The MM (aka Mille Miglia)
There are hundreds of classic car rallies and road tours around the world but none compare to this one, arguably the inspiration for them all. I’m writing this during the 2017 Mille Miglia, but not as a participant. I have been blessed to have been involved with this magical event four times- three as a co-driver or driver, once as a special guest. I’ve run in the Mille Miglia in 2013, 2015 and 2016 with friends in cars I found for them in Italy. In 2014, I was, as a special guest on the rally, invited to sing the Italian national anthem at the prize ceremony in the Teatro Grande, the fabulous 18th century opera house of Brescia.
My part in the event was sadly limited this year, as the entry of which I was a part was relegated to the waitlist and didn’t clear. This year marked the 90th anniversary of the inaugural running and the applications apparently broke all past records. Nevertheless, we appeared at scruitineering at the vast Brescia Fiera the day before the start, to see if we would clear the list, to visit old friends and view wonderful cars.
Still a thrill.
Whether in or out of a car, the extraordinary power of this event is unmistakable.
Yet the reality exists that it can either be a transformative experience of a lifetime or four days of near hell. Which it turns out to be depends on a number of factors, over some of which an entrant has no control at all and some factors that are very much in their power to influence.
Being able to stand back as the event began to unfold allowed me to reflect on some of the ways that happens. First and foremost, as I’ve said above, nothing else is like the Mille Miglia. The emotion that surrounds this event is deep. If you don’t consider yourself an emotional person, you will be surprised how it can arise.
Not a picnic.
Although the Mille Miglia ‘Storica’ – the current time-speed-distance rally- is a very different animal from the original Mille Miglia ‘di velocità’- the all-out race, it is not a picnic. The demands on driver, co-driver and car are substantial. While the overall quality of the roads in Italy have certainly improved since the first running in 1927, today’s entrant will encounter surfaces which can be quite challenging. Whether thousand-year-old cobblestone, heavily crowded lanes or half wide country lanes, modern speed bumps and railroad grade crossings, you and your car will bounced and jostled for hours at a time.
Ah yes, the hours. A quick look at a map of the country will show you that a direct drive from Brescia, in the center of northern Italy, down to Rome will take about 5 ½ hours by autostrada, so 11 hours for a round-trip. The Mille Miglia, following a somewhat more circuitous routing, takes 43 ½ hours for the journey. The first, oldest cars from 1927 leave the starting ramp in Brescia at 2:30pm on Thursday afternoon.
Three cars per minute.
Three cars per minute then depart until the last of the 450 or so entrants are flagged off. The first leg, from Brescia to Padova will take just over 7 hours, with the first car arriving at 9:45pm. Those first crews will then depart Padova for the drive down to Rome at 6:30am, scheduled to end their day at 9:30pm. That’s time spent actually driving, with a break of about a half hour for lunch and as many relief and refueling stops as you can work in while maintaining the required average speed for the segments.
The average speeds are low – none will break the posted speed limits but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. The roads are all open to the public with the exception of closed timing stages and while the event photos emphasize open winding country lanes, there’s also a fair number of kilometers spent on suburban roads with the ubiquitous Italian roundabout every 1.5km which you will share with trucks, family cars and wildly careening modern sports cars from every Northern European car club.
It can also come to a shock for entrants who have done a number of vintage rally and tour events in the US that your approximately $9,000 entry fee for the car and crew of 2 includes no support beyond that of a sweep breakdown truck. I am not of the technical sort, but as a part-time Italian resident, with a good command of the language and possessing a fair measure of mechanical sensitivity I have little fear setting out into the countryside in an old car for a day’s drive.
I would strongly advise any first time entrant who is neither reasonably proficient in Italian and or mechanically gifted that it is certainly worth the extra $3,000 or so it will take to book a service support team. Hopefully they won’t be needed, but the lower blood pressure would be a considerable benefit. After you’ve become intimately familiar with what the event entails, in future entries you will have a better feel for both your comfort level and the needs your car might have.
Adrenaline and aggression.
But – if your car is sufficiently sturdy and prepared well enough for four days of aggressive driving and you are adequately rested in the adrenaline filled days before and during, the Mille Miglia can be a transcendent and transformative experience. When you are driving down a narrow road on top a ridge in Tuscany, with valleys stretching below on either side and the smell of the farms on the air coming into the car it’s easy to forget city traffic jams and overheating 65 year old cars.
Think of this – a successful MM requires another ‘m and m’ – mechanical and mental preparation. Armed with those you’re potentially in for the treat of a lifetime – without them, Dante’s circles of hell are a stroll through the park…
Written by Donald Osborne, ASA of Automotive Valuation Services
For Premier Financial Services