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History Of The Mille Miglia

Updated on August 23, 2011

The Most beautiful car race in the world...

The first Italian Grand Prix took place in 1921 in Brescia. But a new course was built in 1922 at Monza, and for the most part has held the race ever since. When Brescia lost the Grand Prix to Monza, Brescians Aymo Maggi and Franco Mazzi decided to give a bit "Take that!" to the world of racing and prove that Brescia wouldn't take the loss lying down.

With some wealthy friends and associates, they established the race to end all races, the Mille Miglia, taking racers 1000 Miles along a figure eight course through Italy, going from Brescia to Rome and back.

There had been auto endurance races before, but rarely on such an incredible scale. The idea seemed crazy at first, but the racers proved to be up to the task, with seventy seven lead racers showing up for the event in Alfa Romeos, O.M.s and Lancia Lambdas. A total of fifty four cars actually wound up crossing the finish line, nonetheless, that was fifty four cars more than some were expecting to make it.

Classic auto racing at its best

Typically, the car race was dominated each year by Italian drivers of locally made cars, however, the pattern was broken in 1931, courtesy of the Regenmeister, German Rudolf Caracciola driving a Mercedes-Benz SSK. Regenmeister, by the way, translates to Rainmaster, and refers to Caracciola's prowess for driving in rainy conditions. While conditions were dry during the 1931 Mille Miglia, the course that year had been mapped out along bumpy, damaged roads, mountain terrain, and cobbled streets cutting through small villages, and Carraciola's ability to handle any road condition certainly helped him to secure the first place.

Automobile Accident suspends the Grand Prix of Brescia

A tragic accident occurred in 1938, prompting Mussolini to end the Mille Miglia races. During World War II, the Mille Miglia had been transformed into the so-called "Grand Prix of Brescia" for the 1940 race, and while it remained an endurance marathon, the fact that it had been nine laps around a sixty two mile course robbed the race of some of its romance. Nonetheless, the race did make Mille Miglia history, such as when the first Enzio Ferrari auto took the course. While the race was especially dominated by Italian cars and drivers this year, Ferrari's upgraded BMW 328, driven by Germans Huschke von Hanstein and Walter Baumer, actually took the race with a still-remaining record for average speed at 166 kilometres an hour, or 103 MPH.

After the war, the race came back in full force in 1947, again on full length endurance courses, with the first post-War Mille Miglia being won by Italians Clemente Biondetti and Emilio Romano in an Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 B Berlinetta Touring, securing Italian pride in the race once more. Italian drivers and cars would continue taking the race until 1955, when the legendary English driver Stirling Moss crossed the finish line in a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR with co-driver Denis Jenkinson.

Sir Sterling Moss - On the Mercedes 722 and his historic Mille Miglia racing

Memorial to victims of Mille Miglia - SS 236 Goitese, Cavriana (MN), Italy

Sadly, the race was outlawed again, seemingly for good, after a fatal accident in 1957, when Alfonso de Portago, his co-driver Edmund Nelson, and eleven spectators tragically lost their lives. To save time, the pit team had neglected to replace a worn tire, and the incident turned the opinion of many against the sport, deeming it too dangerous to continue.

The race was then carried on as a rally event until 1961, with racers generally staying under the speed limit, save for a few small stretches of road where they would be allowed to go full speed.

Alfonso De Portago Accident - May 12 1957 Mille Miglia

The modern auto race

The name was revived in 1977, but the Mille Miglia had become something of a car parade rather than a serious competition. In 1982, however, the original endurance test would finally be resurrected as a full on competitive trip across Italy, and this final incarnation of the race would remain to this day.

While the sport is still dominated by Italian cars and racers, the national pride of the race has given way to a universally shared love of automotive excellence, exemplified in the 2003 race when the Argentinean driving team Sielecki/Hervas took the race with a 1923 Brescia-made Bugatti T 23. Where the pre-War races were almost invariably won by Alfa Romeos, we've seen BMW becoming one of the dominant forces of the modern Mille Miglia, with both German and Italian drivers behind the wheel.

It should be interesting to see where the race goes in the future, (apart from to Rome and back) but we can certainly bet that the Mille Miglia will stay true to the original idea behind the race, because that original idea is one of the best that anybody has ever had: Beautiful cars racing through Italy.

The Mille Miglia: The most beautiful car race in the world

Jaguar C-type (1953)

1953 Mille Miglia

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    • profile image

      John Marlin 7 years ago

      I'm betting on the Mille Miglia Brand catching on in a big way in America. I picked up some stock in a company called Stratus Media Group (SMDI.ob) which has purchased the U.S. rights to the brand Mille Miglia and will stage a 1000 mile race along the California coast. They are a live event company that also stage Concours d'Elegance events nationwide andthey are competing with the AM EX Black Card. I like their business model. Check them out.

    • Shinkicker profile image

      Shinkicker 8 years ago from Scotland

      Great Hub

      I worked in Peschiera last summer and we watched the Mille Miglia pass by, it was a great evening's fun. The vintage cars were amazing.