Mille Miglia (1927 - 1957)

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Austin Healey At Start Line Of Mille Miglia
An Austin Healey Leaves The Srart Line In The Last Mille Miglia
Throughout this site, we have often mentioned the once famous Italian race, the Mille Miglia - but since the last race was held in 1957 you could be forgiven for not knowing too much about it.

The Mille Miglia was a thousand mile open-road endurance race, held 13 times before the Second World War, then another eleven times until 1947. In its day it was a very prestigous event, going a long way to establishing the reputation of post war models to be manufactured by Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Maserati and even a few of the German marques, such as Mercedes and Porsche

The race was established by young Italian's Aymo Maggi and Franco Mazzotti after their home town of Brescia 'losing' the Italian Grand Prix to Monza. Together with a group of wealthy associates, they chose a race from Brescia to Rome and back, a figure-eight shaped course of roughly 1500 kilometers (although later races would follow twelve other routes, each having a slightly different length).

Much the same as a modern day rally, each car would be set off at one minute intervals, although unlike a handicap event the more powerful cars would set out before their smaller engined competitors, thereby minimising the risk to both driver and spectator with unnecessary overtaking. To make it easier for the spectators/commentators to work out who was coming where, each car was numbered according to its start time.

The innaugral race was held on the 26th March, 1927, with approximately 75 starters (all Italian). The winner completed the course in just under 21 hours 5 minutes, with local marque OM sweping the top three places. Tazio Nuvolari won the 1930 Mille Miglia in an Alfa Romeo. Having started after his team-mate and rival Achille Varz, Nuvolari was comfortably leading the race but was still behind Varzi (holder of provisional second position) on the road.

In the dim half light of early dawn Nuvolari tailed Varzi with his headlights off, thereby not being visible in the latters rear-view mirrors. He then overtook Varzi on the straight roads approaching the finish at Brescia, by pulling alongside and flicking his headlights on. The Italians continued to dominate their race after the war, now again on a single big lap through Italy. Mercedes made another good effort in 1952 with the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing, scoring second with the German crew Karl Kling/Hans Klenk that later in the year would win the Carrera Panamericana. Caracciola, in a comeback attempt, crashed.

Few other non-Italians managed podium finishes in the 1950s, among them Juan Manuel Fangio, Peter Collins and Wolfgang von Trips. From 1953 until 1957 the Mille Miglia was also a round of the World Sports Car championship. In 1955, Mercedes made another attempt at winning the Mille Miglia, this time with careful preparation and a more powerful car, the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR which was based on the Formula One car (Mercedes-Benz W196).

Hans Herrmann (who had a remarkable previous efforts with Porsche) as well as British driver Stirling Moss relied on the support of navigators, while Juan Manuel Fangio (car #658) preferred to drive alone, he considering road races dangerous since his co-pilot was killed in South America. Karl Kling also drove alone, in the fourth Mercedes, #701.

Similar to his teammates, Moss and his navigator, motor race journalist Denis Jenkinson, ran a total of six reconnaissance laps beforehand, enabling "Jenks" to make course notes (pace notes) on a scroll of paper 15 feet long that he read from and gave directions to Moss during the race by a coded system of hand signals.

Mille Miglia Race Results
OM 665 S Ferdinando Minoia
Giuseppe Morandi
Alfa Romeo 6C 1500 Sport Spider Zagato Guiseppe Campari
Giulio Ramponi
Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Sport Spider Zagato Guiseppe Campari
Giulio Ramponi
Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 GS spider Zagato Tazio Nuvolari
Battista Guidotti
Mercedes-Benz SSK Rudolf Caracciola
Wilhelm Sebastian
Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Spider Touring Baconin Borzacchini
Amedeo Bignami
Alfa Romeo 8C 2600 Monza Spider Brianza Tazio Nuvolari
Decimo Compagnoni
Alfa Romeo 2900 Tipo B Carlo Maria Pintacuda
Alessandro Della Stufa
Alfa Romeo 8C 2900A Antonio Brivio
Carlo Ongaro
Alfa Romeo 8C 2900A Carlo Maria Pintacuda
Paride Mambelli
Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Spider M.M. Touring Clemente Biondetti
Aldo Stefani
BMW 328 Berlinetta Touring Huschke von Hanstein
Walter Baumer
Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 B Berlinetta Touring Clemente Biondetti
Emilio Romano
Ferrari 166 S Coupe Allemano Clemente Biondetti
Giuseppe Navone
Ferrari 166 MM Barchetta Touring Clemente Biondetti
Ettore Salani
Ferrari 195 S Berlinetta Touring Giannino Marzotto
Marco Crosara
Ferrari 340 America Berlinetta Vignale Luigi Villoresi
Pasquale Cassani
Ferrari 250 S Berlinetta Vignale Giovanni Bracco
Alfonso Rolfo
Ferrari 340 M.M. Spider Vignale Giannino Marzotto
Marco Crosara
Lancia D24 Spider Alberto Ascari
Mercedes-Benz 300SLR Stirling Moss
Denis Jenkinson
Ferrari 290 MM Spider Scaglietti Eugenio Castellotti
Ferrari Piero Taruffi
Due to the war, there was no race in 1939, and 1941 thru 1946
Although this undoubtedly helped them, Moss's innate ability was clearly the predominant factor. Indeed, it should be noted that Moss was competing against drivers with a large amount of local knowledge of the route, so the reconnaissance laps were considered an equaliser, rather than an advantage.

Car #704 with Hans Herrmann and Hermann Eger was said to be fastest in the early stages, though. Herrmann already had a remarkable race in 1954, when the gate on a railroad crossing were lowered in the last moment before the fast train to Rome passed.

Driving a very low Porsche 550 Spyder, Herrmann decided it was too late for a brake attempt anyway, knocked on the back of the helmet of his navigator Herbert Linge to make him duck, and they barely passed below the gates and before the train, to the surprise of the spectators.

Herrmann was less lucky in 1955 as he had to abandon the race after a brake failure. Kling crashed also. After 10 hours, 7 minutes and 48 seconds Moss/Jenkinson arrived in Brescia in their Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR with the now famous #722, setting the event record at an average of 159,65 km/h which was fastest ever on this 1597km variant of the course, not to be beaten in the remaining two years.

Fangio arrived a few minutes later in the #658 car, but having started 24min earlier, it actually took him about 30 minutes longer. The race would end in tradgedy however, when in 1957 Alfonso de Portago, his co-driver and eleven spectators were killed in the village of Guidizzolo.

Speculation as to the cause of the crash abounded for many years, the most common theory being that one of the tyres on de Portago's car blew out.

The 1957 event proved to be the last. Peter Collins led the race for a spell, in a Ferrari, but rear axle trouble put him out, while the Moss/Jenkinson partnership lasted only a few miles before the brake pedal snapped off in their Maserati. With Collins's retirement, Piero Taruffi got into the lead and, despite a grumbling transmission, the car held together to give Taruffi his long-awaited victory.

Unfortunately, soon after Taruffi finished came the news that Count Alphonso 'Fon' de Porta go had crashed his Ferrari only thirty miles from the finish. A tyre had burst and the Ferrari had scythed into the crowd at maximum speed killing Portago, his navigator and nine spectators. The rising tide of public opinion soon forced the Government to prevent the race being held again.

This time Renzo Castagneto was obliged to give in, although a couple of regularity rallies were held in 1958 and 1959 with the title of Mille Miglia. Naturally these attracted little interest and the Mille Miglia was no more.

The organisers were naturally keen for the race to continue, and from 1958 to 1961 it resumed as a rallying type event, with only selected stages being run at high speed, but without the spectacle of drivers hammering their charges most quickly lost interest.

Further Reading: The Mille Miglia (USA Edition)
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