The XXXIII Mille Miglia

A Personal Triumph for Castellotti

In spite of popular alarums and excursions the Mille Miglia took place on April 28/29th in exactly the same form as past years, and the only differences in the route were two new by-pass roads: at Pineto, on the Adriatic coast, and San Quirico, shortly before Siena.

Of the 427 entries, only 54 failed to turn up in the Piazza Vittoria in Brescia for the official scrutineering, leaving 373 cars, ranging from Fiat 600 to 3 1/2-litre works Ferraris, and between the finish of scrutineering on Saturday afternoon and 11 p.m. that night, when the first car left the starting ramp in the Viale Rebuffoni, heading east for Verona, another eight failed to report. As is tradition, the small cars left first, beginning at half-minute intervals; at 11.37 p.m., when the first Fiat 1,100 left, the intervals were enlarged to one minute, the cars getting faster and more powerful as the hours wore on. By the time the really fast cars left it was daylight, Fangio being last away at 6 a.m., though many of the fast 1,500-c.c. sports cars and the big Gran Turismo models had left in the dark.

Along the fast straights to Padova the day was fine, though the sky was cloudy, but before Rovigo and the crossing of the River Po rain was falling heavily. As far as the eye could see the sky was heavy with rain, and the fast open cars were being severely handicapped, so at the first control at Ravenna it was not surprising to find two Mercedes-Benz 300SL cars on the leader board. Castellotti (Ferrari) was in the lead, with Taruffi only a few seconds behind him, and then came von Trips and Riess, both profiting from closed cars and efficient windscreen wipers. Most impressive was the performance of Cabianca with the little 1,500-c.c. Osca, who was lying fifth ahead of such opposition as Moss, Collins, Musso, Gendebien, and Perdisa, to say nothing of his team-mates Villoresi and Maglioli.

Reaching the Adriatic coast at Rimini, von Trips was going at an enormous pace, and by the time he reached his first refuelling stop at Pesaro he was actually leading Castellotti by a few seconds. Taruffi had water in his brakes and failed to stop at one corner, the resulting excursion into the undergrowth damaging his radiator too badly for him to continue. Castellotti had refuelled at Ravenna and he regained the lead while Trips refuelled, but they clocked in at the control at Pescara with only two minutes separating them, a truly creditable performance by both German car and driver. AII the drivers of open cars were having great difficulty with visibility for it was raining heavily all the time until a few minutes before the Pescara control, when there was a slight break. Riess was backing up his 300SL team-mate splendidly, keeping ahead of Collins and Fangio, the high-speed sections down the coast road having been too much for the little Osca and it had dropped back. On the twisty road from Pescara to Popoli von Trips was following an Alfa-Romeo saloon into a bend when it braked suddenly and the SL driver had to take violent avoiding action which resulted in his car spinning round and crashing through a concrete barrier, fortunately without injury to driver or mechanic. By this one slight error on the part of another driver the German’s fine drive came to an end, and this let Riess up into second place. Castellotti was driving the race of his life, alone in the 12-cylinder Ferrari, and was unassailably in the lead at Aquila, while Collins had moved up into third place and Musso and Moss had ousted Fangio from the leader board over the mountainous section in the Abruzzi. Shortly after this, still in torrential rain, Moss went off the road and smashed the new 3 1/2-litre Maserati, and Musso dropped back behind Fangio. Off the mountains at Rieti the way was still treacherous and the rain continued to pour down, but Castellotti was making no mistakes and driving at great speed but with a remarkable surefootedness.

At Rome he was still in the lead, nearly 10 minutes in front of Collins in a four-cylinder Ferrari, with Klementaski as passenger, as on his winning drive in Sicily. On the hard twisty part of the course up from Rome, over the Radicofani mountain, where the clouds were down on the road, Collins could make nothing on Castellotti, though equally the leader could not draw away, and at Firenze they were still approximately 10 minutes apart. Riess failed to arrive at the Firenze control on time and he dropped right back, letting Musso and Fangio by first of all and then, as he slowed, Gendebien went past into fifth place and leader of the Gran Turismo category with the works 3-litre Ferrari. The Scuderia Ferrari were now having a clean sweep, being in the first five places in the general category, and the order was to remain unchanged right over the Apennines and along the fast straights back to Brescia and the finish. Over the Futa and the Raticosa the rain was continually teeming down and cloud and mist brought visibility down to a bare 50 yards, yet still Castellotti made no mistakes. He is usually reckoned to be rather wild in his driving but he was now disproving this idea, and throughout the whole 1,000 miles he never put a foot wrong, arriving home a very wet and tired winner, but having accomplished a magnificent feat. With the appalling weather his average was naturally low by Mille Miglia standards, though fantastic in view of the conditions, while he made history by being in the lead at every control point, losing it only momentarily between Ravenna and Pescara.

In a race the size and complexity of the Mille Miglia it is naturally impossible to follow the fortunes of every competitor, nor is it possible until many weeks after the event, when the detailed times at all the controls have been tabulated, to follow closely the changes in leadership in all the various categories. However, from various sources and information gleaned from competitors it is possible to gather together a word-picture of various sections of the vast entry and to record some of the happenings that overtook many of the cars and drivers. Quite naturally it would be possible for the driver of a 600 Fiat to have enough excitement in 1,000 miles to fill a whole magazine, while the faster the cars the more likely there is to be incidents and hazards.

Mille Miglia Musings

Among the 1 1/2-litre sports cars the Osca team ran into fuel-pump troubles, both Villoresi and Maglioli having to fiddle with the electrics to make any progress at all. Maglioli finally gave up the unequal struggle at Bologna and left the car at the factory, returning to Brescia to pick up his personal 300SL.

Guilo Cabianca’s win in the 1 1/2-litre class was well deserved as he specialises in open-road racing and has been faithful to Osca for some years now.

Hans Herrmann was a favourite in the 1 1/2-litre class with the new works Porsche Spyder but had valve trouble at Aquila. Fortunately he had Werner Enz, a factory mechanic, with him and they were able to remove the valve gear from one cylinder and return home on three cylinders the following day. Bracco in the other factory Porsche, a 1955 car, found the brakes inoperative in the wet and decided to retire before he did any damage.

Jean Behra finished 20th overall and second in the 1 1/2-litre class with a 150S Maserati, driving in his first Mille Miglia. He might have won the class had not a rear-brake pipe split. Feeling that only the front brakes were working he pressed on, but eventually all the fluid leaked away and he had no brakes. Stopping at a wayside garage he made up a new brake pipe himself, the mechanics all being on holiday watching the race, and fitted it. To do this he had to remove the spare wheel, which necessitated a certain amount of “forcing” – like on so many Italian cars the spare wheel was larger than the boot lid. After bleeding the brakes he was able to continue but had lost some 45 minutes all told.

Sanesi with the very fast little works 1,300-c.c. Giulietta Spyder arrived at the start with an empty fuel tank and was late away. This setback may have accounted for him crashing before reaching Pescara.

Among the 2-litres Bellucci had to retire the works four-cylinder 200S model with lack of brakes due to water, while Giardini relaxed his driving of an A6G and let Scarlatti win the class with a similar car. Among the drivers of six-cylinder Maseratis were many newcomers, some of them going terribly slowly.

Among the big cars poor John Heath crashed in the H.W.M. near Ravenna and later succumbed to his injuries in Ravenna hospital.

Leslie Brooke crashed his Austin-Healey, but without serious injury, and Tommy Wisdom finished the course in his works car, though behind the works M.G.s.

Without doubt the Prima Donna of the event was Nancy Mitchell who drove the entire race herself, taking Pat Faichney for company. The MGA was standard and fitted with two tiny aero-screens, so that both girls were soaked to the skin. Nancy had never been round the course so that all the time new and interesting terrain opened up before her. Rally experience in mountain country where you must drive on reflexes made the journey possible and she finished 74th. In addition, they were the first all-women equipe to finish and fifth in the 1 1/2-litre class, not so far behind Scott-Russell and Haig in a similar car. Whereas Nancy Mitchell’s Rally M.G. tended to fall apart immediately after leaving the start, the Mille Miglia car never missed a beat and behaved impeccably throughout.

The Belgian girl-wonder Gilberte Thirion continued her remarkable exploits, this time driving a Renault Dauphine on her own and finishing before such mere males, in similar cars, as Trintignant, Rosier and Frere, though it must be allowed that the last named looped-the-loop with his during the 1,000 miles.

The French girl, Annie Bousquet, who refused to give up racing no matter what the setbacks, drove a Triumph TR2 and was so wet and cold that for the last part of the race she was unable to change gear. She had some energy pills in the pocket of her overalls but was too stiff and cold to get them out. Such will-power deserves a special medal. Under such circumstances many men would have given up.

One of the most outstanding performances was that of Sgorbati with one of the new Sprint-Veloce Alfa-Romeo Giuliettas in finishing 11th in the overall category. He was followed by Becucci driving a similar car, while Swedish driver Bonnier was 15th with yet another Sprint-Veloce.

The Ferrari 250 Europa coupe which won the Gran Turismo class was a typical sports/racing coupe. So much water leaked in that it could have used a wiper on the inside of the windscreen. Gendebien had anything but an easy drive, going off the road four times and spinning round three. His passenger, Jacques Wascher, was still smiling happily at the end.

Both Sunbeam Rapiers finished unscathed, Peter Harper and Sheila Van Damm sharing the driving of the factory car. That production Sunbeams, M.G.s, Triumphs, Jaguars and Austin-Healeys all finished the course goes to show that it is possible to screw English cars together properly, and that they are not such big heaps of junk as many people imagine. One thousand miles in less than a day over Italian roads, including four mountains, is a good enough test for anybody. The next step is to produce some more speed and finish amongst the 12th to 20th places – among the Alfa-Romeo Giuliettas, Porsche Carreras, 300SL and Lancia Aurelia.

First all-British combination to arrive at the finish was the MGA of Scott-Russell and Haig, who were 70th.

A pity that the British pair Collins and Klernentaski could not have won, thus making a double with the Giro Sicilia. With four factory Ferraris in the over-2-litre class and finishing 1-2-3-4 the Scuderia Ferrari made history. Fifth place by the Gran Turismo factory Ferrari completed the grand slam.

The new 750-c.c. Osca cars had a sweeping victory, for though Chiron was put out by a seized ball-race in the clutch when he got to Pescara, he was way out in the lead of the class. From there his team-mate Cappelli went into the lead and won by over 30 minutes from the Stanguellinis, which normally dominate this category.

In the touring 750-c.c. class the win by Michy with his little Renault was most praiseworthy, for his average speed was not only higher than that of Manzon with a Gran Turismo D.B. coupe but also of the fastest Fiat 1,100, while the souped-up Fiat Abarths were well and truly beaten up by the long-established French car.

Tales of remarkable achievements, hair-raising incidents and arduous drives could go on for ever, for with 365 cars having left the start and only 178 arriving back at the finish in time to qualify, the mechanical mortality can be imagined. Four drivers reached Brescia after the maximum time allowed for their particular category, and one of these, in a 1,000 Alfa-Romeo saloon, was completing his 14th Mille Miglia. He had little or no interest in dicing, being quite content to tour round the course and add another Mille Miglia to his list. Being an Italian, his real satisfaction came from driving for a whole day on roads he knew well without having to dodge bicycles, dogs, lorries and other traffic. That alone most be paradise to an Italian.

When the XXXIII Mille Miglia finished it was still raining and it must have been the toughest on record, a complete contrast from last year’s race, during which the sun shone throughout.

Whereas the 1955 race was a triumph for Mercedes-Benz and Stirling Moss, the 1956 race was truly a personal triumph for Eugenio Castellotti.