Le Mans ’66 is proper petrolhead cinema

IF GOD really is in the details, then I’d suggest that the makers of Le Mans ’66 aren’t exactly fastidious churchgoers.

There’s a scene in the new film – and feel free to skip through to the sports pages if spoiler alerts aren’t your bag – in which the early Ford GT40 is described as being “fresh from England”, but after those three seconds it’s an all-American affair, making no mention of the fact the original racer was based on the Lola Mk6, dreamt up not in Detroit but, erm, sunny Huntingdon.

You don’t even need to be a petrolhead to spot another rather jarring bit of chronology, either. Early on a rather well known publicity shot from Goldfinger of Sean Connery posing next to an Aston Martin DB5 is shown as part of a slide presentation at Ford HQ on what cool cars look like, conveniently forgetting that the very car Bond runs off the road in that film – a Ford Mustang – is unveiled for the first time much, much later on in the story! There’s also plenty on Ford’s team orders at Le Mans, but an equally fascinating plot twist on Ferrari’s part is omitted entirely; F1 star John Surtees was ditched from the driver line-up and quit working for the Italians altogether.

But then I suspect you’re not going to care one jot if you’re planning on a cinema outing to see it, because it’s a two-and-a-bit hours of genuinely enjoyable motoring history, neatly soundtracked by a couple of big block Ford V8s.

What really had me hooked was the amount of metal I wasn’t expecting to see on screen; the opening scene explaining Carroll Shelby’s sole Le Mans win at the helm of an Aston Martin DBR1 was wonderfully shot, but seeing the Porsche 356 and MGA being given the full-on Hollywood treatment in their own action sequences is worth the cinema ticket alone.

Most importantly, it feels believable. I remember watching a so-called race in 2013’s The Man From UNCLE in which single-seaters and Aston DB4s were sharing the same track at Goodwood and staring at the screen in disbelief, but in this film the visit to Le Mans itself is bob on. The track actually looks like the one I camped at last year for the Le Mans Classic, and the scenes inside the main complex on the start/finish straight even showed the never-ending balcony walkways that I’d traipsed while heading to and from its press office. Matt Damon does a dab hand of nailing the late Carroll Shelby’s Texan drawl too, and Batman – sorry, Christian Bale – isn’t half bad as Midlands race ace Ken Miles either.

I know that the Ford vs Ferrari war to win at Le Mans is well documented, but I do reckon that Le Mans ’66 is fast-tracked to a spot on the petrolhead living room shelf next to Rush, Ronin and Bullitt when it eventually comes out on DVD.

If you haven’t seen it already, then I’d thoroughly recommend it. Just make sure you conveniently forget the first half of this week’s column if you do…

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