A Tale Of Woe – by Denis Jenkinson
Some years ago there was a popular ballad entitled “Trees” and the last line ran, ” . . but only God can make a tree.” By the grace of God and one of his trees I am able to write the story of my 1956 Mille Miglia.
But let us go back to the beginning, which for me was shortly after the 1955 Mille Miglia when Moss asked me if I would go with him again, and naturally I said I would. This year we had not got the finance and organisation of Daimler-Benz behind as, in fact we had the complete opposite, provided by Maserati, and a week before the race it was difficult to believe that we were competing. Moss has racing at Aintree, so on the way back from Sicily I did a little reconnoitring of the course and called in at Modena to pick up a practice car and have a look at our “racer”, which was to be a new 3 1/2-litre. The practice car was in use by Giardini, who was somewhere round the 1,000-mile course, and was due back on Saturday, April 21st while there was no sign at all of our 3 1/2-litre. However, there was one new car nearing completion, it being destined for Taruffi, and mechanically this new design of chassis, engine and transmission looked pretty good. In every corner of the works were sports Maseratis in various stages of repair and disrepair; there were 2-litre A6G models, 150S, 3-litre 300S and 2-litre four-cylinder 200S models, varying from a bare chassis frame to a complete car. Rows of engines were being assembled, others were on the test beds being run-in or power-tested, and the activity was obviously going to go on day and night, as it had for some time previously.
Giardini returned with the practice car, a once-pretty coupe A6G with body by Zagato, but now a very weary and dirty-looking motor car, having completed seven laps of the Mille Miglia course in various hands, it being the only available practice car.
By Sunday morning it had been dusted over and was ready for another lap with Moss and myself, and before taking delivery I went out to the Modena Autodrome, actually the perimeter track of Modena aerodrome, with the chief mechanic Bertocchi, and he proceeded to put in four very fast laps in the pouring rain to see if all was in order. Everything was, so I set off for Milan airport, the weather still coming down vertically, and I had strict instructions not to exceed 5,500 r.p.m. as the engine was getting tired, and to keep an eye on the oil level, this production engine being wet-sump. On the way to Milan airport, where I was due to meet Moss direct from his lucky win at Aintree, the weather cleared up and I had the opportunity to enjoy this rather pleasant Maserati coupe. Everything about it was pure “racing car”, the steering being light and positive, the short gear-lever, operating in an open gate, being a joy to use, though first and second gears were so far apart that it needed a dull pause while changing. However, the other ratios were lovely and the gear-changing was great fun, while for normal road motoring the roadholding was such that it was difficult to reach anywhere near the limit. Although a very low coupe, the visibility was without criticism and the driving position, even for my dwarf-like stature, was ideal. The brakes were good but tended to judder badly, though this wore off in time, and the engine was so lively that an eye had to be kept on the rev.-counter all the time to avoid going over the limit, and 5,500 r.p.m. in top came up all too easy, equal to 98 m.p.h. When new these engines can go to 6,000 r.p.m., which would give an easy 107 m.p.h. on the rear-axle ratio we had in. There was quite a lot of exhaust noise, but little from the engine and virtually no wind noise from the body, while the smoothness of the six-cylinder engine impressed me enormously.
Rather reluctantly I handed the car over to Moss, the only consolation being that I would now be able to see how well it could go, and we returned to Brescia for an early night. On the Monday morning we left Brescia at 5.54a.m., our starting time in the race, in order to get some appreciation of the sun conditions at that hour. We rather optimistically assumed the sun would be shining, in spite of rain showers throughout the previous week. Without exceeding 5,500 r.p.m. (98 m.p.h.), we soon discovered that we were averaging a higher speed round the course than we had done in practice last year with a 300SL Mercedes-Benz when using a maximum of 130 m.p.h., the reason being that the little Maserati was so much more manageable. It could be flicked from side to side of the road with the minimum of effort, and in and out the traffic with very little space required, while the gearbox would keep the revs. up.
Stopping for lunch after nearly 400 miles, we met Bellucci and Perrella surveying the course in a 1900 Alfa-Romeo, both having Maserati entries in the race. Bellucci was to drive a new 2-litre four-cylinder in the 150S chassis and his friend a normal 150S. Pressing on again we came to a road and a long line of traffic, and discovered that we had caught up with the Tour of Italy motor-cycle race, a sort of six-day Mille Miglia for small motorcycles. Also waiting were two more Italians practising in an Alfa-Romeo and the German driver Erwin Bauer, who was in a special Mercedes-Benz 220a. This was outwardly a normal car devoid of bumpers and unnecessary weight, but it was fitted with the new twin-carburetter 220a engine. We arrived at the tail end of the motor-cycle race, so that all we saw were a few stragglers going along at a bare 30 m.p.h., and when we suggested to the police who were guarding the barrier that they let us through, their reply was unanswerable. They said that the road was closed until 3.30 p.m. and that next Sunday when we were driving in the Mille Miglia it would also be closed until 3.30 p.m. We would not like it if they let motor-cycles onto our course, and equally the motor-cyclists would not like it if they let cars on today. We went back and sat in the Maserati.
As the time for opening the roads approached the crowd began to get restive, for clearly the last competitor had gone, and there was much shouting that Moss should be let through, but the police were adamant. We got the Maserati up past the queue of traffic, to the head of the line, and there was a bit of “underground” movement by some of the enthusiastic lorry drivers; during which they urged us to make a break for it and motor off, but the police were not fooled and we had to wait until 3.30 p.m. Then off we went and for the next 50 miles or so the roads were very clear so we had a good dice, but were rather piqued to find that the 220a Mercedes-Benz was sitting on our tail, and it took a lot of work to shake it off. The rest of the day’s run was uneventful and we got as far as Siena by the time darkness fell, having by now developed a very great regard for the 2-litre Maserati coupe, which at first we thought was rather a rough old lot.
Next morning we were off again at 7 a.m., up to Florence and over the mountains to Bologna, the little coupe going really well and crossing the Futa and Raticosa with never a single hesitation. Some idea of how it was going can be gained by the fact that our running time since leaving Brescia would have put us third in the 2-litre Gran Turismo category had we been in last year’s race with the car, and this was on open roads, in and out of the traffic.
We arrived back at Modena and went to the Maserati factory, where Taruffi had just finished testing the first new 3 1/2-litre car, so off we went to the Autodrome and Moss put in a few laps with the car, but was not very impressed as it understeered rather violently. We wanted to do another lap of the course, and it now being Tuesday we wanted to get off at once, so another car was produced, as the 2-litre coupe had to be got ready for the race. It was due to have a new engine, gearbox and rear axle, and some happy Italian was going to race it on Sunday. Bertocchi produced a special two-seater sports car for us, which was an experimental car built in 1954. They had taken a normal 2-litre A6G two-seater, chopped off the rear of the chassis and fitted the back end of a G.P. car to it, de Dion, side-mounted gearbox and all. The steering had been changed to right-hand, and a detuned 24-litre G.P. engine fitted. Except for the right-hand drive it looked like a normal 2-litre sports outwardly, and in 1954 had been driven by Fangio and Marimon in the Supercortemaggiore race at Monza. With this “weapon”, for it really was rather a potent piece of machinery, we set off on our second lap, stopping for lunch beyond Brescia and making good time down to the Adriatic, using a maximum of 115 m.p.h. in view of the traffic. ln the late afternoon the rain started and we discovered that the Maserati was anything but waterproof, and though the showers were intermittent it rather put a stop to us learning very much and we stopped for the night at Pesaro.
Next morning saw us ready to leave at 7 a.m. but the Maserati became truculent and wetted all its plugs, subsequently needing a tow all round Pesaro before it would run on six cylinders. This was accomplished by an old man in a Fiat Topolino, who was press-ganged into the job by the happy locals who followed us on bicycles, scooters and in cars. By 8 a.m. we were well under way and singing down the Adriatic coast, but our song was soon cut short for the heavens opened and we were soaked to the skin, and it rained nearly all the way to Rome. Apart from appreciating just how slippery Italian roads can get in the wet, which we knew already anyway, we learnt little on this second lap. By the time we reached Rome we had water in the brakes and also in the kingpins, so that the steering was almost solid and Moss was doing most of the steering with the throttle and the rear wheels. By the time we reached Siena the sun was out but it was not much help and during the afternoon we struggled on our way over the mountains once more, amid streams of traffic, for it was a national holiday in celebration of some victory or defeat somewhere in the distant past. With the Maserati being so low and right-hand drive, Moss discovered a novel way of making “mimsers” move over. He drew up alongside and thumped on the side of their bodies with his fist, the resulting “dong” being audible above the Maserati exhaust, so it must have been devastating inside a travelling tin-box. We got back to Modena rather damp, very dirty and not a little tired, having done 2,000 miles round Italian roads in 2 1/2 days. At least we thought we would be able to try the new 3 1/2-litre for size, but there was not a hope, for it was still in the body-builders and there was clearly more than a day’s work to do.
As the race was getting precariously near we suggested that perhaps we ought to take a 3-litre, which was well-proven, and not wait for the new 3 1/2-litre. At that the technical faces at Maserati fell, for this 3 1/2-litre was their new baby. It was not a rehash of the 3-litre, it was all new design, chassis frame, de Dion rear end, engine, clutch, gearbox, transmission, everything was new, but we felt forced to suggest that perhaps it was a bit too new for the Mille Miglia. Then we learnt that Taruffi was not happy with his 3 1/2-litre and was going to race with one of the old 3-litres, and the Maserati people agreed to prepare another 3-litre for us, just in case.
On Thursday we left for Brescia to attend the prize-giving of the 1955 race, it being a tradition of the Mille Miglia that the prizes are given one year after the event. We were up again at 6 a.m. on Friday morning, having agreed to a bed-early-up-early routine for the whole week before the race, and went back to Modena, once more hoping to try our 3 1/2-litre. It was still in the body-builders and had 22 mechanics working on and around it, so we could not say they were not trying, but it was nowhere near completed. All day was spent wandering aimlessly round the factory, our spirits sinking lower and lower, and trying to decide whether to take a 3-litre, or wait for the 3 1/2-litre. The technical “bods” kept encouraging us with information about how good the car would be, and by showing us plans for the future both in sports and Grand Prix racing, but we were beginning to wonder. At 11 a.m. we were told it would be ready at 2 p.m., then 5 p.m., then 7 p.m., and when the sun went down we gave up and said we would be back at 5.30 a.m. next morning. When we left the car was still on axle stands, unpainted and not yet run, while four mechanics were working on a 3-litre for us.
Next morning, soon after dawn, we were back and there was our new 3 1/2-litre, painted, trimmed and tested, everyone having been up all night, and Bertocchi having taken it round the Autodrome at 3.30 a.m. On the bottom of the radiator air intake a protruding lip had been built and there were vague mentions of the front of the car lifting at over 130 but that this would cure it. In order to learn something we had demanded that we took the 3 1/2-litre and the 3-litre out to the Raticosa mountain and try them in turn over the same piece of the course, and in the early hours of the morning before the race we set off from Modena to Bologna and the mountains, with Bertocchi following in the 3-litre.
We decided to do a timed climb for 10 kilometres up the mountain, and a timed descent over the same stretch, thus taking in every possible type of corner and gradient. On the way to the mountains we had managed a quick 5,200 r.p.m. in fifth gear, equal to 145 m.p.h., and had found that the front of the car wandered about rather disconcertingly. After three goes up and down the Raticosa we eventually made the best time with the new 3 1/2-litre and settled on it for the race, much to the relief of Engineers Alfieri and Colotti. Although quicker from A to B the new car was far from right, having far too much understeer and not responding to anything the driver did to induce oversteer, should he enter a corner too fast. Most cars can be made to break adhesion on the rear wheels, either by using the power, the brakes, the steering, or letting the clutch in sharply in a lower gear, but this 3 1/2-litre refused to respond to any such treatment. The real fault lay in the fact that the new de Dion rear end had made such a vast improvement to the adhesion of the rear tyres under all conditions that the front was now lacking. An understeering car is all right providing you do not overdo things in a corner: if you do then you must provoke rear-wheel breakaway in order to counteract the lost adhesion of the front tyres. Although we agreed to take the new car we were very conscious of the fact that, though its overall cornering power was higher than the 3-litre it did not allow any margin of error, and in the Mille Miglia the margin of error must be quite high.
Leaving the car at the factory for attention to minor details and the fitting of a few home comforts in the cockpit, we set out once more for Brescia, a steady two-hour run from Modena, for it was now well into the morning and we aimed to be in bed by 6 p.m. Maseratis were fully appreciative of the shortcomings of the new chassis, but it was too late to alter the geometry of the suspension and reduce the understeer at this late hour. During the afternoon the whole team of cars, 2-litres, 3-litres and the 3 1/2-litre, arrived at Brescia for scrutineering, and we were greeted with the unhappy news that our car was making a funny smell at over 120 m.p.h. At 6 p.m., when we had been hoping to retire to bed, we had to take the car out on the Autostrada for a further test. Sure enough, at 120 m.p.h. there was a smell of scorching rubber, but by the time we stopped it had disappeared and nothing could be found amiss, so in a rather unhappy frame of mind we retired to bed. The car was geared to do 165 m.p.h. and so far we had not gone over 145 m.p.h., so we had not only the scorching rubber smell but also the weaving to think about, and in addition it suddenly occurred to us both that the “protruding lip” had been removed without explanation.
Next morning, Sunday, we were up at 5 a.m. and a friend took us out to the start, where the mechanics had the 3 1/2-litre waiting and warm, and though the weather was fine team-manager Ugolini told us to expect rain within an hour of the start. At 5.54 a.m. we rolled down off the ramp and were away, our number being 554, while Taruffil had 553, Collins 551, Castellotti 548 and Perdisa 547. Though we had tried to cheer each other up by suggesting where we were going to pass them all, we both knew that in reality it was a question of where Musso and Fangio were going to pass us, for Musso was starting two minutes behind us, number 556, and Fangio was number 600, the last away. Before very long I could sense that Moss was far from happy with the car, for he was driving with great caution even on wide open bends, and over some of the humps which I signalled as “flat out” he was easing the throttle. Understeer is a quality that a passenger cannot feel, and only by watching how far the driver turns the steering wheel for a given corner can one appreciate just how much understeer is being applied. On the limit the initial loss of adhesion is felt instantaneously by the driver, but not until the front of the car fails to change direction is the passenger aware of it. With an oversteering car the passenger can feel every degree of slip-angle that the rear wheels develop and can live with the driver through every corner and situation. Occasionally Moss would give me long glances and it was obvious that the handling was far from pleasant, while on the straights he was working it up to 5,600 r.p.m. in fifth gear (nearly 160 m.p.h.) and the front was wandering in a horrid manner, so I began to realise why he was easing off for some of the flat-out humps. In spite of the faults of the chassis, the engine was running well, and we were making reasonable time, but nothing like record time, and we got to Padova in a little over an hour, but, just as Ugolini had warned us, the rain started.
Up to now we thought we had been having trouble, but with the rain it really started, for water poured in from under the car and rose between the seats in a heavy spray, so that in addition to the rain beating on us from over the windscreen we had more rain beating upwards from the rear of the seats. In a matter of minutes we were soaked to the skin and under the driving seat there was a good two inches of water. Not content with being that depth it was turbulent, as though being beaten by an egg whisk, and as fast as I tried to dry spare goggles for Moss, those he was wearing became useless. Even a car which will run straight at high speed can be trying in the wet, so just how he was coping with this Maserati I could not imagine, yet I occasionally saw as much as 5,200 r.p.m. on the rev.-counter with the gear-lever in fifth. By this time we had passed some of the slower competitors, but naturally had seen no sign of the other works drivers. On a long straight before Ferrara we were groping our way along at about 130 m.p.h. when Musso went by in his 3 1/2-litre four-cylinder Ferrari and how he could see we could not imagine, for rain was really coming down now. A bit later, on a winding section, the rain eased off a little and we saw Musso just ahead of us, and this spurred Moss on and he caught and passed the Ferrari, forcing the nose of the Maserati alongside Musso as we approached a corner in a village so that the Ferrari gave way. On another long straight nearing Ravenna we caught up with a 2-litre Ferrari travelling at about 120 m.p.h., and the spray and general derision flying out the back was fantastic. Nothing we could do attracted the driver’s attention, for the road was only wide enough for two cars and he was having to concentrate to stay in the centre. For two or more kilometres we sat in the wake of this car, at times the water even obliterating its red tail, which was only about two feet in front of our car. In a do-or-die effort Moss forced his way alongside, the concrete posts on my side of the road being uncomfortably close, and then we were past and, by comparison, the mere rain seemed like a dry day. The only encouraging thought was that Musso was going to have to go through the same performance, for the road was still straight for miles; not that we wished him any harm. Just before Ravenna we overtook John Heath going very carefully in the H.W.M., though we were not to know it would be the last time we should ever see him.
The Ravenna Control came and went without a hitch, our card was stamped while we were still on the move, and then away we went again. The roads were like ice-rinks in places, and in some of the towns the cobblestones were so slippery we had to cross them on a trailing throttle, for to accelerate would have spelt disaster. Down to the Adriatic coast we went, the rain never ceasing and we were now so wet that cold was beginning to set in, in spite of the heat from the engine coming through the bulkhead. Our nice neat tin of biscuits and fruit was full of water and the food was a messy pulp, while I looked at our drinking bottles of orange juice and smiled to myself, for we must have drunk a gallon of rainwater already and I felt sure it was beginning to seep through the pores of my skin. We were wearing waterproof clothing, but we might just as well have been sitting naked, and had we been on a stripped chassis we could not have been wetter. I looked at Moss as he peered into the rain and wondered what it is that makes a driver carry on under such circumstances, for apart from all the physical discomforts there was the added mental strain of knowing that he had little or no safety limit with the car should he overdo a corner, while over some of the humps it gave some really horrible wavers on the front end. But still he battled on and, when I realised that all the other drivers were suffering from much the same problems, I saw the Mille Miglia in its true light and began to get a glimmering of why people race in it and why they were refusing to give up. All along the road we were seeing wrecked cars, some in ditches, others upside down, another with its nose through a wall, one so far off the road in a field it was difficult to see how it would ever get out again. I began to realise that this was not a motor race, it was something far greater, far tougher – it was a battle between the human race and all those things its agile brain had schemed up. Here was Man trying to prove to himself that the machines he made, the roads he built, the houses, the walls, the bridges, everything he had constructed, were for his use and that he was master of them all, but Nature was putting up her best opposition and everything that Man had made with his own brain and hands was now conspiring to kill him. If we gave up now it would be admitting defeat by our own devices. I could see that we must go on, we must fight our way through; this was not a battle of one man against another, it was an impossible fight of Man against himself, and if he gave up now the human race was going to lose some of its reason for existence.
It was only under such terrific pressure that the human being could satisfy itself that it was master of the earth. This was more than a motor race, we were not racing against Musso or Castellotti or Fangio; it seemed that we were fighting for the mere right to go on living. Maybe we were not good enough to win this battle, but others would be, and I felt that whoever was leading this greatest of all battles must go on to the bitter end, no matter how many fell by the wayside. Knowing racing drivers as I do, I was sure that some of them would fight their way through, and I could see clearly, perhaps for the first time, just why a man drives a racing car in competition.
Shortly before Fano, on another long straight, Musso came by again, and we just could not hold on to him, but later on, after Senigallia, we saw him by the roadside, and our first thought was that he had broken the car. However, we saw that he was relieving his bladder, for to race with it full is to risk serious internal injury in the case of a slight bump. As we neared Pescara, the rain stopped and a feeble sun tried hard to break through the clouds, and for the last 20 minutes before reaching Pescara the roads were almost dry, but we were still sodden. In front we saw a 3-litre Maserati and, though we were doing 5,600 r.p.rn. in top gear, we were gaining nothing on it along the straights. After a few corners we got close enough to recognise the yellow helmet of Perdisa, but in spite of our extra 1/2 litre we could not overtake him on the straight. After some more villages we closed on him and sat in his slipstream right into Pescara, out braking him for the S-bend over the level-crossing, and arriving at the control and our first refuelling stop just in front of him. In spite of both Maserati cars arriving together the mechanics did an excellent job of work and both tanks on our car were filled quickly and we were away again. The pit had told us that we were fourth in our class, but only sixth overall, the fantastic von Trips being second in his 300SL and Castellotti leading all the way.
Barely five minutes out of Pescara, heading for the Abruzzi mountains, the rain started again, and once more there was some goggle changing and cleaning to do for the driver, and now we had Perdisa on our tail. All the way to Popoli we passed and re-passed, but as we soared up into the mountains on our way to Aquila Moss began to throw the Maserati about a bit more and we shook Perdisa off, though it was obvious that the 3-Iitre was proving far more easy to handle on the wet and slippery road. On one bend we had seen the 300SL of von Trips, off the road and facing us, with all the front smashed in, and we hoped he was not hurt, while up in the mountains we came across a 1,900 Alfa-Romeo well and truly jammed into the retaining wall. By Aquila, the rain had stopped once more, but for only a few minutes, for as we started the descent down towards Rieti it began again, and this time in real earnest, with clouds almost down to road level. Just before Rieti is reached the road descends down the mountainside, in a series of quite fast bends, to the village of Antrodoco, which lies at the very foot of the mountains. On our way down this descent we had one really big slide, during which it was pretty obvious that Moss had lost complete control, but by sheer luck the car stopped sliding before we had used up the width of the road. With only four kilometres to go to the foot of this mountain descent we entered a right/left gentle ess before rounding a sharp right-hand bend, all downhill. Everything was going fine, apart from the torrential rain, and as Moss entered the S-bend on a straight line across the apex, he braked, ready for the sharp right-hander. The next few moments were some of the fullest I have ever spent.
For a fleeting moment the front wheels locked on the slippery road, and that was that, all adhesion on the tyres was lost and the car slid helplessly across the road towards the right-hand bank. With a resounding crash we hit a small stone wall, bounded over it and began to mount the earth bank on the right of the road. By good fortune the car was still going straight and we tore down a barbed-wire fence, and then I realised we were some 15 feet above the road, at 45 degrees to the horizontal, and I was convinced the car would now roll over sideways, for I could see Moss way above my right shoulder. Instinct, or motor-cycle training, made me curl up and keep my arms tucked out of the way, and then I felt the car retain the horizontal once more and I remember thinking with relief that it was not going to roll over after all. I looked up just in time to see that we were now plunging down the end of the bank, then there was a fleeting glimpse of the road and in front of us was a black-and-white concrete retaining wall of post and rails, on the outside of the sharp right-hand bend. I ducked, there was a loud bang, a jolt, and the car had stopped. All was silent, except for the horn, which was blowing loudly. With some relief I realised that at least we were not on fire, for I was very conscious of the large petrol tank alongside my seat. As we came to rest I heard Moss yelling “Get out, quick,” and saw him leap from the car. I got out quickly and fell flat on my face among shrubs and grass, and together we scrambled away from the wreckage, all the while the only sound being the long single note of the electric horn and steady beat of the pouring rain.
We made sure that neither of us was hurt and then cautiously went back to the poor battered Maserati and switched off the main eleetric circuit, which stopped the noise of the horn and left only the noise of the rain. The car had come to rest nose first against a tree about 15 feet from the road, but down a 60-degree grass slope. As we climbed back onto the road we heard cars approaching and saw Musso and Perdisa go by, and waved to them that we were all right. Then we walked back and surveyed the path of our uncontrollable flight, from the moment we lost adhesion on the front wheels. We found the first wall we had hit was about 12 inches high, and it was on that impact that I realised that our Mille Miglia was over. Then we looked at the tracks along the 45-degree bank and realised that had we been going slower we would never have travelled the whole length and would have certainly finished upside down in the road. At the end of the bank we had flown off a 3-ft. wall and made contact with the retaining wall on the outside of the bend without touching the road, for neither of us remembered feeling a bump as we landed. Then Moss felt that he had a scratch on his right cheek, and we found that the barbed wire had made a tiny line just below his right eye. When we found the windscreen scratched, the glass of the watch which he wears on his right wrist, and the glass of his goggles and his helmet also scratched, we realised how very close to a nasty injury he had been. Then we looked over the edge of the road and immediately at each other, both thinking the same thoughts. The Maserati was resting nose first against the only tree for many yards around, and beyond the tree the 60-degree slope went on down for 300 feet to a boulder-strewn river bed at the bottom, with nothing stronger than small bushes in the way.
It was at that moment that I remembered the ballad “Trees”.
The whole incident had started at about 70 m.p.h. and had taken some 200 yards to exhaust itself, and the fact that neither of us had anything broken or bruised was just one of those lucky breaks that keep some people alive.
There was nothing we could do about the car so, salvaging spare goggles, our route book and a solitary banana, we set off to walk to Antrodoco, some 3 1/2 kilometres farther down the mountainside. Just then we heard a Ferrari approaching, and it could only be Fangio, so we stood on the side of the road and gave him a “thumbs up ” sign and, bless his dear old Argentinian heart, he stopped to ask if we were all right and then offered us a lift in his passenger seat to the next town. We waved him on, indicating that he was supposed to be racing, but he smiled and shrugged, and indicated that he was in no hurry and was “touring” to finish. Fangio is too old and wise to hurry in impossible conditions – he obviously had no intention of doing himself any damage. “The Master” knows when and where to go fast. We continued to splash our way down the road and after a time we met some of the locals coming up, they having seen the car appear over the edge of the bank from below.
Our return to Brescia was a long and tedious process and, but for keeping a sense of proportion and humour, it would have been a misery. A competitor in a 1,900 Alfa-Romeo stopped and gave us a lift to the outskirts of Rome, where a spectator took us in a Fiat 1,400 to a hotel. We were both looking very bedraggled and shivering with cold and wet, and the hotel manager was rather taken aback at our demand for a room and a bath at lunch time. Eventually we got our circulation going again, had a meal and rang the Maserati agent in Rome. In quite a short time he arrived with some dry clothes and, packing our sodden racing gear into brown-paper parcels, we took a taxi to the station. There were five minutes to spare before an express left for Bologna and as I watched Stirling Moss standing at the ticket office, buying two singles to Bologna, wearing a borrowed suit and raincoat, with a brown-paper parcel tied with string under one arm, and his crash-hat and goggles under the other, I roared with laughter, for this really was the funniest way to finish a Mille Miglia, especially remembering how we had finished last year’s race. On the train we heard that Castellotti had won the race, and we paid tribute to outstanding courage and skill.
By 9 p.m. we were at Bologna and telephoning Moss’ mechanic, Alf Francis, who was staying at Modena, and he came out in the Vanguard to collect us. Our troubles were not over yet, for the continuous rain had swollen the rivers and the main road was flooded. The police sent us off on a 20-mile detour which ended at a bridge that had been washed away, so we returned to the main road, and after lots of yelling and shouting we splashed our way through the floods. Taking turns at driving we arrived back at Brescia at 2.30 a.m., and we crept into the hotel and to bed feeling happy to be alive but so tired it was hard to believe.