Ford vs. Ferrari: Victory at every lap by Rich MacDonald
NOVEMBER 4, 2019. I’m standing behind the historic El Capitan Theater in downtown Hollywood and I’m getting ready to hand over Randall Shelby’s Cobra keys to Christian Bale. But this is no back-alley deal: I’ve just handed my friend Aaron Shelby’s Cobra keys to Matt Damon, and Peter Miles is already behind the wheel of my Cobra, making the engine rumble. It’s not a set of circumstances I ever dreamed I’d be in, but here I am. In March 2018, Fox Studios was moving closer to greenlighting a movie named Le Mans 66 (later to be renamed Ford v Ferrari in the US). The production team is lining up the innumerable moving pieces necessary for a successful shoot. Picture Car Coordinator (Sean) is meeting with Superformance owner Lance Stander in our Irvine, California showroom to see our cars. Lance, ever the champion of Shelby’s storied history, is quick to introduce me, the son of Shelby American driver Dave MacDonald. The movie focuses on a window of time after my father was killed at Indy, so he’s not in the script. However, Sean was still very familiar with my dad. We stayed in my office for the next three hours talking about the movie and then toured the showroom filled with 75 beautiful Shelby Cobras, Daytonas, GT40s and Corvette Grand Sports that Superformance has been building for 30 years. Lance submitted a bid a few days later; after weeks of negotiating we received the disappointing news that the studio declined our bid. I quickly realized that we, the only company in the world licensed by Shelby American to build Cobras, Daytonas and GT40s, would not have a presence in a movie about Carroll Shelby and Shelby American! I called the studio immediately for an appointment and drove to the Burbank studios the next day. I briefly met Jim Mangold before stating my case to two executive producers. I suggested they consider leasing at least one of our Cobras and one of our GT40s as hero cars for key scenes because they are built nearly identical to the originals and would add additional authenticity to the movie. I invited them to visit our showroom and see for themselves the unmatched quality of our cars.
Two weeks later. Mangold, new Picture Car Coordinator Rick Collins (Fast & Furious fame) and a dozen other studio representatives arrived at our facility and were absolutely blown away by our cars. This visit set our relationship with the studio on a new trajectory; Lance and I adjourned to the boardroom with studio reps and began to hammer out the framework of a lease deal for one GT40 and a few Cobras. The studio wanted just a single point of contact for the extensive communications throughout filming, and we agreed it would be me. Very quickly, it took over my professional life. I spent much of every day talking to various department heads at Fox/Disney and running all important decisions by Lance. Our contract grew over time to ultimately include 29 cars. In addition, we had the connections to supply the production with whatever it needed: aluminum and fiberglass Shelby Daytonas, an Econoline van, original bare chassis from Shelby American, Ashton Stander’s GT40 and Mustang, and a few Mustangs from OVC. Even Allen Grant’s rare Lola GT made it to the Slough set (but didn’t survive final edits). Most of the cars were in static scenes while our two GT40s and five Cobras (including my own) were also filmed in racing segments. The studio’s picture car team continually rewrapped the cars to repurpose them for scenes at different tracks. The work was not without its benefits. I was able to be at various sets during filming and was an unpaid background extra, shooting a scene that made the final cut. We were at Willow Springs and I’m in the background behind Matt Damon and Ray McKinnon (Phil Remington), playing a Porsche driver. My job is to walk around the car with my mechanic trying to convince the SCCA scrutineer that the car was good to race. With hundreds of extras, it took over an hour in 100° heat to complete the scene. I had the good fortune to observe Jim Mangold many times and witness the great relationship and genuine respect he has from his entire cast and crew. He is truly a talented Director.
Primary filming ended and the studio returned all our cars by November 2018. Within just a few days, I sold all seven cars used for racing purposes. The blue Cobra that Carroll Shelby drove (also filmed racing at Daytona) went to Aaron Shelby, one of the three white #98 Cobras to Randall Shelby, the second white #98 Cobra to Ken Miles’ son Peter, and the third to stunt driver Tony Hunt, who played Chris-tian Bale and Ken Miles in the movie. I sold the Bruce McLaren GT40 to William Deary, owner of the Carroll Collection in Michigan, and the Ken Miles GT40 to one of my existing customers. I bought the Dave MacDonald Cobra for myself. After purchase, most buyers agreed to let me keep their cars in our showroom for any studio-coordinated promotions down the road. It was a reshoot at Ontario Airport on April 29, 2019, that was the official wrap of filming for FORD v FERRARI. I was on set with our cars and speaking with Matt Damon between scenes when the discussion turned to family. We talked about my mom’s battle with cancer, and he said he’d like to meet her one day. When I told him she lived only 15 minutes away and that my wife could pick her up and bring her over, he said great. When Mom and Lisa walked through the hanger door, it was a long slow stroll to the chairs. Matt graciously walked over and spent time with us; my mother was awestruck to meet her favorite actor. She was in the final stages of her fight with breast cancer and eleven days later she passed. The following month, I saw Christian Bale and Matt Damon at the Indianapolis 500 and the first thing Matt asked was “How is your mother doing?” That’s the kind of man he is, truly kind and caring. In July 2019, I began coordinating with FOX/Disney strategy and marketing teams to use our movie cars in promotional events leading up to and after the red-carpet premiere in Hollywood. We took cars to glitzy influencer events, an ESPN segment, Road & Track and Mo-tor Trend shoots and several private movie screenings. We displayed them all over Southern California and New York. We even shot a 6-minute CBS morning show segment with stunt drivers Derek Hill and Alex Gurney at Willow Springs, set up by Ford v Ferrari Stunt Coordinator Rob Nagel. Team Shelby came on board too with Neil Cummings, Tracey Smith and Scott Black working with the studio on promotional events worldwide. It was a whirlwind of dazzling activity.And that’s how I ended up in an alley with Hollywood royalty. For the movie premiere Damon and Bale’s dynamic publicist worked with me to stage three of our Cobras (including mine) behind the El Capi-tan and have Matt, Christian and Peter Miles drive them onto the red carpet where they were greeted by thousands of screaming fans. I, my wife Lisa and Lance met the actors as they exited the cars and we drove them off the red carpet for what can only be described as our own personal victory lap. The night ended with an absolutely amazing after party where Lisa and I, Lance and Deborah Stander and Allen Grant were fortunate enough to mingle with Christian Bale (also a truly terrific person), Matt Damon and others. Today, as I fight my own battle with stage four cancer, I reflect on the serendipity of this experience with gratitude and wonder. Lance and I often look back at our involvement with FORD v FERRARI as one of the highlights of our lives. The movie was a worldwide success and brought unprecedented awareness to our cars for tens of millions of people around the world, creating a hunger for Cobras and GT40s and an immediate surge in sales that continues to this day. Editor’s note: Demand was so strong for the movie cars that Shelby Legendary Cars / Superformance offer a Cinema Series Edition that honors the vehicles in the film. See them at shelbylegendarycars.com.