A Thousand Miles

It is, of course, not a thousand miles but a thousand Roman miles, which equal about one thousand six hundred kilometres, starting from Brescia in Northern Italy and going to Rome and back in a figure-of-eight-course.

It is also not the original race, which was founded in 1927 by Count Aymo Maggi and Franco Mazzotti and ran until 1957, with an interruption due to WWII between 1941 and 1946.

The original Mille Miglia was an endurance race open to all drivers and cars, the slower ones starting rather earlier than the faster ones (as still happens today). The Mille Miglia was also the race which introduced Ferrari to the world (its first win in 1948) and was largely won by Italians, except for 1931 (Mercedes-Benz) and 1940 (BMW) by Germany and, most famously, in 1955 by the great Stirling Moss and Navigator Denis Jenkinson driving a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR (“Sport Leicht Rennen”) with an average speed of 157.65 km/h (97.96 mph) over 1,600 kilometres (990 miles).

Despite the 300 SLR being in the worst sports car accident ever involving spectators (82 dead plus the driver at 1955’s 24-hour Le Mans) Stirling Moss, still hale and hearty at age 84, regards it as “the greatest sports racing car ever built- really an unbelievable machine.”

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Unfortunately, two fatal accidents involving the public (among which five children were killed) finished the original race off in 1957. Happily, however, the race was revived in 1977 as the Mille Miglia Storica, but now open only to pre-1957 cars and taking several days to complete the course. Health and safety had reached a compromise, thankfully.

Having faint recollections of the original Mille Miglia as a child I could not miss the opportunity to enjoy seeing the great sports car names of the past and present parade into the walled city of Lucca and then drive on top of its walls yesterday afternoon.

By the Antico caffé delle Mura there was an interesting exhibition of cars dating back to the twenties and including such classics as the Fiat Balilla, the Alfa Romeo Giulia and Giulietta and even a “Topolino”.

Gosh – how I still miss those cars with a sexy double front seat with gear change on the steering column such as my dad use to drive (Ford Consul etc.)

I took a position on the bend before Lucca’s main gate and was pleased to note that we were not being pushed back by security guards (as might have happened in the UK) but were able to take some nice pics instead.

It was a little time before the race cars arrived. Outside Porta San Pietro a group of mediaeval drummers welcomed in the vintage cars:

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 Scheduled from 3 PM onwards, the first Ferraris arrived closer to 4.00. It was a magnificent start to the proceedings of the race which this year included over four hundred vintage cars. I had never seen so many Cavallini Neri and Bianchi together. The parps some of them let off as they took the bend before descending to Porta San Pietro was music to my ears.

The Mercs followed, including one reputed to have been Germany’s newly voted chancellor for 1933 staff car. Aston Martins, legendary Bugattis (a 1927 Bugatti from Argentina won the race last year – although the victors have tended to remain from Italy), Alfa Romeos, BMWs. MGs and Maserati all followed in succession.

I could wish no more wonderful sight on this fresh, sunny mid-May afternoon than to wallow in the spectacle of these beautiful works of art (for that is what a fine car is – a timeless sculpture that encapsulates the best of engineering with the best of aesthetics) driving along the tree-lined avenues that crown enchanted Lucca’s walls.

Truly, “dull would he be of soul who could pass by a sight so touching in its majesty.”

 

 

PS If you want to see these cars through the streets of Florence click on

http://bagnidilucca.wordpress.com/2011/05/16/the-mille-miglia-in-the-streets-of-florence/#comment-40479

for Debra Kolkka’s post on the race

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “A Thousand Miles

  1. Great post. That must have been some sight. I can almost hear the engines and smell the heady mix of leather and petrol that only a classic car exudes. I must admit though, there was one occasion when a car race stopped us from reaching our destination in the San Cassiano area. A couple of years ago we were driving through Switzerland en route to Bagni when I got a phone call from a lady in Bagni to inform me that we could’nt access the road from Bagni up to San Cassiano because a car race was being held and the roads were closed as they would be used by the competitors (it was late July). So we had to continue our journey and stay overnight in a lovely Italian hotel before arriving the next day at our destination. Oh what a hardship that was!

    • Yes – these local rallies can be a bit of a headache!! We can’t get out ourselves. I’ll let you know when the next one is – probably in September.

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