Reviewed: Feb 2021
The new movie Ford v Ferrari, starring Christian Bale and Matt Damon, dramatizes the true story behind one of the most famous car races of all time: the 1966 edition of 24 Hours of Le Mans. As the film’s title suggests, the endurance race was essentially a battle between the American and Italian automakers, and their cars: the Ford GT40 Mark II and Ferrari 330 P3.
In 1966, the three teams racing the Mk.II (Chris Amon and Bruce McLaren, Denny Hulme and Ken Miles, and Dick Hutcherson and Ronnie Bucknum) dominated Le Mans, taking European audiences by surprise and beating Ferrari to finish 1-2-3 in the standings. The Ford GT40 went on to win the race for the next three years.
The GT40 Mk.II used the 7.0-liter FE (427 ci) engine from the Ford Galaxie, used in NASCAR at the time and modified for road course use. The car's chassis was similar to the British-built Mk.I chassis, but it and other parts of the car had to be redesigned and modified by Shelby to accommodate the larger and heavier 427 engine. A new Kar Kraft-built four-speed gearbox replaced the ZF five-speed used in the Mk.I. This car is sometimes called the Ford Mk.II.
While the ‘66 Le Mans was a triumph for Ford, only three of its cars finished the race (albeit in first, second and third place). Five Mark IIs failed to finish, and none of the plain GT40s did, either. By the end of the 24-hour race, it became clear that one of the eight Ford GT40 Mark IIs was going to win.
In an effort to rub it in Ferrari’s face even more, Ford coordinated the three cars still running to cross the finish line simultaneously. This decision ultimately resulted in Ken Miles being denied first place due to a technicality with the official rankings coming in with Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon first (No. 2), Ken Miles and Denny Hulme second (No. 1) and Ronnie Bucknum and Dick Hutcherson third (No. 5). If Miles’s car had won, he would have been the winner of the ‘big three’ endurance races. Le Mans, Sebring, and Daytona. The McLaren/Amon car was around 8 metres behind Miles and Hulme’s car on the grid. Tragically Ken Miles died later that year during testing of the new Ford J-car.
Whilst the new Le Mans ’66 film brings the story of Ford vs Ferrari to the world of Hollywood but, despite being the victors, Ford itself hasn’t shone a light on the movie. Though Ford initially provided archive material to producers, it was not involved beyond this stage. The company made clear that the film had received “no official backing from Ford”.
“The Ford GT team’s triumph at Le Mans in ’66 was a proud moment in our history and we appreciate the interest in Ford’s racing heritage. It’s great that the movie is an entertaining throwback, sparking renewed interest in the history of Ford’s success at Le Mans, but of course we hope audiences realise that movies—even movies that are based on real events—often employ a bit of dramatic license.”
I'm not normally a car modeller, being far more at home with aircraft, but after I thoroughly enjoyed watching "Ford vs Ferrai", I was absolutely determined to find and build a model of the car that Ken Miles drove, in any scale. I did a bit of googling and found diecast models (no thanks) and a vague mention of a planned new kit from Meng of the exact car I wanted with the 1966 Le Mans colors and markings. At the time I did not pay much attention to the scale, instead parking the idea in the back of my mind and kept an eye out for more details.
Skip forward 6 months and Meng have now released their new kit and WOW, it's 1/12 scale. I've just finished watching "Ford v Ferrari" again and this time having the kit in my hot little hands I am keen to see what Meng has given us.
In the box (which is very large) Meng have provided 12 main sprues of different colors. Two black sprues, four grey/silver sprues, three white sprues and two "flexible" sprues containing all the hoses and cables. Several bags of screws, springs and metal rods are included and this gives us our first hint as to how this kit is engineered. Remembering that Meng has experience with "no-glue" kits (their 1:48 P-51D was designed this way), it's no surprise that this much larger 1/12 scale model will be designed to minimise the use of glue, preferring screws and force fit instead. Of course car models very much lend themselves to the "paint first, then assemble" approach which does not work so well for aircraft with all the seams that need sanding.
A small sheet of self adhesive "pre-cut" fabric is provided from which the belts of the drivers harness is assembled. The fabric material seems to have good scale finish to it and hopefully will bend and sit naturally on the seat. A nickel plated photoetch fret is included and contains the harness buckles, the radiator grill and rear engine compartment cooling grills. One thing I had not seen before on this PE fret was the lack of attachment points for the parts (so no need to cut them out). All the parts are held in place by a backing sheet and you just peel them off. So easy !!
Meng provide marking options for both of the "Shelby American" GT40 Mk.II cars which ran in the 1966 Le Mans. These are of course cars 1 and 2 which finished second and first respectively. All the paint callouts are annoyingly only provided using Meng's own (in partnership with AK) MC range and Gunze Acrysion, which is a range I had to Google as I had never heard of it. I believe both these range of paints are water based and less toxic than other options.
The last noteworthy inclusion is a pre-cut mask for all the major clear parts (windscreen, windows, headlights etc). My only potential concern here is the adhesive that Meng may have used on the masks. I have had poor experiences with manufacturer supplied masks in the past with overly agressive adhesives that leave residue and cause a mess. I will be wary of this as I continue the build.
Each of the major components of the car are provided in white plastic which has a very smooth gloss finish. Some light seam marks are present on the outer body shells which I cleaned up with some 3mm flexible sanding pads from Godhand, perfect for the job. The main chassis and interior body are the biggest single pieces in the kit and they feel very sturdy with no obvious flex or warping. Each and every part (large or small) is designed to click fit using friction grip and when necessary screws. None of the parts or subassemblies you see in this review had any glue applied, although I will make use of glue along the way once I move further into the build.
The rear "hood" which covers the engine is designed (just like the real thing) to pivot backwards on hinges. I was a little concerned on how the parts would align on such a big model but I need to not have worried as it all fitted like a glove. The gaps where doors and covers on the model joined looked completely scale accurate compared to photos of the real car. You will notice I have already started adding some extra fastener detail on the inside of the engine cover as Meng decided to leave these off.
An overall photo of the main components assembled (without glue remember). The side doors are workable as is the trunk and hood. These features do not feel flimsy or toy like, rather precision engineered reproductions of the real car.
After trying and failing to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its GT40 race cars in 1964 and 1965, Ford decided it needed a more powerful weapon for the 1966 event: enter the famous 427-cubic-inch big-block race engine, which replaced the highly stressed 289. This engine made as much as 485 horsepower, depending on how it was tuned. A change in racing regulations in 1968 led to a reduction in maximum engine capacity to 5.0 liters.
Comparing the Meng engine, transmission and so called "Bundle of Snakes" exhaust tubing to photos of the real thing I feel they have done an excellent job capturing the details. Much piping and hoses need to be added to the engine before it will be fitted to the chassis but even at this first look stage you can see the beauty of the beast.
Chris Amon was quoted as saying, "The interior of the GT40 was quite comfortable, as much as a race car can be, compared to other race cars I have driven”. One important item for driver comfort (especially during a race like the 24 hr Le Mans) is of course the seat. The GT40 had contoured racing seats which had distinctive ventilation holes (using metal eyelets) on the back and base.
Meng have reproduced the look (and feel) of the cloth seats by using flexible rubber parts (it feels and flexs much like the material used in the tires). The molded-in crease and fold marks on the fabric is very convincingly done and those metal eyelets are cleverly handled using plastic inserts so you can paint the separately and then simply push them in from the back.
The dashboard in racing cars tend to be fairly simple compared to todays family sedan. Toggle switches were big and clunky (all the better for a driver wearing gloves to use) and only the absolute minimum of instrument dials needed by the driver were included. A quick comparison of the Meng parts to the real car shows a very good match. You can see Meng have used chrome plated parts for the switches and instrument bezels, which works ok but its not a finish I personally like and will be over painting them.
Five wheels and rubber tires are included in the kit (yes, they carried a spare as required by the Le Mans rules). The hubs are a push fit into the flexible rubber tires and fit very snugly with no gaps or bumps. The tread looks to be accurate based on photos I have of the real car and I plan to try and rough up the driving surface a little with some wet n dry sandpaper. As I mentioned earlier I am not confident as to how the "Goodyear" lettering decals will work on the rubber sidewalls but I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.
I've mentioned a couple of times that the fit of the major parts is exceptionally good. Here you can see an example with the door mounted and closed. Remember the doors are operable (they open and close on a hinge) and I was impressed that Meng could achieve this level of precision in a plastic model. You can also see that the clear parts (some, like the windscreen, which are very large) are crystal clear with no distortions at all.
Speaking of the doors, Meng has taken the time to design a clever spring loaded latch mechanism which ensures that when the door is closed it stays in position until you apply the smallest outward pressure to open it. This to me did not seem toy like as it works exactly as designed and solves a problem that otherwise would spoil the look of your model.
The last section of the car I had a quick look at was the front "trunk". The radiator takes up much of the space here as does the undersized "spare" tire. Photoetch is provided for the front section of the radiator grill.
So far I've spent about a week in the evenings preparing each of the models subassemblies for paint, adding bits and pieces of detailing as I feel the need.
Luckily there seems to be adequate reference material for GT40's on the net to allow me to verify Mengs instructions, especially when it comes to colors. I have to say that so far, from what I have seen, they have been mostly on the money, which makes me feel like they have done their homework. As I said at the start, I'm no car expert but I can compare what I see on a model to the real thing.
This is just as well, because the GT40 seems to be kind of like the P-51 Mustang of car models. That is to say, it is much loved and deserves to be done right, especially in a large scale like 1/12.
I'm pretty keen to carry on with the build and will most likely finish my model as it was on race day back in 1966, complete with road grime, bangs and scratches etc. After-all it's a race car, not a show pony.
Many thanks to Meng for the review kit