Ferrari Sweep the Board Once Again
Brescia, Italy, May 12th.
As with many big motor races, the 1957 Mille Miglia resolved into a straight fight between the Scuderia Ferrari and the Scuderia Maserati. This being a sports-car race both teams brought out their big guns and there was every prospect of a real dice over the 1,597 kilometres of Italian roads that constitutes the single lap of the Mille Miglia course. After the Sebring race Ferrari looked at his 3.5-litre V12 engines, with their four o.h.c., and decided that he needed more horsepower if his drivers were going to cope with the 4.5-litre V8 Maserati, also with four o.h.c., for the Trident car was giving an honest 400 b.h.p. and proving unbelievably reliable. The two weeks before the Mille Miglia saw Modena and Maranello hard at work on their cars for this tough race, while drivers were circulating Italy in all manner of vehicles, learning the roads and the conditions. Every now and then the via Emilia, which runs through the centre of Modena from Bologna and is part of the course, would have its normal civilian pandemonium shattered as a Ferrari or Maserati, with trade plate number hastily painted on the tail, would scream away into the middle distance. Sometimes, these two-seater Grand Prix cars, looking like sports cars, would head for some long straight to try and discover top speed, or be taken up into the mountains beyond Bologna, to sort out suspensions, gear ratios, brakes and handling. All the while at both factories, almost night and day, the test-houses would be emitting the bellowing of the big V8 or the scream of a V12.
Although the outright win obviously lay between Ferrari and Maserati, there was going to be a total of over 300 competitors sub-divided into numerous categories and classes, so that similar activity was going on in Bologna at the Osca factory, in Modena at Stanguellini, in Milan at Alfa-Romeo, in Turin at Lancia and Fiat and so on, while cars from other countries were being prepared and arriving in Italy daily. Jaguar, Porsche, Renault, Ford, Sunbeam, M.G., Peugeot, even a special from America, were all coming over the border for this most fascinating of the classic races, and one of the last remaining town-to-town road races. When the final list of starters was drawn up Ferrari entered four 12-cylinder cars, all with the engines enlarged since Sebring. Collins, with Klementaski as navigator, had a 4.1-litre, Taruffi, relying on his fantastic knowledge of the roads, had a similar car, von Trips relying solely on his natural ability, having a 3.8-litre and the fourth car being driven by de Portago, with his friend Nelson as navigator. This fourth works Ferrari should have been for Musso, but he was still unwell and certainly not fit enough to race for 1,000 miles non-stop. In a Gran Turismo 3-litre V12 “Europa” were that remarkable pair, driver Gendebien and navigator Wascher, and though not in the sports class everyone was going to keep an eye on them in the General Classification. From Maserati were entered two of their fabulous 4.5-litre cars, a brand new one for Moss, who was being navigated by Jenkinson, and the Sebring-winning car for Behra. These two monsters were to carry all the Maserati hopes for putting up a fight against Ferrari, but in addition there was a new experimental car for Herrmann to drive. This was a 3-litre chassis fitted with a new V12 engine of 3.5-litres, it being an enlarged Grand Prix engine, made from the Grand Prix castings, but having a larger bore and longer stroke. To the casual eye this unit was a Grand Prix engine of the type tried-out at Syracuse early in the season, and this experimental car also had a new five-speed Grand Prix gearbox and carried brakes from a 4.5-litre Maserati. A fourth car was a normal 3-litre 300S, with the big front brakes from the “four-five” and was to be driven by Scarlatti. Maserati also had 2-litre cars in the hands of Bordoni, Bellucci and Pagliarini, in direct opposition to the new 2-litre Testa Rosa Ferraris of Munaron, Sbraci, and Koechert. Also in the big sports-car class were Flockhart with an Ecurie Ecosse D-type, Steed with his Cooper-Jaguar, the Americans Miller and Harrison with their 6½-litre Chrysler-engined “hot-rod” special, and the start was so arranged that these private-owners left before the works entries, with a gap of five minutes between the two groups, so that the works drivers would have a clear run in the opening stages.
Naturally, there was as much rivalry in the other classes, especially among the Gran Turismo cars, such as the Giulietta Alfas and Porsches, but it was nice to see a great number of British cars joining in the fun of these lower classes. Two Sunbeam Rapiers, with engines enlarged to 1½-litres and fitted with extra equipment such as larger fuel tanks were being driven by Miss Van Damm/Humphrey and Harper/Reece, Nancy Mitchell had a TR3 hard top, Wisdom a six-cylinder Austin-Healey, Riley/Meredith with a warmed up Zephyr, Gregor Grant with a Lotus 1,100, Clarke with an Aceca, and the Fitzwilliam team of M.G.s. While there is no British manufacturer capable of challenging Ferrari and Maserati for an outright win in the Mille Miglia, the efforts of individuals to break up Italian monopolies in the various minor categories deserves every possible credit.
During the Thursday and Friday before the race the main square in Brescia was a scene of rising animation as touring and grand touring cars went through scrutineering, followed by many of the sports cars of the smaller capacities. But it was Saturday morning that saw excitement reach its highest point when first of all the Maserati team arrived and then the full Ferrari team. By lunchtime Saturday, Brescia and the surrounding districts could barely contain themselves with excitement, and after the last Ferrari had been scrutineered there was comparative quiet about the place, but nevertheless the air was alive with a fantastic expectancy.
With only 301 starters this year, the first man was not sent away until 11 p.m., but once he had left there was a continual stream of competitors leaving the starting ramp and setting off on 1,000 miles of dicing on the normal Italian roads, adequately guarded and closed to normal traffic. At the last minute there had been two upsets. Firstly, on Friday Behra had an accident while out on test with his 4.5 Maserati, and though he was lucky to escape with only a broken wrist and cuts and bruises, he was unable to start. Another unfortunate was Cabianca, who blew-up the engine of the works 1,500 Osca after scrutineering, so at the last moment he took the 950-c.c. works car which should have been driven by Morolli. This was especially unfortunate as the 1,500-c.c. class was all set for a big battle between Cabianca and Maglioli, the latter driving a works Porsche RS Spyder. Apart from them being in the same class they were due to start one minute apart, which would have really stirred things up. With this change it meant that both Cabianca and Maglioli were almost sure of a class win, for the opposition to two such champions of open-road racing was negligible. With Behra a non-starter all the Maserati hopes rested on Moss with the other “four-five,” for Herrmann’s car was very experimental and Scarlatti could not hope to compete against the might of Ferrari with a 3-litre Maserati.
Barring accident, the outright win lay between Moss with the big Maserati, who was hot favourite, and Collins and Taruffi with the 4.1-litre Ferraris, while von Trips and de Portago were unknown quantities that needed watching. Likewise, Gendebien with the Gran Turismo 3-litre needed watching closely, especially if there was any rain. In the big Gran Turismo class were many more 3-litre Ferraris and numerous 300SL Mercedes-Benz, but none driven by anyone capable of challenging Gendebien. At 5.30 a.m. on Sunday morning Scarlatti left, to lead the works cars, followed at one-minute intervals by de Portago, von Trips, Herrmann, Collins, Taruffi then a break where Behra should have started, and finally Moss. As the V8 Maserati roared out of Brescia to start this high-speed tour of Italy the crowds at the start returned home for breakfast. Already the rest of Italy was in a high state of excitement for the small cars were well on their way and the 750-c.c. Abarth-Fiats were approaching Rome. All along the route the roads were being closed about two hours before the first car was due, and back at Brescia they were being opened as soon as Moss had gone by.
As with so many Mille Miglias, this was not a Maserati day, for only 12 kilometres from the start Moss had the brake pedal break off at the root just as he was entering a fast bend. He managed to skitter round the corner but it was the end of the race for him and for Maserati, and the four works Ferraris sped along the fast roads to Verona, Padova, Ferrara, and the first control at Ravenna, little knowing that their chief rival had already retired.
Weather conditions were ideal, with dry roads and slight cloud obscuring the sun, so that the average to Ravenna was good, von Trips taking the shortest time of 1 hr. 37 min. 21 sec., an average of 186.748 k.p.h. Collins was second, Taruffi third, de Portago fourth and Gendebien fifth, so that already the race was turning into a Ferrari benefit. With competitors starting at one-minute intervals the position over Gendebien was interesting, for he left Brescia at 4.17 a.m. as against the others in the Ferrari team who left after 5.30 a.m. as the Belgian driver was in the Gran Turismo class. This meant that he always arrived at controls long before the others, but until they clocked in it was not possible to gauge accurately his performance. With Moss out so early and Behra a non-starter, it was hoped that Herrmann would uphold Maserati fortunes, but just before Ferrara he ran over a solid object and made a hole in the sump, so by the time everyone had gone through Ravenna the only hope for Maserati to get anywhere was Scarlatti in the 3-litre.
The Ferrari team received notification of only the first three positions at the Ravenna control, so that they did not realise that their only rivals were already out. The reactions to this monopoly were interesting, for von Trips eased up, Collins was shaken to have the German leading at the first control, so went much faster, and Taruffi, as always, really got into his stride down the fast leg of the Adriatic coast. Gendebien, of course, could know nothing of what was going on behind him, and just drove as hard as he and the car could stand. By the time Pescara was reached both Collins and Taruffi had overtaken von Trips, and before they turned inland to head for Popoli and the mountains they realised the Maserati menace existed no longer, for Ferraris were still in the first five places. Scarlatti was doing his best, but be could form no challenge and was just keeping ahead of Flockhart with the D-type. Of the other large cars the American Chrysler Special had dropped out with a cracked brake drum and a split exhaust manifold, and Steed had retired with sticking brakes.
Naturally there was much excitement in the other classes, but for the time being we must consider those in the running for the outright win. By Aquila the order was unchanged and the four sports Ferraris were conducting a clean sweep in the order Collins, Taruffi, von Trips and de Portago, with the Gran Turismo car of Gendebien ever in fifth place. Scarlatti was only just holding on to sixth place, for Maglioli with the Porsche was obviously going all out for a good position over all, rather than resting content with a certain class win, and he was already seventh, Flockhart having retired with the petrol tank adrift. Through Rome there was no change in the order and Collins now seemed certain of victory for there was no need for any of the Maranello drivers to force the pace. The average to Rome was 172.965 k.p.h., so that it did not seem as though the leader was easing up at all. As far as the General Classification was concerned there seemed little likelihood of any changes and while the weather still remained good the speeds of the leaders remained high. On the fast winding stretches to Siena Collins continued to increase his lead and by Florence he was nearly nine minutes ahead of Taruffi. However, over the Futa and Raticosa mountain passes the leading Ferrari began to make ominous noises from the back axle, and already Taruffi’s car was showing similar symptoms, the extra power of the 4.1-litre engine presumably being too much for the transmission. Away from the Bologna control went Collins and Klementaski, both keeping their fingers crossed for the grinding from the back end was getting worse, and though they drove light-footed along the fast stretch to Piacenza they never made that city, for at Parma the grinding became too much and they came to rest with a broken rear axle. Meanwhile Taruffi had eased off a great deal, so that von Trips began to gain on him, and when Collins retired and Taruffi went into the lead the young German was running in company with the old man from Rome. Having started three minutes earlier, it meant that Taruffi had a certain lead of three minutes providing he kept his team-mate in sight. Behind them de Portago had slowed considerably and, unbeknown to him, Gendebien had passed into third place, for the Belgian was still pushing the Europa along absolutely flat out. Poor Scarlatti was completely on his own, but managing to hang on to his position, the Porsche being fast but not fast enough to beat a 3-litre Maserati.
When Taruffi went through Cremona with von Trips in close company it was obvious that they were touring in to win, both hoping that they would not suffer the same fate as Collins, while de Portago was now rather a long way back. Gendebien was first home of the works cars and an easy winner of the Gran Turismo class, but he had to wait until the others arrived to know his position overall. Taruffi and von Trips arrived back at Brescia running almost side by side, so that after being in the lead at some point or another almost every year in the past, but never finishing, Taruffi had at last finished a Mille Miglia, and to everyone’s enjoyment he was the outright winner. Von Trips, making his first really serious drive for the Scuderia Ferrari, had more than justified expectations by finishing second.
After de Portago had gone through Cremona it was clear that he could not improve on Gendebien’s time, so the Gran Turismo car was third overall, and it was just a matter of the Spanish driver getting to the finish, to be placed fourth. Alas, he never managed it for while travelling at close on 170 m.p.h. along a fast straight between Mantova and Brescia a tyre was said to have burst and the car was hurled into a ditch, to rebound across the road and into the opposite ditch, both driver and passenger being killed. This lamentable accident and the loss of two such keen sporting characters was a sad blow and caused the Mille Miglia to end on a rather unhappy note. Alphonse de Portago had been a truly sporting racing motorist; one with enormous courage, an ample share of skill and ability, and among the up-and-coming drivers of today; while his friend and navigator Edmond Nelson was a truly amateur sporting type who went in these events for the sheer fun of the thing and a love of fast motoring, danger and excitement.
One by one the cars arrived back at Brescia, many suffering from mechanical troubles, many with bent and battered bodywork, but all who completed the 1,000 miles being justifiably well pleased with themselves, no matter whether they finished first or last, for 1,000 miles in a full day is good motoring by any standards, and to cover that distance in anything between 10 and 16 hours is a worth-while feat.
In the foregoing discourse we have only dealt with leaders on General Classification, but what of the rest of the 301 starters? Among the tiny cars that went off first, the Abarth-Fiats, with enlarged engines and pretty coupe bodies by Zagato, were making everyone blink, for these baby Gran Turismo cars were not hanging about. There was a close three-cornered battle between Thiele, Guarnieri and Gianni and in the opening stages their average was over 134 k.p.h. They soon caught the leading normal 600 Fiats, so that all round the course the thousands of spectators waiting for the first car to appear were surprised by these sleek little coupes whistling past like a group of angry bees. Thiele eventually pulled away from the other two, especially over the mountains, for his car was a works one and weighed quite a lot less than normal. It was this car that was first to arrive back at Brescia, having made the whole course at an overall average of 117.925 k.p.h., and though he was only 63rd in the complete picture, this class-winning speed was truly remarkable for a 750-c.c. car.
In the 750-1,000-c.c. touring and Gran Turismo class French cars dominated the entry and the works Dauphines had little opposition in the sub-division of the group. However, in the overall capacity group they were up against D.B. coupes, and though Vidilles won with a D.B. he was only seconds ahead of Frere in the Dauphine, who had been troubled with a slipping clutch in the early part of the race. Some indication of how the little Abarth 750 had gone can be gained by the fact that the larger-engined D.B. was 2 k.p.h. slower on average speed.
The 1,300-c.c. touring and Gran Turismo class was a complete walk-over for Alfa-Romeo Giuliettas, the winners, Martin/Convert, being 20th overall, amongst Ferrari, Maserati and Osca sports cars, but then the performance of the Sprint Veloce is no longer a thing that surprises. The surprise would be if they did not perform. Naturally there were dozens of these cars running, having pushed the 1,300 Porsche right out of the picture, and last year’s Sprint Veloce Champion Eddio Gorza should have won easily but he retired after Pescara while well in the lead. Once the leading Giulietta had finished there came a seemingly never-ending stream of these beautiful little coupes, and in the final classification from 20th place onwards the name Alfa-Romeo appeared almost continuously. An equally fierce one-make battle was in the 1,300-1,600-c.c. class amongst a long row of Porsche Carreras and the regular Porschists Strahle and Linge dominated the scene with their very stripped Carrera, all superfluous weight having been removed, even to headlining and trim. In this general capacity class were the two works Sunbeam Rapiers, with engines enlarged to 1½-litres, oversize fuel tanks and all the tuning mods. Unfortunately Miss Van Damm got a wheel in some particularly bad tramlines just outside Verona and spun round, clouting a wall in the process. The other one, driven by Harper/Reece, went well apart from the throttle rod falling off at regular intervals, but was beaten in its class sub-division by a hot Ford Taunus from Germany.
The 750-c.c. sports class saw the usual collection of Italian homemade “specials,” but it was the beautiful little Osca cars that dominated the class, in spite of opposition from works D.B. and Panhard. In the 1,600-2,000-c.c. touring and Gran Turismo class a remarkable number of DS19 Citroens took part and ran like trains; it was veteran Chiron who got the first one home, quite fast, but not fast enough to get near the 1,900 Alfa Romeo saloon that won the class. Naturally enough the Gran Turismo 2-litres were even faster and a comparatively out-of-date 8V Fiat won this category.
The 750-1,100-c.c. sports class should have been a sort of super-club race amongst the Italians, with Osca, Ermini and Stanguellini cars, hot favourites being Morolli with a works Osca and Siracusa with a works Stanguellini. Unfortunately “the lads” were a bit put out when Cabianca took over the works 950-c.c. Osca after blowing up his 1,500-c.c. car the day before the race, for he was in a class of his own and simply walked away from everyone. It was most encouraging to see a pair of Loti running in this group, driven by Gregor Grant and Bruno Ferrari, the latter no relation to Enzo. It would have been quite something to have finished the 1,000 miles in a Lotus, but both fell by the wayside, Grant having trouble with a split fuel tank, and though he eventually limped back to Brescia it was not until everyone had gone home to bed. The 1,500-c.c. sports class was rather like the 1,100 class, for there was no one who could hope to challenge Maglioli with the works Porsche and he was so far out of the general run of his group that he figured prominently in the General Classification, being fifth overall and 40 minutes ahead of the next 1,500. In this class there was a fine display of M.G. MGAs and Carnegie, driving one of the Fitzwilliam team cars, was first home among the Abingdon contingent and fourth in the class, though this creditable effort also won him the class for sports-cars-that-cost-a-reasonable-price, a peculiar special category that ensures that a British car wins something.
Before the really fast cars left Brescia a small group went off consisting of touring saloons of more than 2,000 c.c., but with no holds barred on tuning or modification, and once more there was the nice sight of some opposition from England, there being a Ford Zephyr, driven by Riley/Meredith. Though it was hot as Zephyrs go the German cars were hotter and it could not keep up with the V8 B.M.W.s and 220a Mercedes-Benz: however, it was good to see someone from England having a go. The unlimited Gran Turismo class should have seen a good battle between Ferrari Europas and Mercedes-Benz 300SL, but Gendebien was unapproachable, being winner of the class by 50 min. and third overall, which was surely the most outstanding performance of the whole Mille Miglia. There were no SL drivers of great ability, but there were some good average runners and one of them should have finished second. As it was they all dropped out one by one, and of the nine that started none of them finished, which was a black day for Stuttgart.
The 2-litre sports class looked like being a Maserati victory, for first of all Bordoni was well ahead, but he dropped out with gearbox trouble, then Bellucci took command until an oil pipe broke and finally Pagliarini went off the road and wrecked the front of his car. All this left Munaron comfortably in the lead with his Testa Rosa Ferrari, followed by the Austrian Koechert with a similar car. The big sports-car class we have already dealt with in discussing the General Category, and that too was not a Maserati day as we have seen. In the first 16 places of the whole race all but four were Ferrari cars, the four intruders being one Maserati and three Porsches, so we can truthfully say that the 1957 Mille Miglia was Ferrari day. — D.S.J.