“To me the Mille Miglia was certainly the finest road race of them all, but although I loved it, I was always afraid of taking part…. In 1955 when I won in the Mercedes with “Jenks” we were travelling at up to 180 mph on open roads. Although the brakes were very good – there was a constant nagging fear that if anything went wrong there was nothing we could have done about it. We had a fabulous drive and it was nice to make a bit of Mille Miglia history together, as my time of 10 hours 7 minutes 48 seconds at an average speed of 98.53 mph for the 1,000 miles was never beaten” - Stirling Moss
The first running of the Mille Miglia was in 1927 in torrential rain. The history of the Mille Miglia beaks down distinctly into pre and post war segments. In the post war decade from 1947 to 1957 the event was rapidly re-established as a world leading competition. Major sports car manufacturers would enter works cars employing some of the top drivers of the day to win the 1000 Miglia for them. Enzo Ferrari said “The Mille Miglia created our cars and the Italian Automobile industry”.
Twenty years after it was abandoned on grounds of safety, the Mille Miglia was revived as a retrospective in 1977 and it has become a pinnacle of its type for serious collectors to participate in. Only the very best cars in the world of the types that took part in period are selected. History
The origins of the Mille Miglia race are closely linked to those of the Brescia Automobile Club.
In 1927, the RACI (the Royal Automobile Club of Italy), the word 'Royal' had been added to its name that year, established a public Vehicle register office and handed down the levying of car taxes to the various provinces.
As a result, the Milan Automobile Club became an independent entity and severed its ties to Brescia, until then a section of the Milan Automobile Club.
However, the motor sport links between the two cities had become increasingly strained, particularly after 1922 when the Italian Grand Prix was held at the new Monza circuit near Milan. The circuit had been built in record time in the park of the Royal Villa. The problem was that the first Italian Grand Prix had been held the previous year at the Montichiari circuit near Brescia, organized by Arturo Mercanti, Director of Milan Automobile Club who was originally from Milan but who had adopted Brescia as his home. When the 1922 race was given to Monza, the organizers were able to draw on the experience of the previous year and take advantage of some of the technical innovations, such as the banked bends that had been developed at the Ghedi circuit in Montechiari.
This was regarded as a grave insult by the people of Brescia, particularly since Brescia had been one of the main cradles of Italian motor sport - ever since 1899 when the Brescia-Cremona-Mantua-Verona-Brescia race had been run during the traditional August Fair, over a distance of 220 kilometres, and repeated again the next year when it was unfortunately marred by a serious accident. Brescia's links with motor sport continued in 1904 with the ' Settimana Motoristica' (Motor sport week) and in 1905 with the Coppa Florio run on the Montechiari Circuit. In the same year some of the first speedboat races to be held in Italy took place on nearby Lake Garda and the city's pioneering spirit was again underlined in 1909 when the Brescia 'Circuito aereo' introduced competitive aeronautics to Italy.
When the Brescia Automobile Club was formed the insult still rankled and it was clear that something had to be done - something spectacular that would be a satisfactory response but, at the same time, would not offend the sensibilities of the RACI or the ACM, both headed at the time by Senator Silvio Crespi.
The Club was formed under the leadership of a group of prominent young racing drivers with Franco Mazzotti Bianchelli as Chairman and Count Aymo Maggi di Gradella as vice-Chairman (together with Oreste Bertoli). It also attracted some influential political figures to its Board, including Member of Parliament Alfredo Giarratana and the future Brescia provincial Party Secretary Innocente Dugnani who was closely connected to Augusto Turati of Parma, Secretary of the Brescia Fascists from 1923 to 1926 and later of the national Fascist Party.
To add to these influential political connections and the considerable financial backing of its motor sport enthusiasts, the Club had the organisational experience of Renzo Castagneto of Verona a well-known cyclist, motorcycle racer and founder of the Polisportiva Ravelli club.
Castagneto had been a member of the volunteer force that had proclaimed an independent state in Fiume [Istria] in 1919 and was close to Mussolini until 1924. From 1923 onwards he proved to be a successful organizer of motor sport events as the General Secretary of the ACB, assisted by Baron Flaminio Monti, the Vice-Secretary.
What was decided was that the Club would organize a long distance race for production cars that would differ from the French Bol d'or [dating from 1922] and Grand Prix d'Endurance de 24 heures, 'Coupe Rudge Whitworth' [held from 1923 onwards and later known as the Le Mans 24 Hours] and other similar events such as the Gran Premio Turismo, a 24 hour race, run only once at Monza in 1926. It would not be linked to any circuit, would be easy to service and supply and would cover a large part of Italy, virtually taking the cars to the front doors of potential buyers. This was the equivalent of an advertising brainwave and attracted strong interest from the car manufacturers, which were struggling to sell their products at the time. It gave them an ideal opportunity to overcome the poor reputation their products had for reliability. It was also popular with the Government. It would present the modern face of Italy to the world as well as stimulating the popularity of motor vehicle use and thereby benefitting the industry, providing jobs and increasing revenue from taxes.
The Italian people would also derive a marginal benefit from improvements to the roads used in the race - a lingering problem from the time of the birth of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.
To complete the organising team, later known as the 'Musketeers', Mazotti, Maggi and Castagneto needed a top-class journalist. As the story goes, they turned to Giovanni Canestrini of the influential 'Gazzetta dello Sport', a pioneering sports newspaper backed by motor industry leaders Giovanni Agnelli and Edoardo Bianchi [before control was bought by Alberto Bonacosso in 1929. Since 1909 this newspaper had been in competition with the 'Corriere della Sera', which supported the revival of the Giro d'Italia, a non-competitive road race that had taken place in 1901, and it was organising the cycle race of the same name, under the capable direction of Armando Cougnet who was the newspaper’s director.
Cougnet and Castagneto soon put together the details of the Mille Miglia Cup race. It would be run from Brescia to Rome [to flatter the Fascist regime] and back to Brescia, a distance of around 1600Km. This flattery paid off when the Government [or, at least, Turati] dismissed Senator Crespi's objection that the race would be 'too dangerous'.
It was at this time that the legend surrounding the origin of the name Mille Miglia was born. It has been recorded, with some variations in the details, at least three times by Canestrini over the years; in the 1930 edition of 'Numero Unico', in 1962 in his 'Una vita con le corse [a life in racing]' and, finally, in 1967 in 'Mille Miglia’.
I was not expecting visitors on that Christmas Eve in 1926; I was daydreaming, slumped in an armchair in my little study in Via Bonaventura Cavallieri in Milan, when I heard someone calling me from the courtyard. It was the hoarse voice of Aymo Maggi and I recognised it immediately. I looked out of the window and there, down in the courtyard, was Maggi with Franco Mazzotti, Renzo Castagneto and Baron Monti. All Brescia men. “What do they want”, I thought, “on Christmas Eve?”
My study was invaded by my friends and Maggi, their spokesman, explained the reasons for this unexpected visit. "Our factories don’t race any more”, he said. “There are no racing cars and if we want to do some racing, all we can do now is purchase foreign cars, or Bugattis, which is virtually the only one being manufactured and sold to customers. If we don’t do something new, we feel that nobody will be interested in motor racing any more and our whole tradition will be forgotten. We have to do something”, he repeated.
[…] The idea of organising a Brescia-Rome race was mooted. It was fashionable to have everything end up in the capital (then as now); but this idea was not well received since, in the end, the benefit to Brescia would be relatively small.
“Why don’t we have a Brescia-Rome-Brescia race?” […] “And what shall we call it?”
“Brescia-Rome-Brescia” was too long and reminded one of a train timetable, rather than a car race. The “Giro d’ Italia” was not suitable, and neither was the “Criterium delle macchine sport”. Other names and titles were discarded one by one. At a certain point Mazzotti asked me and Castagneto, as we were calculating the distances on the map:
“How long is it?” “Over a thousand kilometres - around 1,600 kilometres.” “Or a thousand miles”, remarked Mazzotti, who had just returned from a trip to America and had become accustomed to thinking of distances and averages in miles rather than in kilometres. Then, acting on an inspiration, he added: “Why don’t we call it the Mille Miglia Cup?”
“Don’t you think the name seems too American?” someone objected. “Not at all!” he replied, “after all, the Romans measured their distances in miles, and we’re following Roman tradition”. In those times, this meant something.
We don't really know if it happened this way or even whether it happened that evening but, as with all good stories, it's nice to think it did.