Thursday, May 30, 2013

Mille Miglia Vintage Cars

The Mille Miglia Thousand Miles Rally 
May 2013

Mille Miglia poster: "the most beautiful race in the world"

It has been a cold and rainy May this year, the wettest in 200 years people are fond of telling you, with astonishment and dismay. But for the Tuscan sector of the Mille Miglia this year the sun emerged, the rain stopped falling and blustery clouds raced over clean blue skies for the duration. We had other commitments, but managed to see a part of the rally from a stretch of the SS2 (the ancient Roman Cassia) between Tavarnelle and San Casciano in Val di Pesa. The rally stopped for lunch in San Casciano again this year, so the lucky sightseers and car enthusiasts who converged there were treated to a long and considered inspection of the 400 odd (and some are truly odd) cars parked in the main square while the drivers dined. 

However these spectators missed out on the excitement of standing in a country road and hearing the distant rumble of vintage engines as they approached, obscured by trees, then witnessing the surprising speed with which they dashed past our viewing position. One huge car, its driver and passenger wearing the traditional leather helmets and goggles, even had the temerity to overtake another (the speed limit was 50kph).

As they sped by us on the Tavarnelle - San Casciano part of the SS2

Historically, the Mille Miglia was an Italian endurance race from Brescia in northern Italy to Rome and back, which took place 24 times between 1927 and 1957, along open roads. The miles were Roman miles, approximately 1500 kilometres. The fastest time was achieved by the British Stirling Moss, who, using a navigator and having covered the course six times before the actual race, made the trip in just over 10 hours driving a Mercedes. Previously the race had been won mostly by Alfa Romeos and Ferraris.

 But it has not been a true race since 1957 when a serious accident along the road put paid to this rather cavalier competition which had been taking place along open roads lined with cheering crowds. Nine people including five children were killed. 

Nowadays the Mille Miglia is a rally or parade of a selection of 375 of the pre-1957 cars which participated in at least one of the original Mille Miglia. The drivers come from all over the world and the rally is run gradually over several days. These former racing cars are supposed to go at legal speeds.

Yet the drivers are still quite competitive: mysteriously, while we had to abandon the rally around lunchtime to go elsewhere, we noticed one of the participants driving his Mille Miglia-labelled car along the highway: was he taking a short cut and reducing his time by eschewing lunch in San Casciano?

 The cars are beautiful, the drivers are at times amusingly fitted out, the scene is animated and enthusiastic crowds line the roads to wave and cheer. If you are in Chianti in the middle of May you really should try to see it.

car about to stop for lunch at San Casciano, Val di Pesa
Incidentally, the month of May in Chianti attracts much more besides, in the shape of motorbike, Vespa, bicycle, vintage Ferrari, vintage Alfa Romeo, vintage Citroen Goddess and countless other rallies of old and new contraptions with wheels. Italians love their wheels, but so do plenty of other people from all around the world. Even if you tried you probably couldn't avoid seeing at least some of these curiosities.

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