Mille Miglia 2018: countless reasons to fall in love

Enzo Ferrari called it “the most beautiful race in the world”. Well, the Mille Miglia may not be a race anymore, but it remains one of the key events on the classic car world calendar, if not the most magical and prestigious of all. It is certainly a great excuse for a wonderful road trip around Italy. It is hard to know where to begin in trying to convey exactly why the Mille Miglia is so well loved, both by participants and spectators (the latter regularly turning out in their millions along the route to watch the convoy pass by), because the there are countless reasons, all equally important. First of all, this is an event created to a unique recipe that would be hard to replicate elsewhere, and whose main ingredients are history, locations, people and true passion. The Mille Miglia is a symbol of Italian excellence, and it allows you to discover a number of secluded and little known parts of Italy, yet also to bask in the warmth of the event’s numerous supporters and their passion for “motori” (engines), which they love to hear screaming by!

A unique view on the Mille Miglia

Mille Miglia (a thousand miles) corresponds to around 1600 kilometers, and the drive, entirely in Italy, takes participants through all kinds of settings: charming villages, beautiful cities and some incredible scenery. Nowadays downtown districts in Italian towns and cities are usually “car-free”, with the old parts of even the smallest towns tending to be off limits for cars. What this means for regular visitors, of course, is that they have to have to fight for a parking lot and then make their way into the center on foot in order to admire a town’s historical center. But for the cars taking part in the Mille Miglia, this restriction was lifted, a real privilege that the entrants were already able to appreciate very early on in the event. What is more, the cathedrals of Orvieto and Arezzo provide a fantastic backdrop for the classic cars parading in front of them, enhancing their beauty; in actual fact, the cars and the monuments set each other off to perfection, creating some great photo opportunities. A true win-win-win situation!

Orvieto “parking lot”

Built between the XIV and XVI centuries, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in Orvieto, Umbria, is one of the world’s most amazing examples of Gothic architecture. This year, for the first time in a couple of decades, the Mille Miglia route once again included a stretch through this town, and thus allowed the cars to drive past this remarkable piece of architecture. I say “drive past” but that’s not strictly true, as almost all the participants decided to stop in front of it to take pictures, including some featuring their cars. In some cases, this resulted in quite chaotic traffic jams! One of the “stoppers” was  Gorden Wagoner, currently chief stylist at Mercedes-Benz and also one of today’s most renowned car artists. He abruptly stopped his red 300 SL in order to take a picture and the stunned expression on his face as he looked around is the image that, more than any other, I will take away with me from this year’s Mille Miglia.

The rain

You may well think that 1600 kilometers in four days is a lot to ask of a classic car,  but in actual fact this is only part of the story. Indeed, some of them were also driven through the night, and this year there was also quite a lot of rain to contend with. The 2018 “prize” for the wettest section of the route goes to Ferrara, where a good 30 minutes of heavy rain, just after sunset, left the teams in open cars soaked through. More than one old engine felt the effects of this, and some of the entrants seemed a little downcast, but nobody complained too much. Collector Clive Beecham gave everyone a lesson in pure British aplomb: we spotted him in the heavy rain, at the wheel of his Ferrari 166 MM Barchetta Touring, smiling away. Perhaps his car’s credentials have something to do with this: a Villa d’Este Concours winner in amazing condition, it is the very first Ferrari that Gianni Agnelli bought himself (in 1950).

The organizer

Alberto Piantoni is the man behind the Mille Miglia: he is the CEO of 1000 Miglia srl, the company that organizes the event. “The MM is a real challenge,” he tells us “because we have to manage 450 classic cars, 100 Ferrari Tribute cars and 30 Mercedes Challenge cars traveling on open roads over a large portion of Italy. Luckily we have a great team, as well as the support of about 4000 volunteers. When the event comes to an end, and everything has gone off without a hitch, we all breathe a huge sigh of relief! The new challenges today concern the development of the Mille Miglia, in other words, its transformation into a brand. Indeed, as well as staging this important event in Italy, we also want to export its format, that of a “Traveling Collection”, in the sense that that the cars taking part are usually museum pieces or modern supercars. One of the most attractive features of the historic Mille Miglia is that it is an event designed to showcase cars that are usually “caged” and not driven on roads. Drawing on the experience we have accumulated, we would really love to recreate this spirit abroad. The present Mille Miglia, which has 450 cars at the start, is too big, and we are planning to scale it down to 350. At the same time, using the other historical brand we own, the Coppa delle Alpi, we plan to give other cars and collectors the opportunity of experiencing something very special too.”

The most beautiful car(s)

Which car you did you like the best? This is the question everyone asks and is asked. As always, it is an impossible question to answer, simply because the choice is so vast, and so many deserve to be picked out as the number one. I personally considered the 1929 Mercedes-Benz SSK belonging to the Louwman family to be the most deserving, as it is boasts an amazing, thoroughly studied history and is totally preserved — a unique symbol of pre-war style.

I have to admit, however, that if the sound of the engine had been my main criterion, I would certainly have picked the 1936 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 “Botticella” owned by Frans Van Haren. Fritz Kaiser especially liked the 1955 Ferrari 750 Monza Spider Scaglietti, while Corrado Lopresto picked out “a small barchetta, with the front lights engraved into the front grille. It was wonderful to look at, most likely a Siata or an Ermini, but I can’t be more precise because I only saw it for a few kilometers in my rearview mirror.”

The Classic Car Trust team

Our 2018 Mille Miglia team comprised two cars. One of them, a 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder RS 1500, was driven by our boss Fritz Kaiser, partnered by his son Benedikt. “It’s a really fast little bastard” he commented, and “it allowed us to do very well on the first two days, at the end of which we were high up in the ranking. But being totally open, and offering no form of protection against the elements, things got more difficult when it started to rain, but that was all part of the adventure and part of the challenge. Unfortunately, on day three, after driving the most beautiful part of the route, from Rome to Radicofani, the engine let us down, and we had to withdraw”.

The other TCCT team was Corrado Lopresto, partnered by his son Duccio, in their 1931 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Grand Sport Aprile, a splendid one-off that in recent years has won Best in Show in many of the most important car shows around the world. “It was a risky decision to use a 100 point car in the MM, because we knew that the long journey would be bound to leave its mark on the car. But in the end, we were delighted to discover that the car is even more beautiful and appealing when dirty than when clean!

© Julien Mahiels

Unfortunately due to the heavy rain in Ferrara, one of the seals from the kompressor to the engine came loose, creating an oil leak. The engine continued running well, but every time the kompressor was engaged, we gave off a rather visible cloud of smoke. We felt very sorry for the car behind us, but there was nothing we could do on the spot. However, despite this, the car continued faultlessly until the end, even though the brakes and clutch will definitely need a good overhaul.” After all, there has to be a price to pay for the privilege of driving a one-off in the world’s most challenging road event for classic cars!

All pictures courtesy of the author except header photo and otherwise mentioned.

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