Peter Brock: I'm still waiting for a good Ferrari movie

Ferrari! It’s one of the greatest names in automotive history–a man’s name that defined a time, that even now is still revered by those who believe they know who he was and why and how he created some of the world’s most beautiful and powerful automotive icons. 

But reality is seldom what we believe. Having lived and worked in Modena, in the shadow of the great man’s power during one of his greatest eras, I was anxious to see if Michael Mann’s latest film would correctly interpret some of the events I experienced there and later at Le Mans, where my creations were matched on track with Ferrari’s for 24 hours.

In 1964, I’d gone to Italy to oversee the construction of five more Cobra Daytona Coupe bodies for my boss, Carroll Shelby, who, for personal reasons, was intent on taking from Enzo Ferrari the world championship for GT cars. 

[How a little aero magic made the Daytona Coupe a Ferrari-beater]

We didn’t really understand it then, but Ferrari couldn’t have cared less. Building and racing GT cars was strictly business, simply a way to take money from wealthy amateurs for his real passion: building and racing his precious Grand Prix cars. Growing up in America, with no exposure to what we now call Formula 1, we had no real understanding that motor racing in Europe was highly nationalistic, formal, technical warfare waged on wheels and disguised as sport–a way for the differing cultures of France, Germany, Italy and the U.K. to each project and display their technical abilities.

When I was there, two years before Shelby had been fully contracted by Ford to prepare and race the marque’s multi-million-dollar GT40s– which, ironically, had also been designed specifically to do what my Daytonas had already done–the war had become a personal conflict between Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari. We were outsiders trying to make the big time. 

The difference was that our team was so small that we had neither time, money nor enough skilled hands to build five more Daytonas. That’s because most of us were in Europe already racing our single prototype against the might of the Ferrari factory as well as similar teams from Jaguar, Aston Martin and, ironically, Ford’s own struggling U.K.-based GT40 team, which was mired in internal politics and hadn’t completed a single race. 

I was disappointed to see that instead of celebrating Ferrari’s greatest achievements, Mann’s film focused on Ferrari’s rather dark, disturbing and intensely personal problems that had been carefully hidden from the public. Yes, there were some good, interspersed scenes of his cars being raced, but in each instance the closing frames presented more violence and grisly death. It was as if Mann started out with the best of intentions to extract the jewels from Brock Yates’ book “Enzo Ferrari: The Man and the Machine,” a monumental history of the great man and his achievements, but discovered halfway through that he had more than enough footage to make two distinctly different films. But Hollywood, again, won out.

[What’s the magic behind the racing scenes in “Ferrari?”]

I’m still waiting for someone with the combined vision and talents of McQueen, Frankenheimer, Kurosawa and the fine duo of Peter Morgan and Ron Howard to make the great Ferrari movie about real racers and their passion to excel against all odds–without making it a dramatic acting vehicle for its headlining stars.

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J.A. Ackley
J.A. Ackley Senior Editor
5/13/24 2:27 p.m.

I got to check out that book on Enzo Ferrari and compare with the film. Thank you for the recommendation!

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