mustang Memories."

All caught up? Good!

This November, my dad turned 80. He has now undergone surgeries for both his hips as well as his back, and requires a cane to walk. He gets around pretty good, but big parties aren’t his thing. Still, we wanted to do something special for him. When I first learned Ford v Ferrari was hitting theatres just a few days before his birthday, that’s when I knew his “big party” was going to be taking him to see a movie about one of his favorite subjects with his two of his four favorite people on the planet: his grandkids.

My father has been hard of hearing his entire life, and still won’t admit it, so the first thing I appreciated was how loud and motivating the surround sound was in this movie, even before the first image hit the screen. Everything else from there lived up the hype.

We got to hear dad laugh at the hot-headed conflict (he was all-too-familiar with this in his own life), and when there was a good point made from the mechanical front (you can’t just replace the brake pads), my dad would soundly agree with an audible “that’s right” just like a pious church lady at a sermon.

He loved the racing angles, and sleek look of the early 1960s. He loved Catriona Balfe as Mollie Miles and now understands why Christian Bale is my favorite Batman.

As for my kids, well I knew my teen loved it, but was surprised by how much my 10 year old paid attention and followed it enthusiastically. In a movie climate of nonstop superhero stories and computer animation, that’s saying something.

Of course the film wasn’t 100 percent factual. Shelby was in another city when Miles was killed, and I don’t think Beebe was the evil “suit” they made him out to be. Shelby’s inability to make a marriage work was too complicated to even be mentioned in the movie. Still, a movie needs a good antagonist, and some emotional heartstring pulling, so I understood these "Hollywood" additions.

For the most part, the world building was excellent, the soundtrack was just plain fun, and Matt Damon and Bale were wonderful.

On a shallower note, I never in my life ever thought I would utter the phrase, “Wow, Lee Iacocca is hot.” Thank you, Jon Bernthal, for screwing with my mind on that one.

If I had one adjustment, I would have liked to seen a little more indication of Shelby’s part in making the Mustang a better car. Here’s a real-life exchange (according to Shelby) between Iacocca and Shelby that would have been great to see.

“In 1964, when Lee Iacocca said, ‘Shelby, I want you to make a sports car out of the Mustang,’ the first thing I said was, ‘Lee, you can’t make a race horse out of a mule. I don’t want to do it.’ He said, ‘I didn’t ask you to make it; you work for me.’”

I realize there wasn’t a really a good place for this bit in the story they were telling. However, I can’t think of the Mustang without thinking of Carroll Shelby, so much was his influence emphasized to me growing up.

That’s why is it so important to be able to see this movie with my father and my children, allowing three generations to appreciate a fantastic racing tale and a peek at the epic mechanical and design know-how of both Ferrari and Ford.

Sure, some people may have loved this movie for the excitement and thrills of a great racing and rivalry story, and others may have fished out every inaccuracy or bias.

For me, "Ford v Ferrari" was portal to back to the best parts of my own childhood of watching my dad in his garage, working on some project and talking about Fords. It was a way for me, as “grown-up” with my own family and responsibilities to let him know I remember — and appreciate — everything. It was a way for Grandpa’s girls to let him know they, too, will pick up this passion for car culture he passed on to his own children.

That night, we gave Dad a cake with some little Matchbox size GT Fords on it, painted up to resemble the 24 Hours of Le Mans models, as well as a copy of A.J. Baime’s “Go Like Hell” which he had somehow never read.

My ten year old made him a special card with a drawing of a French flag (that looked more like a sideways Italian flag, since she didn’t have any blue crayons on hand), bearing the signatures of both Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles. Of course, she asked me if it was legal to do that, since she couldn’t get their real autographs anymore."Because they’re dead."

I told her I don’t think they would mind.

A free movie poster and A.J. Baime's "Go Like Hell" were the perfect party favor and birthday gift after a day at the movies.

A free movie poster and A.J. Baime's "Go Like Hell" were the perfect party favor and birthday gift after a day at the movies.

No matter how much time he has left on this Earth, my dad can rest assured that his teachings on dedication, hard work, attention to detail, and the sheer love of life that he shared through the legacy of Carroll Shelby will be followed by future generations.

The day after my dad’s birthday celebration, I dug out my Shelby Cobra racing jacket my dad gave me when I was 14. Even in a “mens’ small” size, it was big on me as a short, teenage girl. Thirty-five years later, it fits a little snug around the rump. It’s dingy and aged, but filled with character and memories. That’s not a bad analogy for our own older relatives, like my dad. Don’t discount the value of a person, just because they aren’t as “new” looking as they were many experience-filled decades ago.

When the first trailer hit for this movie, I wondered why it took so long to give this story the big screen, star-filled feature film treatment it deserved.

Now, I realize it arrived right when it needed to; so that this 50-year-old mother of two could be a hyper wide-eyed little kid again talking cars with her dad, and that 80-year-old grandpa could forget about the his age, put aside the physical pain and the inevitability of time-passing to just lose himself in one heck of an exciting time in history.

Carroll Shelby himself, whose heart troubles were touched on in the film, lived to age 89, and never had a fear of death:

“The day you were born, it was already written down the day you’re gonna check out. Now, I’m not gonna throw myself under a truck, but I’m not gonna worry about when I die. I’m ready to move on when that day comes.”

Thank you, Mr. Mangold and everyone involved in inspiring or making this film for helping share a part of his Shelby's legacy with moviegoers, but mostly for giving my dad the best 80th birthday he could wish for.

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