This race was held only 24 times, between 1927 and 1957, and it was one of the most beautiful races in history. The competitors would drive 1.000 miles from Brescia to Rome and back, feeling the ultimate adrenaline rush in their hearts while driving through some of the most beautiful places of the Italian Peninsula.
Every year, up to 5 million spectators gathered around to witness many incredible cars attacking incredible roads.
Ferraris, Maseratis, Mercs, BMWs, Alfa Romeos, Lancias, Porsches...all of these names appeared on this race trying to prove who is better.
The Mille Miglia was an idea of 4 mad men: Count Aymo Maggi, Count Franco Mazzotti, motoring journalist Giovanni Canestrini and sports manager Renzo Castagneto. The reason they started this is because the Italian GP was moved from their hometown Brescia to Monza. So, they gathered some of their wealthy associates to race from Brescia to Rome and back. The length of the course was around 1.500 km (which is equal to 1.000 Roman miles).
The first race was held on 26th March 1927 with 77 cars on the grid. The entrance was only for unmodified production cars, and the first winner was Giuseppe Morandi. With his 2.0-litre OM 665 Superba SS, he finished the race in just 21 hours and 4 minutes, averaging around 77 km/h.
During the race, the cars with less powerful engines would start first, followed by more powerful cars (all went in a 1-minute interval between). This resulted in minimizing the time that roads had to be closed. In 1949, a new rule was issued, stating that cars should be numbered by the time they leave Brescia (for example, Stirling Moss' Mercedes left Brescia at 7:22 am, giving it the number 722).
Apart from Moss, one of the most prominent drivers was Tazio Nuvolari, who won the 1930 Mille Miglia with his Alfa Romeo 6C. He started the race after his teammate Achille Varzi, and he was getting really close to him by the end of the race. When approaching the final section of the stage, Nuvolari turned his headlights off, making him invisible in Varzi's rear-view mirror. Nuvolari overtook his teammate on a straight part just a few miles from the finish line, and won the race thanks to his tactic.
Since then, this incredible race started to attract more and more people, and since cars were becoming faster (some of them had top speeds of 260 km/h), the race became very dangerous. In 1938, the race was stopped by Benito Mussolini due to an accident that took lives of several spectators. When the race continued in 1940, it was named Grand Prix of Brescia, and was held on a 100 km stage that had to be lapped 9 times.
After the WWII, the race was once again dubbed as Mille Miglia, and the stage went back to its former shape. Between 1947 and 1954, Italian manufacturers were simply dominating the race, and winners were either Alfa Romeos, Ferraris or Lancias. But, in 1955, Mercedes decided to try to win the race with the famous 300 SLR and Stirling Moss behind the wheel. The car was based on another iconic machine-the Mercedes-Benz W196 Formula One car.
It took Moss 10 hours, 7 minutes and 48 seconds to complete the stage with his #722 SLR. He even set the record for the highest average speed recorded on this stage (157.65 km/h), which hasn't been broken.
In 1957, the very last Mille Miglia was held. Due to two horrific crashes, the race was banned forever. The first crash happened near the village of Guidizzolo, when a Ferrari 335 S went off the road and into the crowd. The crash took nine lives, and five of them were children. The driver Alfonso de Portago and his co-driver Edmund Nelson also lost their lives in this crash. Apparently, Portago waited too long to make a tire change and, at one point, a tire exploded which caused him to lose control.
The seconds crash took place near Florence, when Joseph Göttgens lost control of his Triumph TR3 and crashed into a barrier. From 1927 to 1957, the Mille Miglia race claimed 56 lives.
Between 1958 and 1961, the event continued as a rally-styled road trip at legal speeds, but that was also cancelled. But, in 1977, the event was resurrected as Mille Miglia Storica, and in 1986, the race took a new shape and became a 4-day rally trip of car pornography. Now, basically a parade of pre-1957 cars, the Mille Miglia is a must-see event for all petrolheads.
Some interesting details:
- the most successful manufacturer at Mille Miglia was Alfa Romeo (11 victories in total)
- the most successful driver was Clemente Biondetti with 4 victories in: Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 B Spider MM Touring (1938), Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 B Berlinetta Touring (1947), Ferrari 166 S Coupé Allemano (1948), Ferrari 166 MM Barchetta Touring (1949)