Mille Miglia - The Ultimate Time Machine
Before we get to the sensory attack that is the Mille Miglia, here’s a spot of context to set the backdrop of this legendary road race...
The Mille Miglia was an event that ran on just 24 occasions, punctuated by the war the now legendary road races took place between the years 1927 and 1957, It was swiftly banned in 1957 with the death of 2 Ferrari Drivers Alfonso Marquis and Edmund Nelson in a crash that was thought to be the result of a tyre blow out that also tragically killed 13 spectators.
Today the Mille Miglia is a renactment of that incredible period and as opposed to the flat out road race format of the past, today’s Mille Miglia is structured around timed stages along the 1000 mile route throughout Italy.
The only cars allowed to take place in the annual race are marques created during the original Mille Miglia years of 1927-1957. Anyone who watches my YouTube channel regularly will know I come from the modern world of Supercars where I’m used to knowing all about the cars I’m looking at and said vehicles vernally operating with only minor hiccups. On the Mille Miglia however I had no idea what 90% of the cars I laid eyes on even were, especially the pre-war vehicles, I was so out of my depth!
The Mille Miglia is one of those events of such intensity that when your friends ask you “how was it” when you get back home, you either have to sit down for a few hours explaining every aspect in great detail to remotely begin to convey how special the event is or simply reply with “good thanks” and crack on with life relishing in your own memories one of the best few days you’ve ever had in your life!
Petrol, dirt, vibration, speed, heat, oil, sweat rain and for some even tears! Are but a few of the harsh ingredients that constitute the Mille Miglia’s emotional formula.
This year (2018) I drove the race with co-drivers Derek Hill and Guy Berryman in a 1954 Alfa Romeo 1900 Sport Spider, a tiny, roofless, light-weight Spider with a side exit exhaust that conveniently placed its outlets directly in-line with my left ear! The pops and bangs from the over run of the engine that shot out of the exhaust were akin to machine gun fire coming out of the 4 cylinder block. Needless to say each night we miraculously made it to our hotel for the evening the left side of my head felt like it had been isolated in a Metallica concert for 18 hours straight.
It is one sensory attack on top of another. The lack of roof opens your head up to the 30 degree Italian sunshine, a tiny “wind shield” kindly directs air directly into your face, making your forehead an impact zone for bugs and flies while the rubber on the souls of your feet simultaneously appear to melt as a result of the engine heat effectively turning the metal plated foot wells into ovens.
And while you may be reading this wondering why on earth would anyone want to engage in this torture, the truth be told…I loved every single mile!
The Mille Miglia is in effect the ultimate time machine designed to immerse you in the most realistic experience of what the drivers in 1927-1957 experienced, it was the race that separated the men from the boys, a gruelling circuit of endurance from Brescia in the north of Italy, down to Rome and returning full circle back up to Brescia again.
There are several other fundamental elements that add to the authenticity, namely the original and now insanely expensive cars surrounding you at every stage of the journey that are each highly true to period. It’s drivers too dress in period attire and if you have spent time in any sleepy Italian village you will know that they too are untouched, packed full of original character and timeless beauty.
The cumulative effect being the most realistic feeling of time travel I could imagine. For all purposes we could have been in the 50’s darting through Tuscany at full chat in our Alfa while a Mercedes 300SL is close on our tail, Cyprus trees rushing by, bugs hitting my in the face and the smell of oil and fuel thinly sloshing around my footwell. Good times.
Without doubt the primary element that really makes the Mille Miglia so special is the utter embrace of Italy, it’s super passionate inhabitants and the ultra accommodating police force that make the entire event tick with such emotion it brings a tear to your eye in every town and village you drive through.
Over the course of the 4 day rally, the Mille Miglia has an estimated 1 million spectators. At first I couldn’t wrap my head around how that was possible, but it soon unfolded that every singled road, town, community and destination of the Mille Miglia was flooded with the people of Italy celebrating this remarkable event.
It is clear the Mille Miglia is a part of Italy’s national heritage, kids leave school accompanied by teachers to view the rally pass through their town. Families set up picnics en route and local mayors welcome each individual participant to their district with announcements on loud speakers while grandmothers throw Parma ham and home made pasta into your car…seriously!
In short the Mille Miglia is unlike any car event I have ever attended and mostly due to the fact it is the entirety of central Italy that is celebrating it with you.
2018 was the 90th year of Alfa Romeo’s participation and by the grace of Italy the team managed place 1st 2nd and remarkably 3rd place over all. What an incredible outcome!
They say that once you have participated in this race of legends you will participate for life…
See you in 2019.