Mille Miglia, the most beautiful car race in the world.
A passion for automobiles, for motors and competition: ever since 1800 this passion in Brescia has given life to competence, enterprise, economical opportunities and above all one of the most famous car race in the world: Mille Miglia, the most beautiful car race in the world.
The Mille Miglia rally is a race marked by the number 7: born in 1927, started again in 1947, suspended in 1957, celebrated with its first commemoration in 1977 and annually run, as we know it today, starting in 1987.
Also in 2020 the car race will take place, as tradition wants it, starting from Brescia and returning to Brescia between 13th and 16th May, on the traditional route Brescia-Rome-Brescia. Along the route lie opportunities to admire the landscape, the art, and the history of Italy. Also in 2020 the race will contemplate four stages: the first is Brescia-Cervia Milano Marittima, the second is Cervia Milano Marittima-Rome, the third is Rome-Parma, the fourth is Parma-Brescia.
Brescia is therefore the historic starting point and finish line of this magical automobile race, which the town profoundly wanted and created in mid-1900s and which has now taken place for nearly 90 years. The program, rules and catalogue along with a complete and detailed history of the Mille Miglia, is available on the official site of the race.
If you have a passion for races and are a lover of historic racecars and vintage-car races, you will surely be a guest in our city during the Mille Miglia. You will see vintage cars parade in the main square before and after the race and take part in the celebrations. Live inn an atmosphere of days gone by and see from up close all the places that gave birth to this wonderful sport in the early 1900s.
The history of the Mille Miglia, the world’s most beautiful Rally.
The passion for car races spread in Italy at the end of the 1800s, when Italy counted 20 car races, during one of which (the race that starting and finishing in Verona passed through Brescia and Mantua), Brescia saw a racecar on its territory for the first time.
Verona’s townspeople’s experience in organising races and a great passion for automobiles drove Brescia into organising two races marked by Brescian character (1899). Those races started and finished in Brescia passing through Verona and Mantua, on the same route of the Veronese races.
The experience gave way to the organization of other two car races (in the meantime, six automobile manufacturing companies were founded): The Brescia route, in 1904 and in 1905 on a route of 185 km that connected Brescia, Cremona and Mantua.
In 1906, in the wake of this experience and of the passion of the Brescians for automobiles and sports cars competitions, The Automobile club of Brescia was founded, a section of the Automobile Club of Milan.
Therefore Brescia shines for having started car races when the production of automobiles, their mechanics and functioning were still at an experimental stage. Brescia has therefore been a pioneer, in Italy, of car races and automobile production.
World War One determined an interruption of the races, which started again in 1921, when within the International Automobile-Air Circuit, Brescia received the opportunity to organise the 1st Gran Premio d’Italia (Which was later moved to Monza where it still takes place today).
In 1926, Thanks to the new regulations of the Royal Automobile Club, the Automobile Club of Brescia was officially constituted. A year later in 1927 the newly constituted Automobile Club of Brescia started the organisation of the first Mille Miglia Cup.
The official birth date of what was defined as the World’s most Beautiful Race, was 2 December 1926, when the three founders of the Mille Miglia of Brescia (Mazzotti – a young Brescian industrial, Maggi – a car racer, Castagneto – a motorcycle racer) met in Milan with Canestrini – a journalist and editor of the automobilism column of the Gazzetta dello Sport, connoisseur of the motorists environment and friend of many drivers/racers.
The two Brescian founders of the Mille Miglia (Mazzotti and Maggi) had basked in the Milanese ambiances ever since they were very young. At the age of only twenty, having their share of the “Roaring Spirit” of the ‘20s and part of the number of the very few car owners in Brescia, they drove to Milan every week, to go to Biffi’s, a meeting place for car lovers amongst whom was also Tazio Nuvolari.
In Canestrini’s home far back in December of 1926, the members of the family decided to take action in order to give Brescia back its leading role, lost at the time, of national birthplace of automobilism (let us recall that the first car races in Italy had been organised in Brescia at the end of the 1800s and that until 1907 the most important sports car competitions had taken place right in Brescia).
Driven by a passion for racecars and automobilism and afraid of the apathy of the early 1920s of the world rotating round automobiles and of the Italian manufacturers, they longed to recreate a great event on open roads in Brescia, not for race cars however, to invite the national car industry back to the races. In order to achieve that goal, it was necessary for the city to have its own Automobile Club separate from the one in Milan and to have the support of the national press and the Gazzetta dello Sport, which organised the bicycle race Giro d’Italia, at the time.
The name of the race was chosen right on the first meeting in Milan, and so was the route: 1600 km connecting Brescia to Rome, exactly Mille Miglia (A Thousand Miles). The news about the new car race spread only a little later, but the historical period (it was 1926, the time in which extremely fascists laws established the fascist regime in Italy), did not allow the matter to have any particular relevance beyond the circle of car enthusiasts, not in the beginning anyway.
The news was published on the Gazzetta dello Sport, the official organiser along with the Automobile Club of Brescia, and it immediately started controversy in the ambiances of motors. The car lovers became immediately enthused (although many believed that no car would be able resist 1600 km and considered it an insane task in that particular historical period).
The race needed to be organised altogether, considering that it was 1926, a time when computer systems did not exist and telephones were few, the roads were bumpy and the race was 1600 km long. The challenge was met not only thanks to Maggi, Mazzotti and the company O.M. of Brescia (which manufactured cars at the time), but also thanks to Armando Cougnet’s cooperation (who had already organised the bicycle race Giro d’Italia and was cooperating with the Gazzetta dello Sport), along with Alfredo Giarratana (Editor of the daily newspaper “”Popolo di Brescia””, which today is Giornale di Brescia, and influential politician besides being a member of the board of directors of the Automobile Club of Brescia) and Augusto Turati (Secretary of the National Fascist Party) who indeed made the event possible, stemming the controversy and the opposition of those of the extreme wing of the fascist party.
The Mille Miglia Cup was mostly organised by Cougnet and Castagneto, who surveyed the route and who divided it into twenty sectors assigning them to the correspondents of the sports papers, who were responsible for inspections and the transitions in the sectors. In the meantime, the Automobile Club Italia of Brescia had been inaugurated, the first few vehicles were registered and the organisation of the roles involved with the automobile competition started to take form. Mazzotti was nominated Commissioner of the event, Castagneto was to be the Director of the race and Secretary of the event (He maintained the roles until the ‘50s), Maggi, Giarratana and Bertoli were assigned the roles of Sports commissioners. Canestrini and Ottavio Fuscaldo were given to be designers of the O.M. vehicles, and technical commissioners.
Within three months the organisation was ready to go, obstacles had been overcome along with the politics, and the participants in the race were more than expected: 101 participants, 11 official teams representing 10 car manufacturing brands. The crews that were to take part in the race were considered “daring, or even heroic”, considering that the most part of the 1600km route was made up of dusty and muddy dirt roads. The technical qualities and the potential of the cars were in fact all to be discovered and the drivers could be considered pioneers testing and perfecting new cars and new technology.
For the effective start of the race only the sports bureaucracy problem needed to be solved.
The R.A.C.I., Royal Automobile Club Italia, – with its president Crespi – had been hostile to the organising of the Mille Miglia in Brescia ever since the beginning and although they did not oppose the position held by the Secretary of the NFP regarding the organisation, they were committed to putting into practice all possible forms of resistance (asking to change the date of the race; prohibiting the advertising of the event on the Gazzetta dello Sport thus forbidding the publication of the list of the participants; the polemics about the average timing of the stages of the race or about the engine capacities required to participate in the race, in order to decree the failure of the event and put the organisers in a difficult position). In the end, thanks to the intercession of the president of the ACI of Milan, the Brescian Mercanti (founder of the motordrome of Monza who participated in the race until 1936, year of his death), the race was able to take place on 26 March 1927. The results of the Mille Miglia Rally Cup were astounding, not only from an organisational point of view, but also from a technical point of view, considering the different timings done by the winners of the different categories in the race; which result was then considered a symptom of the splendidness of the automobile as a “technical means”. Amongst the goals of the race was also that of demonstrating how it was possible to travel at high speed and in quite safety, on the roads existing in Italy (dirt roads without lanes) by means of the cars sold at that time. The results and the significance of the event drove the NFP into authorising (Not to say ordering) the car race Mille Miglia of Brescia to be repeated.
The Mille Miglia Rally of Brescia went through a period called “heroic” between 1927 and 1938, owing to the conditions of the roads on which the race took place and because of the technical conditions of the vehicles. The epic period was characterised by the victories of Alfa Romeo, with drivers as Campari, Nuvolari, Varzi, Borzacchini, Trossi, Pintacuda and Biondetti. Only two editions were won by other teams; in 1927, with the victory of Nando Minoja and Giuseppe Morandi, Drivers of the Brescian O.M., and in 1931, when Mercedes-Benz triumphed. The race did not take place in 1939 (owing to an accident in Bologna 1938 after which races on road became forbidden). In order not to give up the race, in 1940 the people of Brescia invented a triangular route, Brescia-Cremona-Mantua, repeated nine times to reach a thousand miles, and called Gran Premio Brescia delle Mille Miglia. The Auto Avio 815 made its debut in that race; the first vehicle built by Enzo Ferrari himself.
Then World War Two broke out; where Franco Mazzotti found his death. It was to him that the revival of the race was dedicated. Until 1957, the new race was in fact to be called XIV Mille Miglia – Franco Mazzotti Cup; only the number indicating the edition would change. In the post-war period, the problems that the organisers had to deal with were very many: impassable roads and broken-down bridges and obtaining an authorisation from the republican government to re-set up a race, which was considered heritage of the fascist regime. The vice mayor of Brescia of the time played a determining part in the political operation required: Bruno Boni, internationally known as “The Mayor of the Mille Miglia”.
The years between 1947 and 1949 are known as the romantic period, as the difficulties of the post-war (meaning destroyed infrastructure, automobile industry to its extreme limits and absence of participants), served to create a mixture of modest technical achievements and of very much enthusiasm on both the drivers’ and the public’s part. The unquestioned protagonists of the season were most certainly Tazio Nuvolari and Clemente Biondetti, who ran two races in 1947 and ’48 which went down to history, years in which the cars belonging to Enzo Ferrari’s team had their part too.
The races run between 1950 and 1957 were for sure the most popular editions, not only because of more pervasive means of communication, but also because the Mille Miglia hosted the most famous champions and most famous drivers of international automobilism and the most sophisticated and vanguard cars. In those years, the Mille Miglia Rally played a fundamental part in hauling Italy into the reconstruction of roads and the developing of technologies and cars, along with Ferrari and their team leading each race, with Ferrari fighting and duelling with other European car companies (Mercedes, Alfa Romeo, and Lancia) and with the affirmation of high rank drivers. Brescia finally became the World’s capital of automobile sports.
In 1957 however, the government decreed the final and definite end of road racing. It was the year of Piero Taruffi’s victory and of the tragic death of Alfonso Cabeza de Vaca, 17th Marchese of Portago, Grande of Spain and nephew of the king, because of a crash at a speed of 250 km/h, which caused his death and that of his co-pilot and the instant death of 10 onlookers. The power of the engines and the speed that the cars could reach had become too high to race outside a racetrack, and the enemies of the Mille Miglia had stirred up a denigrating campaign that had made it impossible, despite the organisers’ efforts, to give the race a new hat.
Between 1957 and 1961 the idea of running the race from Brescia to Naples on sections of motorways came about (the idea was not viable) and Castagneto tried to change it, from an only speed race to one that included sections of speed and sections of regularity, on mountain roads, according to a formula similar to the one of rallies. The intention however was not favourable for the car companies, politics, but above all for the people of Brescia, who were strongly attached to the historic Mille Miglia. In those years until 1968, some commemorations of the race took place, but they did not attract the attention of the public, journalists or of the most important drivers.
The first commemorative event that was able to give a new breathe of life to the old Mille Miglia was organised in 1977. Although the event had been successful, it was seen as a one-time-thing, bound to take place as a commemoration every 10 years. The commemoration however enthused a young group of friends, who intended the Mille Miglia as part of the fundamental heritage of the town, driven as they were by a great passion for car races and their town just as the four young founders had been in 1927. Namely it was Beppe Lucchini, President of the Musical Watch Veteran Car Club and also president of the Mirabella Mille Miglia team, who had organised the first official commemoration; Vittorio Palazzani, Costantino Franchi, race and sports events organisers with the same skills as Castagneto; Manuel Vigliani, journalist, Gino Danieli, who was in charge of treading upon all the roads of the Mille Miglia route just as Castagneto and Cougnet had been, and Enzo Ziletti, the financial manager. Many different names, but all men with the same skill and passion. The group obtained the authorisation from the ACI of Brescia to organise a commemoration, as long as the group was financially independent. Giuseppe Lucchini was therefore appointed president by the group, which formed the organising committee, and Costantino Franchi was called by the same group to manage the Mille Miglia 1982. Thanks to the participation of a few patrons, amongst whom Cavaliere del Lavoro Luigi Lucchini, who covered all the costs, obtaining the authorisation and the cooperation of the ACI of Brescia, it became possible to start organising the race.
Also that event, just as in 1926, was a bold enterprise. Historic automobilism had little scope at the time and a vintage cars event would not have been able as yet to attract the general public or to obtain the enthusiasm of young race lovers. Furthermore, from a general point of view, it was the period of the oil crisis, a time when bitterness towards powerful cars, that wasted high quantities of fuel, was spreading. However, the new group wanted by all means to organise a race to bring the legendary Mille Miglia back to life.
Thanks to the efforts of the whole group on 13 May 1982, on Piazza Vittoria the commemoration of the historic race began. At the start there were one hundred twenty seven vintage cars, many of which came from the museums of car manufacturers, there were also famous drivers and journalists from all over Europe. The route was divided into four stages: Brescia-Modena, Modena-Rome, Rome-Verona and Verona-Brescia. The event was a success so the group decided to start a line of commemorative races of the Mille Miglia on every other year from then on. In 1984, there were already 350 application requests, and 120 crews were selected. The event started From Piazza Vittoria again, that was decorated exactly the way it had been during the most famous races of the ‘50s(Posters, wooden hurdles and every other element that could be seen in the pictures of the time) and most of the great drivers of time gone by participated in the race (Juan Manuel Fangio, Huschke von Hanstein, Gigi Villoresi, Piero Taruffi, Phil Hill, Stirling Moss, Oliver Gendebien, Gino Valenzano, Gianbattista Guidotti, Fabrizio Serena of Lapigio and Clay Regazzoni, but also young champions such as Riccardo Patrese and Michele Alboreto). The following edition in 1986 was even more successful with more than 500 applications and 250 participants. Enzo Ferrari, Mike Buongiorno and Renato Pozzetto participated in that edition of the Mille Miglia by giving the participants a small prize in Modena.
As from 1987(year of the celebration of its sixtieth) the race became an annual event again. In those years noteworthy guests participated in the Mille Miglia ( such as the Prince of Kent) and famous personalities of the performing arts, such as Lorella Cuccarini, and nationally well-known politicians(in 1989 even the President of the Italian Republic). The annual scheduling of the event led the organisers to give life to a permanent establishment, with steady collaborators, to organise the race, that became “the most beautiful race in the world” once again and Brescia returned “the city of the Mille Miglia” in the world. ACI and Marva Srl, the society established by the organisers, signed a contract which provided the entrustment of the Mille Miglia for periods of four years at a time, in exchange for a sum of money that would vary in the following years.
The new Mille Miglia continued to grow, also in the 1990s, of an enormous flow of tourists and communications operators. The organisation of performances, concerts, exhibitions, collateral events of the race made Brescia the world’s capital of the history of automobiles. In 1993 the idea of giving life to a museum of the Mille Miglia arose, such an idea started taking form in year 2000 and was finished in 2004, meanwhile the applications reached 800 units and the vintage cars racing reached to 370. In those years, the race paraded in Piazza San Pietro in Rome, underneath Bernini’s porch, in front of the Basilica of San Francesco in Assisi, at times becoming a testimonial and a means of increasing the awareness and participation of foreign tourists regarding tragic Italian events, such as the earthquake in central Italy in 1997.
In the recent past a model and a way of thinking car races has been consolidated; a model and a way of thinking that perceives car races as a combination of sports, culture, performing arts and hospitality, along with leading figures of the automotive environment, but also of the show business ambiances, politics and finances coming from 25 countries, able to win the world over with commemorative races of the Mille Miglia of Brescia in The United States, Japan and South America. The route of the Mille Miglia changes very little every year, and this serves as a means of promoting Italy’s artistic, naturalistic and cultural heritage in the world. In 2001, the President of the Italian Republic bestowed his High Patronage on the Mille Miglia, and also the Council of Ministers and the Ministry of Labour gave their patronage. The cars participating in the race have become more than 383 and since 2010 also 150 Ferraris of all periods, which take part in the “Ferrari Tribute to the Mille Miglia”.
In designing the Freccia Rossa with white writing, Renzo Castagneto could not have been able to imagine that, until today, his symbol would have continued to indicate what is still acknowledged as “the most beautiful race in the world”.