2020 review, by Guy Loveridge, of two books.
Nothing gets publishers and authors twitching so much as a Hollywood movie with really big names attached. When that movie wins a clutch of Academy Awards and brings focus to a largely forgotten racing hero, then we motoring historians take note and anticipate books about the “star”.
In the case of Le Mans 66/Ford vs Ferrari the “star” is neither Matt Damon nor Christian Bale but, of course, the Ford GT40. This review will deal with two titles that examine the legendary Anglo-American competition legend and quadruple Le Mans winner.
Conceived out of Henry Ford II’s almost pathological NEED to beat Ferrari at Le Mans, the GT40’s gestation was one of money being applied in the wrong areas, and then flooding across a tiny British independent manufacturer, Lola, and drafting in stalwarts of the previous decade’s sports racing successes – Carroll Shelby, John Wyer, Des O’Dell, Phil Hill and Roy Salvadori all played a role in the development of what would become the United States’ greatest ever sports racing car. Do please note that three of those five names are Englishmen.
First up is Veloce’s £15.99 offering by John Starkey – “Ford versus Ferrari” – subtitled ‘The Battle for Supremacy at Le Mans 1966’ this is a slim 128-page title that bears all the hallmarks of the Veloce house style. The author makes a fine stab at placing the GT40 and its rise from potential white elephant to La Sarthe winner. He refers to stories and rumour in places and, where these are pure supposition, he offers no evidence and leaves them hovering, tantalisingly. The strength of this title is, however, its photographs. Whilst they are, at times, arguably over-reliant on repetition – do we REALLY need so many pictures of the same P3 Ferrari? – some though, are gems: my personal favourite is of the Mecom Lola GT being towed back to the pits at Sebring by, of all things, a Fiat Jolly beach-car!
This book is recommended for its pictures and its overview – as a “GT40 Primer” it has much to recommend it.
A deeper delving into the beast is delivered, in spades, by Evro’s “The Ford that Beat Ferrari – A racing history of the GT-40”. This book has been out twice before, dating back to the 1980s with Kimberley. It reappeared in 2005 with Haynes and is now given a revamp and a redesign, with fresh material. That it is penned by John S Allen and Gordon Jones will tell GT40 aficionados that this is a thorough and deeply well executed examination of the machine that achieved its one stated aim so well that, as had happened in the previous decade with Jaguar’s D-Type, the rules were changed – leaving it excluded from its spiritual home, Le Mans.
This book does add to the earlier editions and as such it is a well-deserved addition to any library with a Le Mans or sports racing sub-section. It too is picture heavy, with many of the same photographs as the far cheaper Veloce title, sourced from the same libraries. There is far more here, of course, but – and this is a big but – I bemoan the lack of an index. I want to know who, what, where and when. Does Des O’Dell feature in the history? Phil Hill certainly felt Des to be an integral and vital part of the GT40’s development. Other figures, one has to dig deep for. This was enjoyable as it is a superb book, but it would become tiresome if it were repeatedly used as a work of definitive reference. It has the quality and information to be viewed as such, but lacks the “user friendliness” such a title needs. Is it worth £90? I wonder…
Ford versus Ferrari: The battle for supremacy at Le Mans 1966
Description: Softback (210 x 250 mm), 128 pages, illustrated in black and white and colour.
The Ford that beat Ferrari: A Racing History of the GT40
Description: Hardback with dustjacket (240 x 290 mm), 494 pages, illustrated in black and white and colour.