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‘Ford v Ferrari’ relives Carroll Shelby’s 1966 triumph

It isn’t “The Carroll Shelby Story.”

Opening Nov. 15, “Ford v Ferrari” focuses on a key four-year period, 1963 to ’66, in the maturation of automotive legend Carroll Shelby, who moved his Shelby American headquarters to Las Vegas in the mid-’90s.

The more accurate title, as it’s known overseas, is “Le Mans 66.” That’s a nod to the celebrated race that’s the culmination of the journey Shelby (portrayed by Matt Damon) and driver/mechanic Ken Miles (Christian Bale) undertook to drag the Ford racing team across the finish line ahead of the Ferrari motor sports dynasty.

“It was huge,” Gary Patterson, president of Shelby American, says of the race. “It was the U.S. vs. Italy. It was two icons going at it — three actually, because you’ve got big personalities like Henry Ford II, Enzo Ferrari, and you’ve got Carroll Shelby. And Enzo always wanted Carroll to drive for him, but Carroll didn’t want to drive for him because (Ferrari) didn’t want to pay him.”

Director James Mangold (“Walk the Line,” “Logan”) first read a version of the script in 2011 and had been pursuing it ever since.

“Carroll (could) talk you into anything,” Mangold says. “He really didn’t need to ever resort to threats. His whole method was some kind of magical tai chi ability to get anyone to do what he needed them to do.”

Mangold, who also directed the pilot episode of the CBS drama “Vegas,” which focused on longtime Clark County Sheriff Ralph Lamb, is familiar with the challenges involved with bringing larger-than-life real people to the screen.

“I’m not sure everyone gets this, but you don’t want actors of this caliber doing a Rich Little impression,” he says of Damon’s performance. “That’s not what they’re there to do. They’re there to capture actually something you can’t get in YouTube footage, which is, what was this person really like.”

The reinvention of Shelby from champion driver to world-class car builder after a heart ailment forced him to retire from racing was one of the main elements that drew Mangold to the project.

“What is this energy of this guy who was an adrenaline junkie, a racer, who had to turn all of that around and suddenly channel that whole thirst and his own pride? The one thing he was good at in the world was driving, and he couldn’t do it anymore. With what kind of discipline do you turn all that energy and channel it into a new activity?”

“Ford v Ferrari” is a story about second chances. It’s the kind of expensive movie for grown-ups that studios rarely make these days. So-called experts say it’s in the discussion for an Oscar nomination for best picture.

Patterson is thrilled the movie is finally being released.

“It’s going to introduce the story to a whole new generation,” he says, “or a whole new audience who aren’t familiar with the Shelby brand.”

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

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