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Brescia-Rome-Brescia, 22nd - 25th of October, 2020

Back to the roots or less can be more... this might be the motto of this year’s 1000 Miglia.

93 years ago the first of the original thousand miles through Italy was held and within the 30 years of existence the endurance race on open roads became an institution in the sports car championship contrasting circuit racing as the Nuerburgring or Spa 1000 km. Maybe the older Targa Florio had a similar character with its 148 km lap but it was the MM that created legends like Nuvolari, Caracciola or Stirling Moss, the last of the winners that left us earlier this year.

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Looking around in Brescia is was obvious that a lot of locals had other concerns rather than looking cars but the main difference was the complete lack of tourists. Normally the Piazzas are crowded by mainly German and Dutch people looking at cars, enjoying am Aperol Spritz and having dinner in the countless pizzerias. Leaving the scrutineering area one was barely aware that this is the Mille Miglia weekend.

As said earlier the local authorities were requesting more restrictions from the national government and a curfew was set up for the coming days. Certainly the Mille Miglia as well as the Giro d´Italia ending at the same weekend are too big to just cancel them on short notice but still the start was held without people to avoid crowds. So when the cars left the ramp on Thursday afternoon after the lunch break in the Museo MM they did not drive through the usual row of people but left Brescia more in quiet to take the first leg to Cervia at the Adria. Passing Descenzano and Simione at the Lago di Garda it was again visible that the tourists were missing.

More people were driving on invitation in works car giving them the unique experience, people who sometimes never sat in a classic car before. This also changed the program as from the former start on Thursday evening and the full drive to Rome and back on the following days the timing was extended to almost 4 full days to keep the drive reasonable. Especially the introduction of the split of the Rome-Brescia leg into two days held a lot of controversy within the regular drivers. On one side is was argued that this took away some of the challenge that was part of the rally, on the other side safety reasons could be brought forward as the last 100 kilometres before Brescia were usually driven in a doze when only adrenalin and the will to finish prevented the drivers from falling asleep. But with the prolonged program and the new sort of participants the MM also became more of an event than just pure driving. Laps in Monza, numerous drives through crowded city centres like the passing of the Duomo in Milan were added just as visits to the Alfa Museum, all this adding up to even longer days stuck in traffic.

Furthermore more and more new classic cars following the Mille Miglia in addition of the numerous service, organization and media cars as well as the Ferrari or Mercedes tribute in advance made this an avalanche rolling through the region. The date around the Whitsun weekend also made this a welcome touristic destination, especially around the Lago di Garda and so the MM is not just a business for the organizers but also not a small economic factor for the region.
Fast forward to 2020. When the Covid virus hit the world early in March it was Italy in particular suffering and a first lock-down was performed. All over the world this affected economy and nobody knew how hard and how long this crisis would last due to the lack of experience. Many events, not only those in the classic car world, were facing the decision what to do, many were cancelled well in advance, others waited as long as possible and again others were postponed to a later date in the hope that the worst would be overcome by then. The bigger the events (
as reported from the Goodwood Speedweek earlier) the more fore-run has to be done, the more money has to be spend well in advance, most of it with sponsoring money and the entrants’ fees.

So it is safe to say that a lot of money was spend on the Mille Miglia before March and a cancellation would have meant that a lot of money would have had to be payed back, both to the entrants and the sponsors. So the Mille Miglia was early on postponed into October giving 5 more months’ time to the development. Although the virus was not gone the numbers seemed to be down in the summer and the decision was made to carry on with the planning not knowing that the actual start of the race would just hit the beginning of the second wave. So arriving on Tuesday evening in Brescia there were very mixed feelings for a lot of attendants ranging from deep concerns to anticipation to one of the first and probably only opportunities to drive a vintage car rally this year.

Pre-cautions were made with a strict limitation of people allowed to enter both the Fiera in Brescia as well as the city centre at Piazza Vittoria for the scrutineering. But by the time the cars arrived in Brescia it was still not certain how the MM would be held, especially the start from the ramp was discussed by the organizers and the local government. With an intended lock-down in the Lombardy region it did not seem to be appropriate to have masses of people along the fences at the Viale Venezia or at the Piazza Vittoria.

Over the next days one could see that (although less than usual) the locals were still standing roadside to see the cars but the usual touristic spots like San Marino or Radicofani were deserted. Also visible was the different timing compared to the normal May date with the sun going down as early as 6 pm leaving the cars driving through the night even longer than usual. Around midnight the cars were welcomed in Cervia before the cars were parked at the numerous hotels for the first short night.

Although held as a rally in the following years it should take 20 years until the cars from the original era would take the Italian countryside roads under their wheels when a group of enthusiasts came together in 1977 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first edition.


After the cars were checked the sealing also took place in the Fiera leaving only the verification stamp to be taken at the Piazza Vittoria in the city centre. With the Piazza fully set up for the sealing ceremony it was a minimum requirement to at least show the cars once to the sponsors and the local enthusiasts although the cars were only seen for a few minutes before leaving back to the Fiera as they were not allowed to park on the nearby Piazzas as usual.

Entering the Fiera the first thing was a temperature check, something that should be repeated countless times all throughout the event. The setup in the Fiera itself did not differ too much from the previous years with the separation of the Ferrari tribute and the original MM, the area of scrutineering as well as the sponsor displays of Chopard and others. But what was very easily seen was the absence of all museum and factory cars, be it the usual fleet of Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwings, the works BMW 328 or the Alfa Romeo. In recent years also Bentley and Jaguar used the Mille Miglia for some works appearances, this year none of them could be seen. It certainly did not match the company’s philosophies to send out cars for pleasure of invited guest when the car industry is struggling. This left more room for the private entries and although this certainly did not increase the overall quality of the cars most likely a few got the chance of their lifetime to participate and probably the entire reserve list was taken into the race as at the end there were still numbers untaken, about 350 cars were listed instead of the intended 410.

Not only did the cars drive into the night but due to the later date they also left well before sunrise and so the pre-war cars with their less than suitable headlights had to deal with the darkness as well. Furthermore there was a lot of early morning fog on the way to Rome that day.

What was intended as a unique event soon should become a tradition in May and the years certainly changed the MM just as they changed the entire classic car scene. When in the beginning the “dated” race cars were only a hobby for a few selected connoisseurs over the next few decades the classic cars became a more common expression of a life style, a status symbol as well as an investment and so not only the owners changed but also the entire atmosphere. Whereas the first editions were like a great adventure the later editions became very much a must on the bucket list, cars were bought purely for the event or even rented, values were affected by the eligibility to take part just like for the pre-1904 cars for the London-Brighton run.

With more interest both of the drivers, the visitors and the media certainly the MM also became interesting for sponsoring and so the more enthusiastic character of the event got a little bit lost, despite the number of entrants increasing to over 400 less and less slots were actually available for private entrants as more and more were taken by the main or even smaller sponsors.

Enzo Ferrari called it “the most beautiful race in the world” and the MM had such an importance for the young company from Maranello that several of the early race models were named after it. After winning the thousand miles with his Scuderia Ferrari team both for Alfa Romeo before the war and then with his own cars after the war the increasing speed of the race forced it to an end when several accidents ended the final edition in 1957.

Some say that the Mille Miglia without rain is not a MM but the Saturday certainly was a little bit too much, especially for those lacking any weather protection. Just as the first cars drove up to Radicofani the rain got torrential and over the next hours several showers should make the drive unpleasant. Normally this leg is considered a highlight of the entire thousand miles but unfortunately the visibility was reduced and the thick rain combined with fogged windscreens made the regularity trials very difficult. Especially when looking at the usual front runners in their pre-war Alfa Romeo with minimal weather protection leaving the road book to papier-maché it was still remarkable how competitive they could be. Most likely that day a lot of crews found out whether their hood is leak proof or not.

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Like last year the lunch break was in the historic city centre of Siena were the cars were parked at the Piazza del Campo, a spectacular background for the cars. Very unexpected was the short sunset at Lucca when the cars were driving on the old city wall, the rest of the way up to Parma was a long drive in the dark with more rain making this very uncomfortable conditions. Still in the dark one could see a lot of locals waiting for the cars to arrive on Saturday evening.

Weather can change fast on the 1000 miles and when the cars left on Sunday morning the sun was out again, the fact that the time changed back to winter time the night before made sure that the cars left in bright daylight. The first time trial was held on the Autodromo Riccardo Paletti before climbing several lovely country roads into the Piacenza area. After avoiding traffic the days before some might have thought that they might get home with an almost new clutch but that was before they faced the climb up to Castell´Arquato, the starting point of the annual Vernasca Silver Flag hill climb. Certainly not in the tradition of the original race the cars had to make up their way through the very narrow and steep alleys to the church and the smell of burnt clutches was in the air.

As mentioned before the experience in San Marino was a very different from the previous years. Just after sunrise the first cars made their way up to the historic town centre where the regular participants might have been surprised to barely see a soul on the streets compared to the previous years when people were sitting at the café to wait for the cars. The next historic city centre was Urbino and unlike normally there was much less traffic jam on the early morning leg around Rimini so the drivers seem to arrive a little bit more relaxed and less police escorts were needed to get them through traffic while as usual thousands of volunteers were standing at the roundabout to keep the convoy rolling. After the lunch break in Fabriano the tour led to Ascoli Piceno before entering Rome for the turning point.

A last lunch stop in Treviglio before concluding the MM where it started, on the Viale Venezia.
Usually the battle for the victory is in between the two nations that seem to take regularity the most serious, the crews from Italy and Argentina. With the absentee of the American crews the podium finish was an all Italian affair with the first nine places before the first Dutch one. At the end it was the team Vesco/Vesco on Alfa Romeo 6C winning in front of three Lancia Lambda.
So what is the conclusion of this year’s Mille Miglia? Certainly it was a very unique edition due to the circumstances and it will not be representative for the years to come. In previous years the MM was getting out of hands with all the visitors and “far dodgers” following the rally and many dangerous situations due to aggressive driving in traffic. This year with less hype around the MM it seemed more relaxed and maybe even in these times more enjoyable. As mentioned the interest of the Italians was still visible and maybe it is time that they take back their Mille Miglia from the foreign masses who invade the region like it is their own every year. With less invitation drivers and more real enthusiasts it might as well get back to the origins of the MM storico when it really was the most beautiful race in the world rather than a rolling circus.

Was it the right decision to hold the MM under these circumstances? Only time will tell as one can hope that the only real negative about this year’s edition will be the mandatory Covid-test upon return.

Report & images ... Peter Singhof

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