Telling the story of Ford's attempt to trump Ferrari at Le Mans is easy; it's well known and tailored to car enthusiasts. A.J. Baime's Go Like Hell so exceeds expectations you should skip this review and buy a copy.
The background has been told a million times, but it starts with Enzo Ferrari essentially using Henry Ford II to prop up Ferrari's public sentiment and improve its bargaining position with Fiat. This leads to Ford's new mission: beat Ferrari. Merely telling the story of what happened next could make for a passable book, but Baime enriches the chronology with such detail and context it's an enriching experience.
It's awkward writing this, but Go Like Hell is probably most similar to Michael Chernov's award winning Berlin Airlift book Candy Bombers. And not because they share similar stories of American ingenuity, spirit, and ultimately triumph. Both books build incredible empathy for characters, real people, the reader only thinks they know from history.
Important figures like Johns Surtees, Phil Hill, Carroll Shelby and Enzo Ferrari are filled out so considerately it's almost as if any knowledge of them is unnecessary. It also highlights the crucial and mostly forgotten role test driver/racer Ken Miles played in the success and controversial 1966 Le Mans finish. There's no boring extended biography or imagined detail. It's just the facts. The right facts.
And it's a fucking good read, too.
The writing sometimes leans towards sensational, with sentences like "The revolution was being televised. Spectacular crashes, the thrill of the chase — cameras mainlined speed into the nation's living rooms." But Baime read a lot of sports writing from the era as research and the occasionally purple prose heightens the drama and gives these four-decade old events the urgency of contemporary events.
The tagline for the book is "Ford, Ferrari, and their battle for speed and glory at Le Mans." We're guessing "and their deadly, intense, part-spewing, battle for speed and glory and European domination and history and Italian women" didn't fit.
It belongs on any car guy's shelf next to the Haynes manual and coffee can full of bolts and washers.
The author provided us with a copy of this book for the review. We're not giving it back.