1,000 Miglia

Ferrari – Alfa-Romeo Duel at Record Speed

BOLOGNA, APRIL 26TH. From Our Continental Correspondent.

I have just seen all hell let loose upon the roads of Italy for 21 solid hours and my mind is a chaos of open exhausts, screaming tyres, hot sun and shouting Italians; but let us go back to the beginning. The Editor thought it would be a good idea if we looked at the XXth Mille Miglia on April 25/26th through the eyes of the Italian public, instead of from the seclusion of the Press bureau at Brescia. The Mille Miglia is run on a time basis, cars starting at minute intervals, half-minutes for the small ones, and as they cover the 1,512 kilometres on one circuit it is not possible to sit in one place and watch the racing, so the normal thing to do when trying to keep track of over 400 cars circulating Italy is to follow the racing by figures. That is to say, you station yourself at the start-and-finish, at Brescia, and computate the figures of times that come from the various controls around the route, so that last year, for example, everyone was very excited about the closeness of Braceo and Kling, even though they never set eyes on either car.

My plan was to watch the competitors go past a point about two hours distant from Brescia, there calculating the leaders, drive like mad over the mountains and meet them coming up the west coast, again calculating the positions and then get the final positions at Brescia when all the tumult and shouting had died down.

The atmosphere of the Mille Miglia spreads over the borders of Italy and going down through France I heard reports that the Healeys were on their way through Switzerland, that the Aston-Martins had been in Italy for some time; and as I neared the Italian Alps D.B. Panhards, rorty-sounding 4-cv Renaults, an Alfa and a Porsche all went by already wearing their racing numbers, which for those starting from 22:00. hours Saturday night and onwards, was the actual starting time in hours and minutes. Along the Autostrada from Turin to Brescia the pace quickened and Lancia Aurelia Gran Turismos, Alfa-Romeo Sprints, more Porsches, a works 2-litre Ferrari and a 4.1 Ferrari all hurried by. Brescia itself was boiling over with frenzy and had been for days, and the scrutineering and checking was being done in the Piazza Vittoria, long-since closed to normal traffic and now a seething mass of spectators, officials, competing cars and ice-cream sellers. Just before mid-day on Saturday the frenzy reached its limit when the official Ferraris arrived, led by the one and only Enzo himself in a new 1,100 Fiat. The crowd screamed, the officials shouted, the loudspeakers nearly burst and the Ferraris sounded wonderful. Sterzi had an open 2-litre, Paulo Marzotto and Bracco 3-litre coupés, Giannino Marzotto, Tom Cole, Farina and Cabianca had open 4.1-litres, and Hawthorn an open 3-litre. Villoresi’s car was there but without him. The pandemonium had only just died down when a fresh outburst started at the entrance to the square as the new Alfa-Romeo coupés arrived. The crowd was so thick and uncontrollable that it was some time before the cars could get to the scrutineers. Fangio, Kling and Sanesi had 3.6-litre six-cylinders, while Zehender had a 2-litre four cylinder, but outwardly they were all the same size, which was exceedingly small, the tops of the roofs being well below shoulder height. Although the commentator insisted on calling them Disco-Volantes, they were nothing like the open versions so far as the body was concerned, being typical Italian sports-racing coupés, or Berlinettas. Mechanically they were the same as the much-vaunted Disco-Volantes, having double wishbone and coil-spring i.f.s. and de Dion rear, with inboard brakes of vast width and the de Dion tube positioned by a transverse Panhard rod. The cockpit was very small, with a centrally-operated five-speed gearbox and a system of air-venting to control the interior heat. In the sloping tail was a vast fuel tank and rearward visibility was virtually nil. The exhaust pipes were in three pairs running into an expansion-box and a sort of megaphone under the passenger’s door. After lunch comparative peace descended on the town for a while and everyone prepared for the beginning of this fantastic marathon, which was scheduled to start at 9 p.m. The works Maseratis were ready for action, sitting in their garages watched over by two mechanics, the Gordini in the over 2.1itre class was being tried along part of the route by Bordoni, the driver, while various other competitors were working on their cars or rushing about the town, depending on whether they had a “near” racing-car or a standard saloon.

Leaving Brescia, which was beginning to get on the boil again, I motored across country to a short distance from Ravenna, on the Adriatic coast, the first control point and some 265 kilometres from the start. Arriving at a very fast section of narrow bumpy road I drew off and awaited the first arrival. All was peace and quiet, the moon was bright and the only sound was the croaking of the frogs until just on midnight – when it happened ! The peace of the countryside was rudely broken and remained broken until nearly 9 a.m. Being on the first section of the course the cars came by more or less in class order, though of the 750-c.c. Touring Class the Panhards were already way ahead and going past absolutely flat-out, followed at intervals by Renaults and Fiats, all driven at peak revs., having come down a long, straight hill, under a railway bridge and round a 100 m.p.h. bend. It was not long before the humming of standard engines was interrupted by the first car in the 750-c.c Sports Class, as a Fiat-Stanguellini went by with a crackle from its twin-cam engine that could be heard for nearly half-a-minute after it had passed. This was the prelude to the faster entries and D.B. Panhards crackling on their twin-cylinders, Erminis, Morottis, Gianninia, Siatas and 1,083 Renaults all shattered the moonlit night. The 1,300-c.c. Touring Class, consisting mostly of the new 1,100 Fiats, followed and then the 2,000-c.c. Touring Class which was dominated by 1,900 Alfa-Romeos, with a good sprinkling of Lancia Aurelius intermingled. The 1,900s had obviously got the class well in hand and went by at a very impressive speed with remarkable stability considering the uneven road. As the last few Alfa-Romeos went by daylight arrived and with it the really fast categories. First the 1,100-c.c. Sports Class, and it was the open Osca driven by Sani that arrived first, followed very closely by that of Venezian. When Sgor came by in his Osca, it was seen that he was leading the class, and the clock was put on the 2.000-c.c. Sports Class. It was not long before they came through, Capelli on an 8V Fiat coupé and Sterzi on a 2-litre Ferrari being well ahead of schedule, then Cortese on another Fiat coupé equalling their time, as did Casella with a works Gordini, painted red for the occasion. Just after 7 a.m. the air was rent by the sound of an engine turning at over 7,000 r.p.m. and the first of the works A6G Maseratis came down the hill and under the railway bridge and Musso went by, leading the class by nearly 3 minutes. Soon after came Mantovani and Giletti with the other two team cars, all of them sounding wonderful in the stillness of the morning. They were literally two-seater versions of the Formula II cars, complete with “spiky” brakes, and A-bracket-controlled, 1/4-elliptically-sprung rear axle, and with left-hand drive, the whole chassis coveted by the bare minimum of all-enveloping body. A few minutes after Giletti had passed, Zehender went by with the 2-litre Alfa-Romeo coupé making second fastest time, to my point. One minute later there was the most shattering spectacle as a blue and red open 4.1 Ferrari came into sight, cutting for the bend and then accelerating by at over 130 m.p.h. on a bumpy 30-ft. road, looking completely out of control. It was Giannino Marzotto and almost at the same time his brother Paulo passed with the 3-litre coupé. Then things happened fast and furiously, for the over-2.000,c.c. Sports Class was upon me. Giannino passed me at 7.31 a.m. and having started at 5.47 it meant he had taken 1 hour 44 minutes up to my point on the course. Peter Collins went by in a 2.9-litre Aston-Martin DB III, a heartening sight at that early hour, and then came Fangio with the first of the Alfas, closely followed by Kling. They were noticeably steadier than the Ferraris and just as quick, their times being 1 hour 46 minutes and 1 hour 45 minutes, respectively, then Bordoni passed in the works Gordini at 1 hour 45 minutes, also Bonetto with the first of the new works 2.9-litre Lancia coupés, bearing no similarity to previous cars from that factory. These new cars were built on “space-frames,” had trailing-link-type i.f.s., inboard brakes all round, and were very light. His time was only two minutes slower than the Gordini and then the “fastest-yet” arrived, Farina in the open 4.1 Ferrari closely followed by Bracco with the coupé. Farina had not only made up seven minutes on Bracco at this stage, but was down to 1 hour 40 minutes and looked really immense as he passed at over 130 m.p.h., the car snaking about the road and looking a handful. There followed Cole, going much slower, Parnell and Abecassis with the other two DB Ills, Carino and Biondetti with new Lancias and then at nine minutes past 8 a.m. Sanesi went by in the third of the works Alfa-Romeos, going noticeably faster than anything so far and as he had started at 6.31 a.m, it put him well in the lead, with 1 hour 38 minutes. By that standard Hawthorn’s 1 hour 47 minutes seemed slow while Rolt with Wisdom’s Type C Jaguar seemed pathetic. Wisdom himself was driving an Aston-Martin DB II coupé and was only five minutes down on the works DB Ills, which was a first-class effort. By 9 a.m. the last of this high-speed procession had passed and there was time to take stock. Among those missing already were Villoresi and Taruffi and most of the English cars. The former had gone out with rear axle trouble, the new Lancia had engine trouble and the English cars had also retired. Moss, on the only real works Jaguar, had broken his back-axle. Johnson had a split fuel tank on his own white XK120C, and the Austin-Healeys of Lockett and Hadley were stopped with clutch trouble, while Fitch had also stopped with the Nash-Henley.

Leaving the course and driving over cart-tracks, up and down 1 in 4 gradients and along parts of good roads I got to Bologna as the first of the small cars went through. At my point on the outward journey the general order had been Sanesi, Farina. G. Marzotto, Kling, Bordoni, Fangio, Bracco, P. Marzotto. Hawthorn and Bonetto. By more driving along mountain ledges, down cart-tracks and down descents up which there was no hope of return I made my way to a village at the foot of the Futa pass just before the run-in to Bologna. Although the roads are not officially closed for this race there is no hope of driving along the course. for every man in Italy with a gun and a uniform makes it his personal responsibility to see that no one gets in the way of the competitors. The main road out of Bologna was very much shut off with guards at every crossing, while in the village I was at, two people were “pinched” for riding moto-scooters along the grass verge. If you wanted to move you went on foot or wheeled your push-bike or motor-cycle and there was no leniency. As the competitors in the slower categories came through through the reason could be appreciated for they were using every inch of the road and taking blind bends in the village on the very limit of tyre adhesion. At this point, more than three-quarters of the way round the course, the numbers were greatly depleted while many cars here signs of of hard passage, with torn bumpers, dented wings and dented door-panels. Particularly noticeable was the tattered state of the 1,900 Alfa-Romeo saloons in general. They were still going incredibly quickly but nearly everyone had made contact with some hard object on the southern part of the course. The 1,100-c.c. Sports Class was still dominated by the Oscas. Venezian now being in the lead with Sani close behind, while the previous leader, Sgor, did not come through. The day was now very dry and hot as only Italy can be and towards 3 p.m. the time drew near for the leaders in the faster categories to arrive. While we were anticipating the 2-litre Class there was a shattering roar, a screaming of tyres, a strong smell of hot oil and Giannino Marzotto went through, using all the road fighting the 4.1 in a series of juggles with steering and throttle, his passenger looking very worn and haggard. The time was six minutes past 3 p.m. which meant a total time of 9 hours 19 minutes and a higher speed than had ever been recorded before. Obviously the Ferrari-Alfa duel was forcing a terrific pace. It was reported that Sanesi had retired, Kling had led at the Rome control but retired after that, Farina was out and Fangio had been in the lead on the other side of the mountains at Florence. If Fangio was to retain his lead he had to come by at 3.21 p.m. and at 3.24 the fierce-looking Alfa-Romeo coupé with the yellow grille went by, closely followed by Paulo Marzotto, which meant that Giannino was now leading by three minutes, after nine and a half hours racing at an average of over 137 k.p.h. When Marzotto reached the Bologna control Ferrari himself was awaiting him and told him to give the 4.1 its head on the very fast stretch to Cremona and thence to Brescia. This meant cruising at speeds which tend to make the mind boggle, for the road is wide, straight and smooth as far as the eye can see and with nearly 300 b.h.p. available it is quite likely that the estimated 270 k.p.h. was approached. Bracco being out there was no other opposition for these two, Tom Cole was driving steadily and Cabianca was rather slow, probably finding the difference between a Ferrari and a 1,350-c.c. Osca quite difficult. Hawthorn had retired and the Lancias were not quick enough to cope with the giants. As the afternoon wore on tired and battered motor cars went by, still being driven hard, still being cornered near the limit, all hoping to last out the final 240 kilometres to the finish. Parnell went by looking very dirty and weary, but still well on time, Collins had dropped back a long way and had a big dent in the tail, while Abecassis had retired. The only works-supported Jaguar to be seen on the outward run had passed out with engine trouble.

In the 2-litre Class the Alfa-Romeo coupé had retired, Musso had crashed his A6G Maserati and Giletti went by with Mantovani close behind, both sounding superbly fresh, while Casella with the works Gordini was third. Eventually, at 6 p.m., the armed forces were allowed to rest and the roads of Italy took on their normal role, becoming a seething mass of frustrated motorists and motorcyclists. On the final run to Brescia Giannino Marzotto had followed his instructions and given the Ferrari all it had got, with the result that he finished nearly twelve minutes in front of Fangio, at an average speed of 142.347 k.p.h. – a fantastic average for ten-and-a-half hours driving and a new record for the Mille Miglia. Some way back came Bonetto in third place with one of the new Lancias, a promising debut in the Mille Migiia, fourth was Tom Cole, having driven a wisely-careful race with a car that is about the most potent thing in present day racing, all categories included, and fifth was Parnell with the Aston-Martin DB Ill, England’s only hope in real racing, but a good one nevertheless. Equally valorous were the various class winners, for while driving a 4.1 Ferrari to win outright is a magnificent achievement, to cover the same course in a standard saloon or a diminutive sports 750-c.c. car is no mean feat. In the Touring Classes for strictly standard machines the 750-c.c. Class was won by Angelelli and Recchi with a 4-cv Renault, the 1.300,-c.c. Class by Mancini with a new 1,100 Fiat, numbers of which had shown wonderful durability under racing conditions and also appeared to corner in no mean manner. The 1,900 Alfa-Romeo dominated the big touring class, taking the first six places and beating all the Aurelias. Pagliai was the winner, though Palmieri led until the last stage of the race. Among the small sports cars the D.B. Panhards proved victors, against strong opposition from numerous Fiat-based specials. Touzot and Persillon winning in their open D. B. None of the Fiats or Cisitalias could hold the beautiful little open Oscas in the 1,100 c.c. Sports Class and Venezian came home the winner at the very high speed of 125.160 k.p.h.. while Giletti in the Works A6G Maserati won the 2,000-c.c. Class only 4 k.p.h. faster. The big boys really set the records flying, for Ginninio Marzotto won at 142.347 k.p.h., which gave him the over-2,000-c.c. Class and made him the outright winner of the whole entry. Such an average over 1,512 kilometres of normal road, much of it of inferior surface and with three mountain passes included, together with traversing over twenty big towns, must surely make the Mille Miglia the Blue Riband of the Sports-Car World.

He who wins the Mille Miglia is some driver, and the car he uses is some sports car.