My Car Quest

June 2, 2020

Documentary Review: The 24 Hour War

What you need to understand the feature movie Ford v Ferrari.

Producers: Chassy Media

Produced and directed by: Adam Carolla and Nate Adams

Cast: Henry Ford III, Edsel Ford II, Piero Ferrari, Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney, David Hobbs, Bob Bondurant, Peter Brock, John Surtees, Mauro Forghieri

Review by Wallace Wyss –

Ya wouldn’t think a big budget feature film like Ford v Ferrari would need a documentary so you could sort out what you just saw but yes, indeedy, I’m here to tell you this documentary from 2017 does clear things up and as a result you can enjoy the cars (and drivers) of this “golden era” even more.

The documentary starts out with some background of the early days of auto racing in America, such as when Henry Ford I raced a guy named Selden who had patented the idea of a motorcar. The documentary doesn’t make it clear how much was at stake. If Henry Ford hadn’t won he might not have been able to continue as an automaker. You can say car racing enabled mass production of cars in America.

The 24 Hour War

A dramatic poster, showing a GT40 roadster against a Ferrari 250P

Real fun is the quoting from Henry Ford’s great and great great grandsons who are proud that Ford carries on the tradition of supporting racing, and especially of Ford’s performance in the mid-‘60s.

The documentary, like the feature film leads up to the year 1966, the year Ford won the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the first time. The documentary made its debut two years ago but was little noticed until the drama Ford v Ferrari was released and then suddenly there was a big demand for any factual material on the subject, the drama taking a few, uh, divergences from the sake of truth to serve the drama.

One thing skipped over in the regular part of the doc is that Ford bought two Lola T160s to use to test part for the upcoming Ford GT40 before they built their GT40 design en masse. This is covered in a additional segment after the doc and isn’t that important to the whole story but I feel a couple minutes on them buying the Lolas should have been in the regular documentary to correct the misimpression some have that the GT40 was but a rebodied Lola.

Also they show John Wyer, who ran the losing Ford GT team in ‘64 but don’t explain who he was and why he was moved out of that job in ’65.

CARROLL SHELBY GETS HIS DUE

Shelby is the star of this film just as he was in the drama (though some would say Ken Miles’ character gets more time in Ford v Ferrari). They show Shelby winning at Le Mans in ’59 and talk about his scrounging around trying to find a project once he was forcibly retired from racing by a heart ailment.

The documentary spends a good bit of time interviewing ex-Ferrari employees who give a delightful rendition of the story from their rarely heard point of view. In the feature film they imply Enzo Ferrari spurned Ford’s offer of a buyout in ’63 because he was dealing with Fiat but in the documentary they more correctly point out that Ferrari only had the assurance of Giovanni Agnelli, the head of Fiat, that he would buy them but in real life the deal didn’t take place until 1969, by which time Ford had already won Le Mans four times in a row!

Of the ex-race drivers the documentary interviews of some of the original drivers is what makes it gold, (because some have died since the documentary was produced). Such as Dan Gurney.

The producers were lucky they tracked down some of these luminaries while they were still of sound mind and body. Some of them have moment by moment recollections of races 60 yeas ago!

Carroll Shelby doesn’t get much camera time but adds a lot to the situation that was such a big deal in the movie where Ken Miles, three laps in the lead, is told to throttle back so there can be a three abreast finish and winds up in second place.

Mario Andretti gets a good bit of time in this documentary, interesting because he was on the Ford GT team and on the Ferrari team in different years. His respect for Ferrari as a car builder comes through strongly. One of the funny moments is when the ex Ferrari engineer Mario Forghieri tells of Enzo keeping a shelf of broken parts and each part symbolized why a race was lost (i.e. “that was when the rod broke at Monza, etc…) so the car builders got a lot of pressure seeing their mistakes were remembered.

Le Mans 1967

If you can pick an era to champion American racing the mid-’60s is it-this is Le Mans ’67.

Even one Shelby mechanic gets a few minutes on screen, Charlie Agaipiou, who tells of talking to the drivers at pit stops, trying to figure out how much more to push their mount.

Henry Ford’s Italian wife is seen but they don’t mention that one story of why Henry Ford II wanted to buy Ferrari, i.e., that they had attended a Le Mans race earlier, maybe ’62 or ’63, and she had remarked to her husband “Ford could never build a car that would beat Ferrari.” In the documentary they have a different story, that Henry Ford was at a race in the US, saw some Ferraris win, and said “We need some of those red cars.”

Enzo Ferraris son Piero is interviewed and pulls no punches describing his father as a stubborn man.

The photography is excellent, I am glad they didn’t try to substitute shots from modern vintage races featuring the old cars. Those who like vintage clothes will enjoy the sartorial elegance of the race goers (the Brits seemed to favor the Poor Boy flat cap).

Surprisingly the Cobra and its racing victories are hardly mentioned other than that’s the car that got Shelby into door at Ford. They do tell the oft heard story that, Iacocca, almost frightened by Shelby’s passion to build a fast Ford, tells his underlings to give Shelby some money so he’ll go away (Shelby used the $25,000 to begin Cobra production).

THE ROLE OF THE DAYTONA

The documentary, just like the feature Ford v Ferrari, doesn’t make abundantly clear the role of the Cobra Daytona coupe. Oh, they interview Pete Brock, then the wunderkind who deigned it, but don’t make it clear it was a stop gap place holder to give Ford time to develop the GT40 ready. They show the evolution from the imperfect ’64 car (with its goofy Italian gearbox) to the ’65 GT40 and show that was done with much testing by Shelby’s guys like Bondurant, but like the feature film don’t ever lay it on hard that the big reason the car went form small block to big block was because of how inadequate the 4.7 liter 289 small block was, because of reliability. The fact is that the big block 7 liter 427 was chosen because it was proven reliable in NASCAR.

One of the most poignant remarks in the film is by Brock who says, after he came back from Europe (maybe in ’64?) he found someone else sitting at his desk at Shelby American. Oh, he still had a job but the GT40 forces had moved in from Detroit and the fact was the by-guess-and-by-gosh hot rodders weren’t needed anymore.

One of the saddest scenes in the movie is when David Hobbs, a Le Mans winner in a GT40, recalls how many fellow drivers he lost in racing, in a couple cases he went from the funeral of one driver right onto a race where he was taking the driver’s place!

The music was not great but at least didn’t interfere with the storytelling. One thing they could do more of is to identify the speakers with subtitles, like who is Edsel Ford II is, oh, he’s the original Henry Ford’s grandson, not his son, etc.

Although I am sure Adam Carolla likes to be a spokesman, and has done some racing himself. I congratulate them for keeping him offscreen; instead letting the former drivers, former engineers and former executives speak and keep the faces and personalities of the producers out of it. (Ironically I think Carolla would have been the perfect choice to play Shelby in the film Ford v Ferrari instead of Matt Damon).

FORD DID NOT WIN LE MANS IN 2016

At the end they tack on about 5 minutes showing the new present day Ford GT but I feel the story rightfully should have ended with ’69. Again they committed the cardinal sin (in my book anyway) of implying Ford won the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the new Ford GT 50 years after they won the race the first time but in fact they only won their class, not the overall race. Why led the audience (who might not know the original race history) to assume that they won overall? I know it would have made a great story if, 50 years later, they come back and win but they didn’t, so quit that wishful thinking…leave that to Hollywood!

The 24 Hour War Poster

Is the documentary worth it? Yes, indeed. There is even a special section of extras, interviewing folks like Mario Andretti. I didn’t think the added interviews were long enough but at least they had something for those who can’t get enough of those interviews.

Where this documentary really makes a contribution is it brings new people into the tent, fans who liked the feature film Ford v Ferrari but due to the Hollywoodization of history is that one aren’t sure what really happened, chronologically and who was who so to speak. This documentary makes it clear who the heroes are, on both sides (even though Ferrari lost they put up a damn good fight…)

There’s kind of a wistful quality to it because it seems like in car racing today, there’s no strong characters leading any automakers, and leading their racing fortunes as well. It’s like an era has passed. Kind of like the medieval days when the Prince or King would lead his country’s troops into battle…

The 24 Hour War is the third documentary from Carolla’s production company, Chassy Media. The first two, Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman and The Bug Movie were well done but The Bug Movie was directed and produced by Damon Ristau. These two about Ford and Ferrari were jointly assembled by Carolla and his producing partner, Nate Adams. They are both heavy duty car guys so they don’t make the naïve mistakes James Mangold made in the feature film (like downshifting when you’re going 200 mph on the Mulsanne straight) because Mangold isn’t a car guy.

Do you still need the other documentary released more recently by the same duo on Shelby himself? I say “Yes” because Shelby was the key to the whole Ford effort. Oh, it’s true they started it without him, but he was the one who turned Ford’s GT40 into a winner after it fell flat the first season. You have to know how convincing a character he was to get Ford to loosen the pursestrings…and that documentary showed that.

Eventually Carolla and his partner might take Chassy media into features but I hope they keep a documentary branch gong because we need things like this to tell us how it really was; as Hollywood just can’t be counted on not to bend the truth to make a better story.

The 24 Hour War is available for rent or purchase on YouTube, Amazon Video, and Google Play. You can also find it on DVD and BluRay from Chassy Media.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

 
 
THE REVIEWER: Wallace Wyss, longtime co-host of Autotalk on KUCR FM radio, is currently writing a sequel to his action thriller, The Ferrari Hunters.

 
 
 
 
 
 

The 24 Hour War

The box set cover

Summary
Documentary Review: The 24 Hour War
Article Name
Documentary Review: The 24 Hour War
Description
This documentary, The 24 Hour War, like the Ford v Ferrari feature film leads up to the year 1966, the year Ford won the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the first time.
Author

Comments

  1. Mike Clarke says

    Adam is one of the best documentary producers out there today if you get the chance check out his latest release on Netflix called “Uppity” It’s about WillyT Ribb’s career in racing. Excellent.

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