You don’t need to like cars. Or even know anything about them to truly enjoy the world’s most famous and most important race for historical race cars. The Italian Mille Miglia (pronounced MEE-leh MEE-lia). Just throw open the shuttered windows above the Piazza Della Vittoria on race day in downtown Brescia in Northern Italy. Feast your eyes on the museum in motion below. Reverberating exhaust pipes rip the morning air with a deafening roar as the le belle macchine (the beautiful cars) come to life.
Since 1927, the 1000 mile Mille Miglia from Brescia to the eternal city of Rome and back occurs every May. The race features 1927-1957 cars from at least 25 countries. It is a colorful parade that includes Italy’s sleek red Ferraris, voluptuous blue French Bugattis, elegant racing green Jaguars from Britain and slick, silver German Porsches. These moving sculptures will take anyone’s breath away, car-crazy or not.
The thunderous roar of motorcycles and flashing lights of the Carabinieri (Italian police) signals the beginning of the grueling two-day challenge. Many of these pre-1957 classic race cars have no tops or windscreens. Drivers are flagged off at one-minute intervals, outfitted in driving goggles, leather helmets, and rain gear. They careen off through the countryside with gusto, sometimes in drenching rain. Drivers become unrecognizable due to the mud caked on their faces.
Ripping The Rally
The rally course entails diverse terrain from the most dangerous Futa and Raticosa mountain passes to the low hills covered with vineyards and olive groves that surround Firenze (Florence), the cradle of the Renaissance and home to Michelangelo’s David. Then it’s on through Ravenna, the former Byzantine capital that offers the dazzling Christian and Byzantine mosaics on churches and monuments, rivaled only by those in Istanbul. The flashy caravan starts its return in the capital city of Roma (Rome) with the rally winding past baroque fountains, churches, and palaces that feature Medieval, Gothic and Rennaissance period architecture. The drivers then race on to Modena, home to the famous tenor, Pavarotti, and famous car makers: Ferrari, Maserati, Bugatti, Lamborghini and De Tomaso. The race ultimately goes through fifty towns in the Italian countryside, many of which have been the inspiration for artists, writers, and poets.
At each of the fifty towns on the course, cheering local dignitaries, townspeople of all ages, tourists and beauty queens line the streets showering the drivers with gifts unique to that area. Gifts include espresso, pastries, produce, flowers and champagne toasts. Even brown-robed priests are there to offer their blessings with a wave. With great zeal, the drivers race through the narrow, winding streets while affectionate fans wave hankies, palm leaves, and flowers to urge them on. No one loves sports cars like the Italians do, and during the Mille Miglia, everyone’s Italian.
Beauty Queen Qualifications
Participants’ cars are highly scrutinized by the selection committee. Preference is given to cars with a particular racing history and to those who have done the Mille Miglia in its earlier days. Cars must be original in their parts, authenticated and certified as such by race officials. The entry fee of $14,400 along with additional shipping and mechanic fees seems an inconsequential amount when you consider that few of these cars are worth less than $500,000 and many fetch multi-million dollar prices. Add up the values of about 450 entries and you have a remarkable, expensive parade, festival, show and competition.
Rally For The Rally
Now, the car-challenged might ask; what is a rally? A rally is not actually a race but a competitive run and a series of precise time trials over public roads under ordinary traffic rules. The objective is to maintain a specified average speed between thirty-four checkpoints. For example, one must drive 7.7 kilometers in ten minutes and sixteen seconds exactly. These magnificent machines slowly creep up to the checkpoint to get as close to the allotted time as possible and then with a deafening rumble of six cylinders, roar off to the next challenge. Every tenth of a second more or less than the fixed time is a penalty (reduction in points).
After thirty hours of punishment on the road with perhaps four hours of sleep, the bleary-eyed but jubilant drivers return to the Piazza Vittoria behind a police escort. They hear their names blared over the loudspeaker as boisterous crowds close in around them with congratulatory shouts. While the actual winner of the silver cup is the one with the most points, each arrival is victorious. They finished the 1,000 miles and they brought these irreplaceable works of art to life. The wild enthusiasm of the spectators is as important and enjoyable as the cars or the race. It has been said that Brescia has the rumble in its heart. After a trip to the Mille Miglia, so will you!