Travel: What Can a Spectator See at the Mille Miglia?

What Can a Spectator See at the Mille Miglia?

By Robert Little
May 13, 2015

Now an event for classic car enthusiasts, the Mille Miglia has morphed from a dangerous road race into an unforgettable Italian spectacle.This is our reader Robert Little’s account of last year’s event—we hope it gives you a sense for why the Mille Miglia should be on your bucket list.

Photography by Robert Little & Julian Mahiels

If all 435 teams had driven on public roads the way they collectively drove in the Mille Miglia—racing past hundreds of stop signs, traffic lights, ignoring speed limits, and no passing zone warnings, all while under the watchful guidance, leadership, and high-speed supervision of the Italian Road Police outfitted in blazing blue and white BMW motorcycles with flashing blue lights—there’s no doubt serious fines and, probably, jail time would have been in order.

Now, I don’t want you to gain an inaccurate impression about why we all flock to Brescia, Italy once a year for the Mille Miglia or what the event actually represents, but let’s face it: the Mille Miglia is the last place on earth where speed and traffic laws are not enforced by the officials sponsoring or policing entrants of the event.

In period, Enzo Ferrari called it: “The most beautiful road course on earth.” If he was alive today, he might well have added: “…that’s permitted to exist.”

From the standpoint of Alfa Romeo enthusiasm, there was much to see and appreciate.

The race week started out inside the cavernous Brescia Fairgrounds indoor staging area, where technical checks, authenticity inspections, police review of driver’s licenses and insurance documents—not to mention scrutineering—was conducted over a three day period.

Each driver team and automobile passed through this procedure one at a time for photography of vehicle identification numbers, chassis number verification, application of race numbers and distribution of road books.

On the day of departure, all of the participating cars were transferred to the Piazza della Vittoria in downtown Brescia for the mandatory completion of the technical checks and for the all-important “Sealing Ceremony” where the cars’ steering wheels and steering columns are sealed with a lead and wire authenticity locket, and the ritual of the punzonatura, the punching of all the competitors’ cards, all the time with their vehicles immersed in the crowds of fans, onlookers, and media.

The departure of the first car from downtown Brescia was at 6:00 pm with each team facing a meandering five hour drive to the mountains north of Venice before heading south to Padova for the night. As is the tradition, the first cars released from the starting ramp were nine O.M. vehicles of 1927–1930 vintage, because O.M. was the make of car that won the first Mille Miglia in 1927.

The high speed driving excitement started at that point and did not subside until Sunday afternoon with the arrival of the cars back to the city center of Brescia: 1100 miles and a collective 17 hours of sleep later. Only on the evening of Friday had a period of rain and lightning occurred in the general area of southern L’Aquila. The rest of the event was filled with sunshine, moonlit nights and warm ambient temperatures.

Sunscreen was advised.

The American Alfa Romeo Owners Club was represented at the Mille Miglia for the third year in four by the writer and this time by Alfa Romeo ‘newbie’ Steve Jain, who is in the process of restoring his recently-acquired GTV 1750. 

We followed in a 1983 Alfa Romeo Spider ‘Aerodinamico’, a Weber-equipped 1600, rented by me for the third year from SlowDrive.It in nearby Lake Garda and sponsored by well-known, the international Alfa parts specialist from the UK.

Our Spider ran flawlessly despite unrelenting wide-open throttling of those DCOE40’s, hard braking and the relentless chasing of some of the most fantastic and historic automobiles ever created by the world’s great marques.

In most cases it was all we could do to barely keep up with them! It was indeed a thrill to see, hear and smell these museum cars unleashed once a year as they roar to the thrill of millions lining the circuit.

All in all it took about 46 hours of driving time for us to navigate the 1100 mile course, including a monumental (read: dead stop for nearly one hour) traffic jam in Pisa, veering off the course being lost several times, and the time we took to pull over and enjoy photographing the event itself.

Lunch and dinner was served at approximately 50 miles per hour.

This was the first year where an extra 100 miles was added to the official route to allow several Italian geographically-isolated communities who had never previously hosted the travelling Mille Miglia circus of: 

• 435 entrants

• 90 support vehicles

• 8 pathfinders

• 7 pace cars

• 4 official press cars

• 4 medical cars

• 6 route support vehicles

• 4 staff/competitor liaison vehicles

• 14 official marshal cars

• 2 street sweepers

• 2 official video cars

…not to mention the: 

• 1500 accredited media personnel

• A helicopter filming the team of Jay Leno and Jaguar Design Chief Ian Callum driving their 1951 Jaguar “Ecurie Ecosse” XK 120

• Dozens of Alfa Romeo police cars

• A virtual swarm of daredevil, “Evel Knievel”-like policemen on motorcycles leading our way

• …and the 300 or so Ferrari tribute cars who blasted through the course as a lead-in act to the main attraction!!

Quite a spectacle to say the least!

The most exciting single car from our standpoint was the 1921 G1 Alfa Romeo 6-cylinder 6,330-cc roadster owned by Tony Shooshani of Los Angeles and London—the only surviving one of 52 cars originally built by A.L.F.A. as Nicolo Romeo began taking control of the company and began series production after World War I.

The original G1s were built for competitive use for the Australian continent and represented the beginning of the rich racing heritage we all enjoy talking about, and was the first all-new post-war design from Alfa Romeo after the end of the A.L.F.A. brand.

Giuseppe Merosi designed this car from his home, updating the prewar 24 HP into this new luxury G1. The new engine produced 70 bhp and achieved a top speed of 86 mph. Gasoline prices were rising and it was found to be impossible to sell a car with such a big engine in Italy, so total production was halted after only 52 copies.

Shooshani’s G1 is the oldest surviving and racing Alfa Romeo-branded car in existence, and was last seen hitting all of the high notes of the Mille Miglia circuit at top speed!

For us, the event ended well, reaching the city limits of Brescia on time at noon behind a coughing and sputtering Bentley 4.5-liter that promptly ran out of gas after crossing the finish line.

The Mille Miglia should appear on your personal “bucket list” as one of the most utterly fantastic events you can ever, as an automobile enthusiast, experience. Ever.

You can start out as I did, renting a car and simply becoming one of the acknowledged 600 or so “followers” who happen to blend in and drive the same public roads at the same time that the Mille Miglia is run—one of the most legal and yet thrilling things you can ever do. 

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Jessica Retuerto
Jessica Retuerto
8 years ago

I am interested in experiencing the Mille Miglia 2016. Is it really that easy to rent a car and join in on the race for next year?

Samir Shirazi
9 years ago

I wanna participate with any cars with a free passengers seat,If there is any! I live in Italy.

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