Childhood’s End: A Review of Ford vs. Ferrari

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Does this make sense to you?

There was a time when you met your best friend forever in Kindergarten. You went to school together. You graduated together. You were part of each other’s wedding parties. You raised your families together. You went on vacations together. Ultimately, you retired to the same communities together.

At least that’s what we were raised to believe.

My best friend was Angelo. From that day we met as five-year-olds to board that first school bus, we were best friends. Although the only class we ever shared was Kindergarten, from that point on we did everything together. Each day we would walk up Abbott Parkway to the school bus stop together. Every summer day we’d play together.

We talked of our past, present, and future.

We talked about our families, especially my uncle who wanted to design sports cars and his cousin, who frequently laid rubber in the middle of our street with his red hot 1968 Mustang.

We talked about school friends and who liked Ford and who liked Chevy.

We talked about our future wives, how we’d be each other’s best man. Oddly, Angelo seemed more interested in the best man. “Don’t you want to get married?” I asked. “Sure, I do,” he said, “But the best man’s job is better. He gets to drive the wedding car.”

We talked about what we planned to do. Together. But we mostly talked about the cars. The cool cars. The muscle cars.

Then, one summer day nearly fifty years ago, Angelo gave me the bad news. His family decided to move. To a different street. To a different school district. To a different town.

We were crestfallen. Together. Angelo felt so guilty that he was leaving me alone. I felt so empty that my best friend would no longer be there walking with me side-by-side each day to the school bus stop. He wouldn’t be there to play with during those lazy hazy days of summer.

At least I’d have one more year with Angelo. They were building a new home and it wasn’t going to be completed until the following summer.

But then the tables turned. Within months it would be my father telling me we would be moving. Not only to a different school district, but to a different city. And it would happen by Christmas.

Now it was my turn to feel guilty. I was leaving Angelo high and dry. At least for the few months before his family’s move.

But move we both did. We still visited each other, since Angelo’s father was the barber who cut my hair (and I refused to use any other barber). We still played together. We still complained together. We still dreamed together. We were still best friends.

Neither Angelo nor I viewed our moves favorably. It was an agonizing time for both of us. Made more agonizing by our dependency on others (i.e., our parents) to drive us from place to place.

It wasn’t long before we earned our driver’s licenses. Now unbound, we could meet at our own desire. We were still cities apart, but what’s sixty miles between best friends? And driving became all the more desirable when I bowed to my father’s excellent advice and bought a brand new 1983 Camaro Z-28. With T-Tops. Red, of course.

It was a new body style. Thanks to the then popular TV Magnum P.I., a lot of people confused it with a Ferrari. Its engine roared with power. Its thick Eagle sports tires beckoned the road ahead. It wasn’t the classic Ford Mustang we always longed for, but, with me at the wheel and Angelo riding shotgun, we had all the makings of the usual Hollywood buddy movie.

Except for the part where they peeled out in a puff of white smoke and the smell of burnt rubber. Angelo kept bugging me to do it, but those Goodyears were just too expensive to waste.

Then Angelo died. He was only twenty-four. I was only twenty-four. I didn’t know how to respond. I never imagined a future without Angelo. Dressed in a dark suit, I stood silent sentinel for his wake. Even the 305 cubic inch engine beneath the hood of my Camaro reduced its volume to a gentle, sympathetic purr as we drove in the funeral procession.

And when it was done, I knew there was only one thing left to do.

I took the Camaro back to Abbott Parkway. I first drove down the end of the street to my house. Then I slowly crept up the street, at a pace not too different than what I once walked as an elementary school kid.

When I got to Angelo’s old house I stopped and put the car in neutral.

I revved the engine in cycles. Each cycle peaked a little higher than the last. Think of the climax of that buddy movie. The tense music crescendos with the rumbling growl of the thundering engine. You’re on the edge of your seat.

Then, at peak RPM, I did something I vowed never to do. I popped it into gear and put the pedal to the metal. The intake valves flipped open. The rear wheels spun who knows how many times before they finally caught the pavement. Spewing white smoke and the acrid odor of toasted tire, I launched my red Z-28 through childhood’s end and into an unimagined future.

Does that make sense to you?

If it does, then you’ll enjoy Ford vs. Ferrari. It’s a throwback movie, and not just because it takes place a half century ago. This is a buddy movie featuring the close friendship of Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and Ken Miles (Christian Bale).

It is, quite literally, a man’s movie (the only prominent female role is Ken Miles wife, who doesn’t get much screen time). So, if you prefer movies that pay homage to woke culture, Ford vs. Ferrari is not for you.

But if you liked movies like The Right Stuff and The Blue Max, with a touch of The Godfather II, then you’ll feel right at home with Ford vs. Ferrari. In fact, the opening soliloquy of Ford vs. Ferrari mirrors The Right Stuff. This lets you know right from the beginning there’s something different about the men who design and test cars. Test drivers are just as heroic as test pilots (and astronauts).

In the film Shelby and Miles must not only take on each other (what’s a buddy movie without a good clean buddy brawl?) but also their external enemy (Enzo Ferrari) and their internal enemy (Henry Ford II). And let’s not forget they must master the machine before it masters them.

Anyone familiar with history will know a movie involving a test drive (or a test pilot) will feature both “the joy of victory and the agony of defeat.” In case you’re not old enough, that quote comes from the introduction of ABC’s Wild World of Sports, a weekend TV show every boy (and his dad) of the 1960s instantly recognizes.

Ford vs. Ferrari captures this Wild Word of Sports motive so well, you’d think you’re sitting on the couch nestled with your brother behind your resting father’s curled legs.

And when the end comes, as it always must, Carroll Shelby does the one thing he must do. In paying final homage, he drives his sports car to his best friend’s home, idles in neutral, revs the engine increasingly high, until he pops the clutch and burns rubber, leaving a puff of white smoke as he drives off into his new unimagined future.

Films don’t end any better than that.

Did that make sense to you?

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