Featured: Reviving A 112-Year-Old Rally Through Italy: The Coppa Milano-Sanremo

Reviving A 112-Year-Old Rally Through Italy: The Coppa Milano-Sanremo

Alex Sobran By Alex Sobran
March 28, 2018
2 comments

Photography by Rosario Liberti

If you like the idea of driving old red cars through towns and cities whose street signs invariably end in vowels, the Coppa Milano-Sanremo delivers the experience in full. We’ve reached that time of the year when historic road rallies and regularity races start to spoil us for choice each weekend, and while there’s a good deal of homogeny to be found in comparing them a few still stand above.

This event, like so many others that crop up each year, is a modern tribute to the original competition bearing the name. However, unlike so many others, it can trace its history all the way back to 1906. That means it shared its inaugural year with the Targa Florio and few others, with both races predating the Mille Miglia by two decades. Point being, the automobile was still very much a nascent thing at the beginning of the 20th century, and motorsport even more so. To race 112 years ago was to pioneer.

This Italian open-road competition was originally born as an “intrepid expedition” to allow eager gentleman drivers the opportunity to pit their metal and mettle against one another, and by the 1930s it had achieved quite a bit of gravity, attracting an international pool of entrants that steadily grew in size until the world decided to have a sequel to its first big fight and the race was put on pause until 1948. The Milano-Sanremo endured for a few more decades afterwards, drawing an increased number of spectators to northwestern Italy to catch a glimpse of the procession of sports cars threading its way through quaint villages and across uninhabited stretches of Lombardy countryside, and it continued to host a roster of competitors from all over the continent.

Today, the route echoes much of the original path taken to the coastal city of Sanremo from Milan (though it never perfectly retraced itself even in period), and it’s now run as a time-speed-distance event rather than an outright race decided by the clock alone. That had all come to an end in 1973 with the oil crisis doing a great job of making motorsport look like a bad idea, and the race was effectively defunct until its first revival in 2003. It was then that it was reformatted to become a historic tribute, which went on to run for nine years until it became dormant once more in 2011. Thanks to a group of Milanese enthusiasts though, last weekend marked its 10th iteration after years of silence.

Our good friend Rosario Liberti tagged along for the 600-kilometer road rally, and the set of photos he came away with are the type to make one feel more than a few pangs of longing for coach-built aluminum bodies set against backdrops stolen from the very best stereotypes of the country.

Skirting seaside promontories and crumbling churches perched nearby, the route also saw banks of snow, the legendary Autodromo Nazionale Monza, and of course the fashionable city streets of Milan. Technical and other pre-race inspections took place on the hallowed circuit followed by a few laps on the modern F1 layout, and the procession then made its way through the city of Monza to the center of Milan where the open-road experience began in proper.

Automotive highlights from the entry list—open to historically certified cars built between 1906 and 1973—included a 1953 Maserati A6GCS, a 1960 Aston Martin DB4, a 1954 OSCA MT4 1100 Sport, a 1964 Alfa Romeo Giulia TZ, a 1957 AC Ace-Bristol, and a 1951 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 SS Villa d’Este, among others. All told, around 70 cars participated in the Coppa Milano-Sanremo in 2018, and we hope the latest renewal of this 112-year-old event will mean more to come.   

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What’s that light blue Alfa?