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Italy's Best Antique Auto Rally - Mille Miglia 2005

Ann J. Reavis

It was just last year right about mid-May when Tom and Linda arrived in Florence and I took them on a tour of the Chianti Classico region. Now, Tom loves three things - his wife, painting, and antique cars (in that order). So it was the perfect day. Tom wanted to take a million pictures of the Tuscan countryside for use as inspiration for future paintings and the Tuscan red poppies appeared just the week before so he was happy. (See the first of these paintings at www.tomneelstudio.com.) Linda and I chatted and shopped as he snapped shots, so we all were having a good day. But our stop in Panzano was the icing on Tom's cake.

We drove into town almost plowing down Dario Cecchini, the famed butcher of Panzano, who was standing in the intersection blowing a horn that once graced the side of an ancient automobile - back in the times when the horn had to be tooted by the car's driver to get the horses and carriages out of the way. Dario was garbed in festive red pants, yellow shirt, red vest, and white apron with a red bandana at his neck.

Dario Cecchini blowing the horn, photo by Tom Neel.

He had a glass of red wine in his other hand. We parked just as Dario blew more welcoming notes and suddenly three antique racing cars crested the hill, tooted to Dario and raced off into the valley to Greve. Linda and I got a couple of glasses of Dario's wine and small plates of bread, lardo and salami from Dario's shop and joined the crowd of spectators in Panzano's main piazza. Tom was in heaven, shouting out the make and year of each car as he tried to catch the images on his digital camera.

Antique car, photo by Tom Neel.

Anyone living in or visiting Italy this May has the chance to be part of the pageantry of this annual road rally of vintage sport and touring cars. The 23rd Mille Miglia, a historic replay of one the world's most famous motor races will take place May 19 to 21, 2005. The three-day race starts in Brescia, Lombardia, travels to Rome, winding through the countryside of the Veneto, Marche and Umbria, and returning through Tuscany (Pienza, Buonconvento, Siena, Val d'Elsa, Monteriggioni, Poggibonsi, Barberino, Tavernelle and San Casciano) and Florence. Over three hundred antique racing and tourist-class cars will pause for a break in Siena and Florence in mid-afternoon on May 21.

This year is also the 50th anniversary of the legendary overall record set by Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson in the Mercedes 300 SLR on May 1, 1955 when they started at 7:22 a.m. and covered the 1,600 Km from Brescia to Rome and back at the unbelievable average speed of 157.65 km/hr. Stirling Moss, himself, and Jochen Mass (Denis Jenkinson, the navigator in 1955 and the pioneer of the road-book navigation technique subsequently adopted for modern rallies and historic car races, died five years ago), will take turns at the wheel of the original Mercedes 300 SLR this year for one last run. At the end of the 2005 Mille Miglia, the car will be placed in the Stuttgart Museum and abandon the road for good.

Mille Miglia fever still infects international vintage automobile enthusiasts so that this year more than 780 entry applications from 35 countries were sent to the organizing committee, which had to choose the final 375 competitors admitted to the 2005 competition. Possession of a veteran car does not mean that the automobile has all the necessary qualifications for admission. Only cars built during the period of the classic Mille Miglia, 1927 -1957, are allowed to come to the starting line in Brescia. These are sport cars, those that took part, in the Turismo or Gran Turismo categories, in one of the initial twenty-four epic races. Preference is given to cars that have a particular racing history or which have actually participated in a previous Mille Miglia. No car built after 1957 can participate. The cars entered must be made of original parts and this rule excludes any, even partial, type of copy. Each car must carry two qualified drivers, one of whom usually acts as navigator. Taking part in the Mille Miglia has always been considered an achievement in itself, but managing to finish the arduous course takes the experience to another level.

Brescia, in Lombardia, rightfully boasts of the paternity of car races: on September 10, 1899, the city sponsored the first-ever speed race and the following day it was the base city of the Brescia-Cremona-Mantua-Brescia circuit race. These were the very early road races, which culminated in 1921 with the First F1 Italian Grand Prix and with the yearly speed-based Mille Miglia races from 1927 to 1957. Since 1977, the Mille Miglia is no longer a speed race, but a historic road rally event.

The Mille Miglia highlights ancient villages, city centers, countryside and mountains. From the Lombardia and Veneto plains to the countryside of the Marche and of Umbria, Lazio, Tuscany and Emilia, from the Romagna sea to the steep snowy slopes of Mount Terminillo and, on the way back, up again across the Futa and Raticosa passes. The rally also visits almost unknown tiny villages of medieval origin and the famous city squares, including the Campo in Siena and Piazza Strozzi in Florence.

Among the cars in this year's Mille Miglia is the Mercedes 3300 SLR, the BMW 328 Coupe, both the Ferrari 340A and 212 Spider Vignale, the Alfa Romeo 1750 GS and the Alfa 1500 SS Spider, both the OM 665 TT and the 665 S, the Bugatti T35A and T40GS, the Jaguar C-Type and D-Type, the Maserati A6 GCS and Maserati Monofaro, the Aston Martin DB3 Spider, the Fiat 1100 S, the 1954 Autobleu 750 MM, and the egg-shaped Isetta. Among the most rare cars are the Gilco Panhard 1100 Sport of 1952 and the Chrysler 1951 Saratoga.

Spectators enjoy the pageantry of the Mille Miglia whether they understand the detailed lineage of the vintage automobiles or not. Along the route residents and spectators hold outdoor parties, wave flags, blow horns, ring bells and cheer the racers onward. Car enthusiasts will have the chance in Siena and Florence to examine the cars and talk with the drivers.

For more information in English and Italian, review the official web site of the 2005 Mille Miglia at www.millemiglia.it.

© Ann J. Reavis, 2005

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