The Mille Miglia (Thousand Miles) was an open-road endurance race which took place in Italy twenty-four times from 1927 to 1957 (thirteen before the war, eleven from 1947).
Like the older Targa Florio and later the Carrera Panamericana, the MM made Gran Turismo
(Grand Touring) sports cars like Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Maserati and Porsche famous.
Unlike modern day rallying where cars are released at one minute intervals with the larger professional class cars going before the slower cars, in the Mille Miglia the smaller displacement slower cars started first. This made organisation simpler as marshalls did not have to be on duty for as long a period and it minimised the period that roads had to be closed. Cars were assigned numbers according to their start time. For example, the 1955 Moss/Jenkinson car, #722, left Brescia at 7:22 a.m. (see below), while the first cars had started at 9 p.m. the previous day. In the early days of the race even winners needed 16 hours or more, so most competitors had to start before midnight and arrived after dusk - if at all.
Before the war
Alfa Romeo 6C 2300B Mille Miglia Spider, 1938The race was established by the young Contes Aymo Maggi and Franco Mazzotti, apparently in response to their home town of Brescia 'losing' the Italian Grand Prix to Monza. Together with a group of wealthy associates, they chose a race from Brescia to Rome and back, a figure-eight shaped course of roughly 1500 km - or a thousand Roman miles. Later races followed twelve other routes with varying total lengths.
The first race started on 26 March 1927 with seventy-seven starters - all Italian - of which fifty-one had reached the finishing post at Brescia by the end of the race. The first Mille Miglia covered 1,618 km, corresponding to just over 1,005 modern miles. Entry was strictly restricted to unmodified production cars, and the entrance fee was set at the nominal level of 1 lira. The winner, Giuseppe Morandi, completed the course in just under 21 hours 5 minutes, averaging nearly 78 km/h (48 mph) in his 2-litre OM; Brescia based OM swept the top three places.
Tazio Nuvolari won the 1930 Mille Miglia in an Alfa Romeo. Having started after his team-mate and rival Achille Varzi, Nuvolari was comfortably leading the race but was still behind Varzi (holder of provisional second position) on the road. In the dim half light of early dawn Nuvolari tailed Varzi with his headlights off, thereby not being visible in the latter's rear-view mirrors. He then overtook Varzi on the straight roads approaching the finish at Brescia, by pulling alongside and flicking his headlights on.
The Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B MM that won the 1938 Mille Miglia driven by Clemente Biondett. Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum, Philadelphia,PA, USAThe event was usually dominated by local Italian drivers and marques, but three races were won by foreign cars, all of them German. In 1931, Rudolf Caracciola (famous in Grand Prix racing) and onboard mechanic Wilhelm Sebastian won with their big supercharged Mercedes-Benz SSK, averaging for the first time more than 100 km/h (63 mph) in a Mille Miglia. It was also the first of three wins for a foreign driver as Caracciola was German, despite his name. The win was a surprise as Caracciola had received very little support from the factory due to the economic crisis at that time. He did not have enough mechanics to man all necessary service points. After performing a pit stop, they had to hurry across Italy, cutting the triangle-shaped course short in order to arrive in time before the race car.
The race was briefly stopped by Italian leader Benito Mussolini after an accident in 1938 killed a number of spectators. When it resumed in 1940 during war time, it was dubbed the Grand Prix of Brescia, and held on a 100 km (62 mi) short course in the plains of Northern Italy that was lapped nine times.
This event saw the debut of the first Enzo Ferrari owned marque AAC (Auto Avio Costruzioni)(with the Tipo 815). Despite being populated (due to the circumstances even more than usual) mainly by Italian makers, it was the aerodynamically improved BMW 328 driven by Germans Huschke von Hanstein/Walter Baumer that won the high-speed race at an all-time high average of 166 km/h (103 mph).
The Italians continued to dominate their race after the war, now again on a single big lap through Italy. Mercedes made another good effort in 1952 with the underpowered original Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing, scoring second with the German crew Karl Kling/Hans Klenk that later in the year would win the Carrera Panamericana. Caracciola, in a comeback attempt, crashed.
Few other non-Italians managed podium finishes in the 1950s, among them Juan Manuel Fangio, Peter Collins and Wolfgang von Trips. From 1953 until 1957 the Mille Miglia was also a round of the World Sports Car championship. In 1955, Mercedes made another attempt at winning the MM, this time with careful preparation and a more powerful car, the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR which was based on the Formula One car (Mercedes-Benz W196), not the other sports cars named Mercedes-Benz 300SL.
Both young German Hans Herrmann (who had a remarkable previous efforts with Porsche) and Briton Stirling Moss relied on the support of navigators while Juan Manuel Fangio (car #658) preferred to drive alone as usual as he considered road races dangerous since his co-pilot was killed in South America. Karl Kling also drove alone, in the fourth Mercedes, #701.
Similar to his teammates, Moss and his navigator, motor race journalist Denis Jenkinson, ran a total of six reconnaissance laps beforehand, enabling "Jenks" to make course notes (pace notes) on a scroll of paper 15 feet (460 cm) long that he read from and gave directions to Moss during the race by a coded system of hand signals. Although this undoubtedly helped them, Moss's innate ability was clearly the predominant factor. Indeed, it should be noted that Moss was competing against drivers with a large amount of local knowledge of the route, so the reconnaissance laps were considered an equaliser, rather than an advantage.
Car #704 with Hans Herrmann and Herrmann Eger was said to be fastest in the early stages, though. Herrmann already had a remarkable race in 1954, when the gate on a railroad crossing were lowered in the last moment before the fast train to Rome passed. Driving a very low Porsche 550 Spyder, Herrmann decided it was too late for a brake attempt anyway, knocked on the back of the helmet of his navigator Herbert Linge to make him duck, and they barely passed below the gates and before the train, to the surprise of the spectators. Herrmann was less lucky in 1955 as he had to abandon the race after a brake failure. Kling crashed also.
After 10 h 07' 48", Moss/Jenkinson arrived in Brescia in their Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR with the now famous #722, setting the event record at an average of 157.650 km/h (97.96 mph) which was fastest ever on this 1,597 km (992 mi) variant of the course, not to be beaten in the remaining two years. Fangio arrived a few minutes later in the #658 car, but having started 24 min earlier, it actually took him about 30 minutes longer.
Memorial to victims of Mille Miglia where the fatal crash happenedThe race was banned after the fatal crash of a 4.2-litre Ferrari in 1957 that took the lives of the Spanish driver Alfonso de Portago, his co-driver/navigator Edmund Nelson, and nine spectators, at the village of Guidizzolo. Five of the spectators killed were children. The crash was probably caused by a blown tire. The manufacturer was blamed and sued for this, as was the Ferrari team, which, in order to save time, had not changed tyres.
From 1958 to 1961, the event resumed as a Rallying-like round trip at legal speeds with a few special stages driven at full speed, but this was discontinued also.
Since 1977, the name was revived as the Mille Miglia Storica, a parade for pre-1957 cars that takes several days, which also spawned the 2007 documentary film Mille Miglia - The Spirit of a Legend.
Mille Miglia is also the name of Alitalia's frequent flyer program.
Mille Miglia is also the name of a jacket, named after the race, inspired by the 1920s racewear and designed by Massimo Osti for his CP Company clothing label. The garment features goggles built into the hood and originally had a small circular window in the sleeve enabling the wearer to see their watch. The jackets have been produced for a long period and are still popular with British football casuals.
As a sponsor and timekeeper of the Storica event, the event has lent its name and its trademark logo to Chopard for a series of sport watches. For promotions Chopard uses photographs from the event by photographer Giacomo Bretzel.
Mille Miglia Red is the name for a color used by Chevrolet on its Corvette models. The color was offered between 1972 and 1975.
The Mille Miglia today
In 1982 the Mille Miglia endurance race was revived as a road rally event. Nowadays, timing rather than speed is of the essence for the enthusiasts from around the world who race their vintage cars, dating from 1927 to 1957. This magnificent parade of classic machines has earned the Mille Miglia the reputation of being "the most beautiful road race in the world".
Every May, Brescia becomes the meeting place for the rich, famous and passionate as they prepare to do battle over 1,000 miles (1,600 km) of Italian roads. The event is closely followed by the press and immortalized every year by one of world's most respected photographers, Giacomo Bretzel, whose images so perfectly communicate the intensity, the emotion and the spirit of the moment. The history of the Mille Miglia is traced in all its glory, from yesteryear to the present day, at the Mille Miglia Museum, Brescia. This collection is a must for all amateurs of the automobile and its history and includes a fine collection of books and photographic works.