Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The 24 Hour War: Ford vs. Ferrari

Paul Newman’s team took second place (first in their class) at the 1979 24 Hours of Le Mans. Steve McQueen wanted to drive the 1970 race for his docu-like drama Le Mans, but he was not allowed for insurance reasons. However, for fans in the 1960s, the real stars of the endurance motor race were Ford and Ferrari. Nate Adams & Adam Carolla (the actor-comedian playing it straight and staying off-camera) chronicle the rivalry blow-by-blow in The 24 Hour War (trailer here), which releases today on VOD.

It makes the head spin in the context of today’s world, but Ford very nearly acquired Ferrari in the early 1960s. The deal was motivated by racing—Ford wanted to catch up with Chevy fast—and it fell apart due to racing—Old Man Enzo simply would not allow for any interference with his management of Ferrari racing. Once the deal was off, Henry Ford II rolled up his sleeves and built up the Ford racing operation the old-fashioned way—with buckets of cash.

Sometimes HF2 got what he paid for with some truly innovative designs and sometimes he was frustrated by simple engineering flaws. Those were the breaks in motor sports. Of course, some of those breaks were fatal. Like Frank Simon’s Weekend of a Champion (featuring racing fan Roman Polanski), 24H War takes us back to a time when deaths behind the wheel were a regular, weekly occurrence.

Adams & Carolla observe several intriguing historical ironies surrounding the rivalry and take stock of the larger than life figures leading their respective companies. They also have sit-downs with a host of Ford and Ferrari drivers, who are not exactly shrinking violets either. However, it is rather baffling that Carolla of all people would give Ralph Nader some camera time to tsk-tsk the Big Three for marketing horse power.

Regardless, Adams and Carolla keep the film motoring along at a good clip and they obviously have good rapport with the motor sports community, having previously collaborated on the even more entertaining Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman. Even if you are not a motor sports fan, you should appreciate the recent bumper crop of surprisingly engaging racing docs, also including Steve McQueen: The Man and Le Mans. It is still kind of dull to watch cars race around and around a track, but the behind-the-scenes stories are fascinating stuff—at least those recorded by Adams and Carolla. Recommended for sports fans and those interested in the history of the American automotive industry, The 24 Hour War is now available on iTunes.