Ageing gracefully

It was the older cars in this year’s Mille Miglia which proved the most effective
By Johnny Tipler

Every one of this year’s 375 Mille Miglia entrants took part in the event in its 30-year heyday from 1927 to 1957. So it was a broad swathe of machinery that took off from Brescia at dusk on May 14, ranging from Bugatti Type 35 and Alfa Romeo 6C 1500 to Ferrari 212 Export and Maserati A6GCS, interspersed with seldom-seens like OM, OSCA and Salmson. When did you last see a SIATA? Ermini? Cisitalia? Nowadays the event is a series of regularity tests, so to an extent the slower the car the easier it is to maintain the rhythm, favouring the vintage brigade.

Leaving the dais at 30-second intervals to rapturous applause, the retinue sped off via Verona and the straights of the northern flatlands to its first overnight halt at Ferrara, where cars echeloned in the piazza. By breakfast time on Saturday the race had left town for Ravenna and the Adriatic coast. Feted all the way by enthusiastic locals, the route swung inland to the tiny republic of San Marino, then wound into the snowy Apennines before plunging down to Sansepolcro – and into the rain. It wouldn’t be the Mille Miglia without it.

Roadster crews took the hit with goggles and headgear. After Rieti it was on to sultry Rome and a major nocturnal promo beside the monstrous rotunda of Castel Sant’Angelo. Though by common consent the new organisation played a slicker hand, a few cars did boil over in the hiatus before their platform presentation.

With a 6.30am start on Sunday it was a short night for drivers and service crews alike. From Etruscan Viterbo the route read like a cross between art history textbook and wine list, passing Siena and Florence, Montalcino and Chianti and on into the hills via the sinuous Futa and Raticosa passes, onto the plains again at Modena and a reception at Ferrari’s Maranello plant. Then through Parma and Cremona before the convoy reached Brescia in the late evening.

Sunday’s prize-giving revealed Bruno and Carlo Ferrari to be the winners in their Bugatti Type 37, with Carlos Sielecki and Juan Hervas second in a Bugatti Type 35A, followed by Luciano and Antonio Viaro’s Alfa Romeo 6C 1500 Super Sport. Highest post-war finisher was Alessandro Gamberini and Pier-Luigi Nobili’s Nash-Healey S1 Roadster in ninth.

Celebs, there were a few. As well as Lord March driving a 1937 BMW 328 and David Coulthard in a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SLR, Dutch royals Prince Bernhard van Oranje and Princess Annette handled a Porsche 550 Spyder with gusto, while Gijs van Lennep’s co-driver in his 550 Spyder on the first leg was Jan Peter Balkenende, the Dutch prime minister. The man’s got style.