As much as automotive culture have developed into fierce tribes, there is still a special heavenly place reserved for beauty, diversity and multi ethnicity. And the mecca for this paradise is called Mille Miglia, the greatest car race in the world.
There was a time when many of the world’s best drivers would be careening around the winding and brutal provincial roads of Italy to prove who was the king. Beautiful cars would be careening at high speed while a massive crowd would egg the drivers on, almost literally beside the latter. This was the world’s ultimate automotive spectacle until it dramatically all suddenly stopped due to a tragic accident in 1957.
The current Mille Miglia is a revival of the grand images past, but transformed into a safer alternative, a regularity rally, which rewards precision and accuracy rather than outright power and speed. And it is a spectacular celebration of the age of beauty, when cars were even more beautiful than the fairest of Aphrodite’s daughters. Where cheers of “molto belle!!!” are exclaimed in unison by a worshipful and adoring crowd for the rare and priceless horses and chariots unleashed into vivid memory.
Once again, we turn the spotlight on our good friend Winston Chua, as he leaves the familiarity of his Porsche tribe to experience the zenith of the classic automobile. We hope you enjoy his story and brilliant shots as much as we did.
MILLE MIGLIA - 2018
I have a fever and it won’t go away… Mille Miglia fever that is.
You see, I still get giddy whenever I’m reminded of this classic car race I attended in Italy, in mid-May. The Mille Miglia, which means a thousand miles in Italian, is described as “the most beautiful race in the world.” It is a 1,000-mile race from the city of Brescia to Rome and back to Brescia again. The original race series started in 1927 but ended in 1957 due to numerous fatalities of both participants and spectators. Beautiful as the race may be, a time-trial race on public roads was simply too dangerous.
The Mille Miglia went on a 20-year hiatus until it was revived in 1977. It has been staged annually since. The new race series was called “reenactment” races. To stay true to its first incarnation, only car models that raced in the original version are qualified to join. The organizers also converted it from a “time-trial” race to a “regularity,” to make it safer. A regularity race requires accuracy and consistency more than speed. The cars must arrive at check points in a specific given time.
My journey started in Milan. After a little over an hour drive, I arrived Brescia. It was a day before the race. The industrial town is known for its metallurgy industry, being the headquarters of Beretta Firearms and of course, the home of the Mille Miglia! Although it is not a usual tourist destination, Brescia bursts into life during this season, attracting visitors from all over the world.
After dropping my luggage at the hotel, I wasted no time and immediately headed to Piazza della Vittoria where the action was. I managed to get into the red carpet exclusive area (don’t ask me how), to see the “Punzonatura” ceremony. Here, the organizers put a seal around the steering column of every car, to ensure that there will be no car swapping in the middle of the race. I got a glimpse of F1 driver Gian Carlo Fisichella and some Italian celebrities, who I’m not familiar with. After the cars were sealed, the organizers parked them on the cobbled streets of the old town, for people to enjoy up close. I couldn’t believe that I was actually seeing, hearing and smelling these rare vintage cars I only saw in books --- Pre-war Bentleys and Bugattis, 1940s Alfa Romeos and Aston Martins, 1950s Ferraris, Maseratis and Porsches. Spectacular! I thought the Mercedes Benz 300SL Gullwings were rare, but it didn’t seem so at the Mille Miglia. Seeing so many beautiful Italian cars I’ve never heard of, I realized I have more to learn.
Day 2 in Brescia, finally it was race day! In the morning, the sealing ceremony continued till noon. With 467 cars participating this year, the previous day was not enough to seal all the cars. I had no idea where the start of the race was, so I just followed the crowd through the narrow cobbled stone streets. A little later, we heard some rumble approaching. From a distance, the race cars suddenly appeared. The cars just casually drove by us, on the way to the starting ramp. Since the streets were narrow, we found ourselves very close to the cars. No barricades, no police escorts, no drama! This was what makes Mille Miglia so authentic. Everything seemed to be flowing in its own course naturally. Of course, the orderly crowd also had a lot to do with the wonderful experience.
After about a two-kilometer walk, we finally reached the starting ramp. Each car drove up the stage and was introduced by the host before they were flagged off. I was lucky to see racing legend Jacky Ickx behind the wheel of a silver Porsche 550 Spyder RS (#300). The streets were filled with lines of people, cheering the cars speeding by. YouTube sensation Tim Burton also known as Schmee150, zoomed by in a Mercedes Benz 300SL Gullwing (#357), sponsored by Mercedes Benz Classic. I stayed until all cars were out. It was already late afternoon, only then did I realize that I hadn’t had lunch yet. I guess my excitement fed my hunger. I would have loved to follow the race to Rome and back to Brescia. Unfortunately, my time in Italy was limited. Seeing Mille Miglia was a step closer to my impossible dream of joining the race. Still, I remain hopeful. Who knows what the future brings?
I left Brescia with several things. One, a reinforced love for classic cars and admiration to the owners who maintain and, more importantly, race / drive them. Two, a new-found appreciation for pre-war “skinny-tired” vintage cars. They’re very challenging to drive and are windows to a more distant, charming past. Lastly, this Mille Miglia fever, which I still can’t shake off. But I’m not complaining!