My Car Quest

July 21, 2024

Should We Expect Accuracy in Car Movies?

Is it Reasonable to Expect Dramas based on Real Life Events be Based on Real Life?

Opinion by Wallace Wyss –

We are led to believe, or hope anyway, that films based on historical events are written on the basis of extensive research, usually based on a book.

So that’s what has my nose out of joint at present, that when 20th Century Fox announced the film being wrapped now, they let out a blast of publicity like this one from Variety (June 22nd 2018),

The film follows an eccentric, determined team of American engineers and designers, led by automotive visionary Carroll Shelby (Damon) and his British driver, Ken Miles (Bale), who are dispatched by Henry Ford II and Lee Iacocca with the mission of building from scratch an entirely new automobile with the potential to finally defeat the perennially dominant Ferrari at the 1966 Le Mans World Championship in France.

1-2-3 - 1966 Le Mans -Ford GT40 (Ford Archives)

1-2-3 – 1966 Le Mans -Ford GT40 (Ford Archives)

Which is not, in point of fact, what happened. I talked to Bob Bondurant, who remembers distinctly going to the airport to receive the first 1964 GT40 from Dearborn via Nassau, shipped to Shelby in the winter of 1964 still covered with dirt, with the terse order to the effect of “make it right.” It had lost every race it had entered, with the result being much egg on face in Dearborn.

They hadn’t given it to Shelby in 1964 because Shelby was in the midst of racing Cobras, and making the first Shelby Mustangs. He was a wee bit busy. Plus there was the suspicion that Shelby was “old Skool”, not an engineer, and wouldn’t be able to cope with a modern car that was designed to go over 200mph. His Cobras, after all, were but adaptations of a 1953 AC Ace.

Agaipou, Bondurant and Remington in Europe - painting by Wallace Wyss

Agaipou, Bondurant and Remington in Europe – painting by Wallace Wyss

The Daytona coupe was a positive step to redeem the too-slow-to-beat-prototypes Ferraris but still didn’t have the cojones to cruise above 200 mph. The 427 Cobra as a no-go because it had the aerodynamics of a brick and it looked like Shelby wouldn’t be able to make the required 100 to get it homologated as a GT car. (He did in fact fail at that, so Ford refused to sponsor it in racing).


So I looked at Hollywood as a whole and found that, egad, truth in La-La land is not so important as drama. A most glaring example is the feature U-571 in which an American ship intercepts a German sub on the surface in 1944 and wrests from them the Enigma code machine, thus shortening the war. Star was Matthew McConnaughey. Only trouble is, though that did in fact happened, the enigma machine was first snatched from a German sub by a British ship two years earlier, in 1942, (some accounts say 1941) and thus that recovery made a much bigger impact on the war, in so far as the Brits being able to listen in on German communiques. Hollywood wanted an American star and the Americans as heroes so to hell with accuracy.

Ford developed the GT40 before Shelby ever touched it - painting by Wallace Wyss

Ford developed the GT40 before Shelby ever touched it – painting by Wallace Wyss

I went to a documentary I found on You Tube called Shelby Goes Racing with Ford assuming that, hey, this is based on actual film footage, so it will be dead on accurate but wouldn’t cha know, when talking about the year 1964, they are showing on screen a 1965 Cobra Daytona coupe. Both were blue but the ‘64s were light blue with wide apart thin racing stripes, the ‘65s were darker blue with fat racing stripes close together. Plus in a scene supposed to be in ’63, there is a GT40 visible where in ’63 the GT40 wasn’t being fielded yet and might have not been completed. So even in documentaries there is a little fudging in trying to fill in the holes of history.

I can see on movies about Napoleon, and historical incidents dramatized from events long long ago, where they can get a little off on the details but at a recent showing of replica Cobras and GT40s at Superformance in Irvine, CA (who are renting many of the GT40 replicas used in the movie) I ran across several former Shelby employees and drivers, including one ex-Shelby team driver, Allen Grant, who had raced a Daytona at LeMans. So it would have been easy for the moviemakers to contact real people who were there on the ground during the Ford vs. Ferrari battles and ask them “Well, whaddya’ think, are we reflecting what really happened here?”

They did in fact hire former Shelby American team mechanic Charlie Agaipou as a source, and cast someone to play him in the film. But regardless of who they have advising them now, they seem bent on drama outweighing facts.

For dramatic purposes, feature film makers seem to feel that accuracy is not as important as drama. But I think they fail to reckon with the legions of car buffs in many countries who have read the Shelby books (including three by me, one of which sold 50,000 copies) and know full well it didn’t happen that way.

Still the film might have such dramatic footage–say drone camera work that was technologically impossible back in the ‘60s–that is stunning. The enthusiasts may be all too willing to forgive. (much as they collectively seem to be looking the other way when Cobras and GT40s are entered in vintage racing that are in fact replicas built in the 2000s, not in the original era…)

Dan Gurney driving a Cobra  - painting by Wallace Wyss

Dan Gurney driving a Cobra – painting by Wallace Wyss

Now truth be told, I was hoping to be a consultant on this. They say that their film is “based on other sources,” sources other than the book Go Like Hell by AJ Baime which they unaccountably sold to a TV company before starting to film this film.

I am willing to license any of my books and throw in a few days of reviewing footage to see if the plotline can reflect history as most racing historians see it. But alas, nobody erects a better wall than Hollywood to keep out interlopers—all my letters to them (director, screenwriters, et al) have been returned with a ridiculously excessive amount of black magic marker redacting out their addresses, lest anyone in the mail chain see where their offices are. All I can say is, and they must know this, is that re-shooting is a B______. Rather like leaving a scalpel in there next to the patient’s liver.

I can already hear someone saying “sour grapes” in the Comments section below but truth is, I make no apologies for being a staunch Shelby fan and Cobra fan and GT40 fan and will enjoy the film a lot more as a mere viewer if the story is as I heard it from Shelby himself (he wrote the forward to that first book) and all the employees and team drivers I interviewed when doing the research for my three books.

So primarily, I’m a fan. The film will be wrapped Oct. 29th but not released until June, 2019.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

Wallace Wyss

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss can be reached at




Ford GT40

Ford GT40 – photo by Mike Gulett

Should We Expect Accuracy in Car Movies?
Article Name
Should We Expect Accuracy in Car Movies?
For dramatic purposes, feature film makers seem to feel that accuracy is not as important as drama.


  1. Wallace,

    Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

    After all, Steve McQueen won Le Mans soon after the Ford victories.

    Didn’t he?


  2. There is a excellent documentary about Ford and Ferrari called “The 24 Hour War” made by Adam Corolla. It tells the story very well and you can see that a lot of work went into making the film. According to Adam nobody from Hollywood has even contacted him regarding his documentary or the new movie. You would think that the producers would want to at least have a sit down and talk about the history, to get things right. Nope Thats Hollywood

  3. Love the painting… as always you do very nice work.

  4. wallace wyss says

    I tried to talk to Corolla up at Monterey but he was too busy. I even think he could play Shelby, right height and hair color and good sense of humor.Maybe the guys doing the TV series will consider him. I’d ask for a DVD to review–does anyone have e-mail for Corolla’s company?

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