Sunset falls at the end of day three on the Mille Miglia
This morning's 6am start was felt by us all
The Mille Miglia turns each town into a classic motor show
Police escorts are a fairly common sight on the route
The competitors line up in what be the world's most expensive car park
Day one of the Mille Miglia is over, but tomorrow means an early start
We've spent around 14 hours in the car on day two
The tight streets take some getting used to
we've arrived in the town of Macerata
There's a fuel stop every 200km
The view from our racer couldn't be better
There's security at points along the route
The vehicles taking part are, for the most part, classics
Our homework is to learn timings for the event
Visitors line the streets as the cars pass through
Mille Miglia fever has gripped Italy
Scrutineering is well under way
An Italian racing license is a must
We've passed the mandatory medical test
This 328 Berlin-Rome Touring Roadster will be our steed during the event
The Mille Miglia cars gather at various locations ahead of the race
The 328 Berlin-Rome Touring Roadster sat alongside a BMW i3
Just three BMW 328s were adapted for the proposed Milan-Rome road race
The aluminium bodywork was modified by Carrozzeria Touring for top speed
This will be the view for the fours days of competition, starting Thursday
Cars park anywhere they can in preparation for the start
When the 118bhp engine's warm, the cockpit heats to 40 degrees
Autocar has completed the 2015 Mille Miglia in a BMW 328 Berlin-Rome Touring Roadster - follow the blog report here:
Sunday 17 May, 18.15pm: And so the epic adventure of the 2015 Mille Miglia comes to an end, and true to form today served up highs and lows of emotion as well as more challenges than my sleep deprived brain can do justice to.
First up, it's worth acknowledging the challenge of the event. Over three days on the road (but four in time, given the late start and early finish) we've covered 1000 miles of everything from autostrada to mountain passes. We've had rain and shine, and everything in between. We've had very short sleeps but - crucially - never too little. The atmosphere of this event ensures you are always alert.
The irony of all this is that the enormity and excitement of finishing an event that carries such a historic name (albeit from a rather different era of competition) rather overshadows the dramas Ian and I went through today. At 6am, stood in a cold hotel car park, we discovered that reverse gear had gone. A failing bearing was suspected, but there was no time to change it, so on we went. And then first and second started to get a bit tricky...
You might have guessed that Ian didn't get to where he is today at the top of BMW without being both determined and single-minded. So as the problems mounted, so he forged a plan to maintain momentum and get us closer and closer to the finish in Brescia.
Our technical problems weren't over, though - after a halt in Monza, we got to do a set of time trials taking in first the famous, historic (and steep) banking and then a whole lap of the race circuit (at a strictly monitored 50kph average, so it didn't quite do enough to invoke thoughts of Gilles Villeneuve. Anyway, for reasons unknown our GPS system gave up and stopped reading our speed, making it nigh-on impossible to avoid heavy penalties. In the final reckoning, we fell from 76th to 82nd overall, albeit while managing to remain the second all-British crew of 49 entered.
From there, Ian negotiated close to 100 roundabouts on the 100km run to Brescia, managing to make up time despite being restricted in his choice of gears. In these situations, even with our trusty police escort in tow, there's no time for hesitation, and it was quite fun watching it all unfold from my ringside seat.
The crowds in Brescia, as everywhere, were amazingly enthusiastic and provided a grandstand finish as I crossed the line. Why I? Because Ian was gone as the engine idled to a halt, rushing for a plane. As I write this he's stood in Trafalgar Square introducing a BMW-sponsored concert. All that was left was for me to pilot our trusty 328 back to our hotel and the brilliant BMW Classic crew, who worked tirelessly throughout the event.
So that's my first experience of the Mille Miglia, and I have to acknowledge that I feel amazingly privileged to have been part of such a special event in such a special car. It's easy to be sceptical from afar about what could be perceived as a watered down version of an old classic, but having seen it for myself the special regard in which the event is held by manufacturers and wealthy participants makes perfect sense. I'd come back and spectate as readily as I would take part again. It really is that good.
Sunday 17 May, 2.50pm: A word of thanks to the amazing support teams that also follow this event. While not all competitors have such a luxury (word is there is a crew here that compete in a Bugatti that they drive to Italy in and then sleep in between legs, although I’ve yet to find them) most do. I’m told there are around 2000 cars aligned to the 750 crews, which helps explain the busy roads and rammed hotels.
We’ve been expertly looked after by a team of BMW Classic technicians. A more knowledgeable, likeable bunch you’d be hard-pressed to find. I guess that’s inevitable - you’ve got to have a drop of Castrol R in your veins to want to work on these classics, and a dedication to the cause to want to traipse over Italy at high-speed, mostly with little to do but with a need to work fast and in improvised surroundings when you are called upon. In all seriousness, I have witnessed men working in the searing heat, cutting and shaping raw bits of steel to fashion replacement engine parts in the field. How this is possible I’m not sure, but they’re doing it.
It’s moments like that which rather put into perspective how lucky I am to be here, in this car and in this company.
Sunday 17 May, 10.30am: 'Hesitant' Holder isn't the most flattering nickname, but it's Ian's tongue-in-cheek (I hope!) description of my driving style on the Mille Miglia.
Weighed down by the twin responsibilities of the value of this one-off car and having a BMW board member beside me, I've taken to thinking twice when overtaking or running down the middle of two-way traffic.
Ian's own driving is more confident and capable in every way, and his judgement sufficiently sound that I've always been relaxed in the passenger seat. I suspect my 'safety first' attitude is less helpful on every level (not least because I'm still running in close proximity to everyone else) but despite our pleasing climb up the leaderboard - and current status as second all-Brit crew of 49 who started - the only real goal here is to return the car and ourselves unscathed.
Sunday 17 May, 7.00am: The tiredness is really kicking in now, but the last thing I need is a numb head while piloting this car. Everytime I feel myself getting complacent or tired, I remind myself of the value and history of this car. After all these hours I’d like to consider this BMW a close friend, but I’m not inclined to relax in her company one iota.
Today, this adventure wraps up and, while I’m weary, I can hardly believe it’s over. There has been so much build-up, so much adrenaline along the way, that all of the assaults on my senses have started to feel normal rather than thrilling and overwhelming. Still, I’ve got the memories to comfort me when I’m back at the desk.
And, of course, even those sentences suggest I’m getting ahead of myself. The first car left at 6.30, but we’ve had an extra half hour or so in bed. Now it’s a five hour, 100-mile run to the famous Monza race circuit before a final 80-mile blast for just under three hours back in to Brescia, which I’m told is so busy that once we’re in there is no hope of getting out again until the morning.
Saturday 16 May, 11.55pm: When the alarm went off at 4.45 this morning, I wasn’t feeling fresh nor ready for the longest day of the Mille Miglia. Yet when we arrived back at the hotel in Parma just over 14 hours and more than 500km after we started, the day felt like it had gone by in a breeze.
Highlights included an early morning speed check on the autostrada, the rolling hills of Tuscany, a blast past the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and yet more visits to the incredible town squares that I now learn are two-a-penny in Italy. While the Mille Miglia oozes history for motorsport fans, it owes much of its charm to the country it is based in, and which not only tolerates it, but embraces it.
Today’s journey was helped immensely by the slick organisation, which was in contrast to some of the minor chaos that surrounded yesterday’s check controls. Over the four sections held today, the event ran quickly and smoothly, and the regularity and average speed tests provided plenty of challenge to break up the journey.
Our cause has been helped by our adoption by our one of the police motorcycle riders who follow the event from start to finish, running ahead and alongside competitors to stop traffic at junctions and warn oncoming cars of what they are about to encounter. Ian is of course delighted that he and all his colleagues ride BMWs. 'Our man’ has been with us since we left Brescia, and always seems to find time to pick us up along the day’s route.
It also helps to have a friend on authority, because after a spirited run this morning we caught the pace car that ensures that competitors don’t go too fast and - before I could read what cars they were restraining, I overtook. Although I realised my mistake immediately and waved him by, I got a polite but stern warning as soon as we arrived in service.
Our results have gradually improved over the course of the event, too. Tonight, we lie 76th overall, having ended the first day around 160th and the second day around 80th. It’s great to know that we’re getting more precise on the tests, but slightly sobering to note we’ve acquired more than 20,000 penalty points while the leaders have less than 500.
Finally a word for our trusty BMW 328, which has yet to miss a beat despite the hard running and frequently atrocious road surfaces it has to deal with. The heat is still a struggle (by burnt feet continue to burn more) but thankfully the weather has been mostly kind and cool.
And so on to tomorrow, when we are scheduled to arrive back in Brescia. It’s almost midnight now, and before I go to bed I’ve got to programme the trip computer (again). All being well I can get five hours sleep in before we head off again at 6am tomorrow.
Saturday 16 May, 3.20pm: I am, I'll admit, a bag of nerves. Although I've co-driven on classic and modern rallies before - most memorably on Wales Rally GB in a Mini - much of the Mille Miglia is new to me.
I've written a lot about the regularity tests and how fiendishly hard they are. The other night I sat up until 1am populating the trip computer with the all-important information for 80 of them, but no level of preparation can set you up for the real thing.
Ultimately, it's about communication between driver and co-driver. In particular, the navigator must know exactly what's coming in advance and then have the trip computer ready and prepared for the short bursts of concentration. That requires a lot of stuff on your lap, and keeping it there while on the move.
The very best drivers have been doing these kinds of events for 30 years and hit the challenges to the tenth or mile per hour with unnerving consistency. For Ian and I it's still a case of trying to get within two seconds of our target, so that we can earn some bonus points.
Ian has done it before - six times in fact - and though a once a year blast isn't ideal - he brings a calm assurance to proceedings that goes well beyond my rookie status.
I'll probably have it mastered by the end of day four...
Saturday 16 May, 11.40am: When they designed the BMW 328 Berlin-Rome Touring Roadster they had speed in mind, not comfort. While I’m pleasantly surprised by how much room there is for my 190cm frame, I’d struggle to call it comfortable.
Behind the wheel, I’m fine; there’s plenty of room to unfurl my legs and have enough movement to find the brakes in a hurry, and the reach for the gearshift is beautifully placed.
The only real restriction is on how far and fast I could move my arms in a hurry, because there’s next to no elbow room. That and the limbo-esque moves required to slide my legs under and then between the steering wheel, all the while avoiding placing my hands on any of the searingly hot aluminium bodywork. Hopefully I won’t have to, of course, but there’s no question that this restricted elbox room forces me to adopt a straight shouldered, upright position in the seat. I’m glad I heeded the advice to get a back support.
The passenger seat is easier to get in and out of (there’s no steering wheel to slide my legs under, obviously) but there’s a fire extinguisher under my feet and an array of trip computers in front of me, as well as the time books and cards that I must guard with my life. So far I’ve been sitting at an angle to get my legs around these obstacles, but the twist is starting to cause aches. Not that I can wriggle too much; Ian will start to wonder what’s wrong. How the Mille Miglia winners of yesteryear - flat-out hard men one and all - would laugh at my moans.
Saturday 16 May, 8.10am: So on to the longest day of the event. The first car left at 6am and we’re not much behind. What’s most amazing, however, is that there were still stragglers (noisily) coming into Rome just a few hours ago. They’ve obviously had their troubles on the early route, but there’s a determination for them to carry on, regardless of sleep.
Today we’re out of Rome early and on to Radicofani, a 3hr 40min run of 140 or so miles, before a five-hour, 150-mile leg to Cascina.
Despite all that time in the cockpit, it will only be mid-afternoon by this point, and we’ll have to have been mentally alert as we will tackle the toughest bank of regularity tests of the event, a grouped set of seven timed tests that run one into the other. To score points, you must be within two seconds of the target time, which is a real challenge to do once, let alone seven times in a row.
From there it’s an hour run to Lucca, which is a mere 30 miles away, before a five-hour stretch to finish off this most gruelling of days in Parma, 150 miles away. We should be grabbing dinner around 10.30pm, although as I write this I’m already dreaming of being back in my bed...
Friday 15 May, 11.30pm: So day two is over - and about half the rally, despite having driven 550km today - and it's an even bigger rush to write down some thoughts tonight, as we leave again at 5.30 in the morning, headed for Sienna.
We've been in the car around 14 hours today, and I doubt I've left wither of the seats for more than 20 minutes. Make no mistake, the Mille Miglia is pretty full on, despite being recognised now as a touring event rather than a competitive one.
It's worth remembering Stirling Moss's time of 60 years ago. Sure, there were no time trials or city centre tourist visits, but to have averaged more than 100mph over 1000 miles on open roads is prettying blowing.
Highlights today? Getting more au fait with the car, certainly. I'm still a good third slower behind the wheel than Ian, who possesses a smoothness and decisiveness behind the wheel I simply won't match, but it's getting better.
This oh-so special BMW 328 is a joy to drive, the power to weight ratio bringing it alive in a way a car more than 75 years old has no right to be. Push too hard and the back end moves about a bit, but otherwise it is remarkably civilised.
Today I went without a hat for much of the mileage and tonight I resemble Wurzel Gummage. Following so many old cars so closely for so many miles means you end up wearing what comes out of the exhaust pipe. Still, my new miner's look as kept everyone amused back at the hotel.
After day one we were 151st overall, which I was pretty pleased with. The BMW Classic crew reckoned cracking the top 150 would be an achievement, so we just need to keep doing what we've done so far.
The only worry is that we're massively inconsistent - so far we've varied between being three hundredths of a second off our target time to one and a half seconds off. Still, on the bright side it proves it can be done.
Tomorrow is going to be really tough. It's much longer than today in mileage and hours and, of course, we're increasingly fatigued.
As an added distraction, the heat coming through the bodywork from the engine bay has burnt the doles of my feet. It's massively hot, and at 190cm I've nowhere else to our my size 11s than in the bulkhead. They're about medium rare now - so expect well done by Sunday.
Friday 15 May, 2.00pm: Mental note for tomorrow: eat a big breakfast. Although the times I’ve outlined below look pretty relaxed, you need to stay on it to keep to the schedule.
While there are plenty of fast - very fast when you are in a car with no seatbelts or rollover protection - sections, there are also some incredibly slow bits, both through towns because it is socially responsible and the crowds are often spilling into your path and on twisty mountain roads. Taking time out to eat is a luxury that needs to be considered carefully.
As it is we’re receiving water, fruit and snacks from the support crew at very brief breaks. Where possible, we don’t even stop; instead, we roll up, give the thumbs up and catch whatever is thrown at us.
Brilliantly, in the towns the same thing seems to happen; locals present subsistence in such a forceful manner you can’t refuse, while quite often you also get a present of whatever the local speciality is, be it a cooked pasta dish or some lace. It’s great fun, but the biggest difficulty is knowing where to put it all. Back in 1940, this car wasn’t built with these concerns in mind.
Friday 15 May, 9:20am: After some late night road book checks and some checking and reprogramming of the all-important on-board average speed and time calculator (not an easy task for a navigating novice like me at the best of times, but made more complex by all instructions being in German), we’re off again.
Today we get in to the nitty-gritty of the rally: We’ve got 3hrs 45min to get from Rimini to Senigallia, then 4hr 10min to get from there to Ascoli Piceno. By then we will have done just over 200 miles - not much given the time, but plenty giving the rolling roads, rammed towns and - of course - tricky regularity tests, that we’ve now learned to expect.
From there, its another 90 miles or so to Antrodoco on another three-hour stretch and then a final two-hour run in to Rome’s Olympic Stadium, where I’ll try to wrap up the day and capture what I’m told will be the most frenzied atmosphere I’ve ever experienced.
Thursday 14 May, 11:55pm: It’s nearly midnight here in Italy, and after a day in the car on the Mille Miglia we’re just back to the hotel. After a leisurely lunch before the start the best I can do is grab a couple of ham sandwiches and try to write as many words as possible before first make some amendments to tomorrow’s route book and then fall in (hopefully) into a deep sleep.
No matter how long I had to write it down, it would be hard to capture all of the emotions of taking part in the Mille Miglia. I knew it would intense and I knew it would be exciting, but it’s on a scale many many times greater than I could ever have anticipated.
First up, the car. It’s sensational in so many ways, but the smoothness and pace really stand out. It revs from well down all the way to 4500rpm, and in fourth is good for 120mph Ian says. I must confess that I’m not that brave, but we’ve still seen some pretty good speeds when the police escorts are out and Ian’s at the wheel. Me? I’m good up to about 90mph and then it all gets a bit much for my heart. Actually, the buffeting becomes so bad that it starts to affect what I can see and hear, which isn’t much use on either count. In the co-driver’s seat I can duck a couple of centimetres lower, which provides some protection, but in the driver’s seat I need to sit higher so that I can pivot my legs that bit better.
Today’s highlight was undoubtedly the run from Ferrara to Rimini. Dusk was falling as we left and, although the time schedule was relaxed, a police bike picked us up and escorted us most of the route. It was as relaxed a moment as such an intense experience can be - enough for me to have a quiet word to myself and remember that relaxing in this car simply isn’t on the agenda.
A quick word on the regularity tests. They were, predictably, tough, but there’s no question we improved. The longest challenge was six tests one after the other over about six miles of road. It’s easy to start doubting yourself when other cars come past, but all being well we picked up a few scores on the way, even if we’re not remotely close to troubling the leaders.
In the towns - impressive enough on any random week night thanks to the towering church steeples and grandoise squares - people of all ages flocked to see the cars. Even as we got to parc ferme at 11pm there was everyone from two-year old children through to grandparents watching, waving and soaking up the party atmosphere. I guess once you’ve smelt unburnt petrol at a young age the lust for it never goes away. That’s certainly how it appeared as we drove through the walls of excitable, knowledgeable fans. This is not an event that could be run in any other country.
Now for that sleep. It’s short, but not too bad - six and a half hours if I can get the adrenaline switched off and my head down. I’m sorry that the updates aren’t more frequent, but in today’s eight hours of driving we have literally stopped to swap seats twice and to get fuel once. It’s full on, that’s for sure.
Thursday 14 May, 4:15pm: We’re off. Inevitably, my updates will get shorter now, but with the help of the hard working office (no week-long trips to Italy for them…) I’ll try to make them as regular and insightful as possible for the duration.
The crowds here in Brescia are huge, and I’m told that it’ll be a rare moment when there are no fans in sight across the entire 1761km route (1096 miles - which is close enough to a Mille Miglia in my book). If there’s anything you’d like to know about the car, crew or event, feel free to post in the comments section below.
Some of the regular Mille Miglia participants are slightly aghast at this year’s route, which has an extra day of competition tacked on.
Today’s seven hours in the cockpit are considered rather lightweight by the hardcore, but I’m told that a gruelling 20-hour day in 2014 did not go down well with some of the competitors more committed to the social side of the event than the competition. All being well, we’ll be in Rimini around 11.15pm and in bed by midnight. Sleep will be short.
Thursday 14 May, 11:45am: We’re counting down to the start now. Following this morning’s sealing ceremony in Brescia’s town square - the final stage of scrutineering, if you like, but really an excuse to bring all the cars out in the open for fans - the atmosphere and the number of spectators have been ramping up. Around where we’re staying, the streets are narrow and the buildings tall, so as the competition cars run around town getting warmed up or heading to and fro, the engine revs echo and the exhausts crackle constantly.
With these cars and these crowds it’s no surprise that the atmosphere is electric, but there’s an added twist that the main square was always designed to have presence. There are elderly locals who say they remember standing here when it was reopened by Mussolini following a makeover, and claim it is only the Mille Miglia that can recreate the atmosphere of one of his speeches here.
For a car fan - which you have to assume everyone here is - it’s nigh-on impossible to know which way to look next. The locals are inevitably in love with the field of modern Ferraris that will run up front, but the participants are more excited to see one another and one another’s cars. They come from all walks of life, but right now they are all focused on the upcoming run out to the Mille Miglia museum, where we’ll all have lunch before being taken in batches back in the the town square for the impending start.
Thursday 14 May, 8.20am: We’re all set for the off this afternoon - a ‘gentle’ 4hr 15min run from Brescia to Ferraro, and then a further three hours from Ferrara to Rimini - but I’m still awaiting the arrival of my team-mate Ian Robertson.
As I mentioned in my introductory piece, Ian is the BMW board member responsible for sales and marketing. That, you will need no telling, is quite a big job, hence his last-minute departure from his desk.
But before he arrives, I reckon it’s worth a word or two in support of his participation in this event. A lot of car company bosses either talk about their subject as if they are reading from a spreadsheet, or claim to link motoring and motorsport heritage to their brand’s DNA without appearing to have a scooby-doo about what that heritage actually is.
I don’t doubt that you can be a successful sales and marketing boss of a car company without taking part in events such as the Mille Miglia, but I’m delighted that Ian makes the effort to put himself at the heart of his company’s history.
When ‘history’ and ‘authenticity’ are such a large part of a brand, it helps to know that the people steering it have as much respect for what’s gone before as what they might hope to achieve tomorrow.
In fact, the time I spent at our test day with Ian has already been instructive. He not only knows his company history, but also talks with a passion about driving its cars and meeting enthusiasts who collect them.
He’s pretty handy, too, by all accounts, having been top Brit on the Mille several times (from six entries, I believe) and battled well into the top 100 finishers on occasion. To put that into perspective, the BMW Classic squad has already told me that, as a rookie, I’ll be doing exceptionally well if I can help get Ian and I into the top 150.
Quite honestly, I’m not sure I’d want to spend four days in close proximity with myself, driving hard for 16 hours a day in a cockpit heated to 40 degrees come rain or shine - so kudos to Ian for both making the time to fit the Mille into his gruelling schedule once again, and for agreeing to take me with him so that I can share my experiences with Autocar’s readers.
In past years his partners have ranged from acting legend Rowan Atkinson to champion golfer Ian Woosnam. My only brush with fame was when I refused Damon Hill admission to an awards ceremony while working as a rather weedy bouncer for an event at which he was guest of honour... But I’ll save that story for another time (perhaps if we break the top 150!).
Wednesday 13 May, 5.30pm: As the build up in Brescia continues, I’ve been immersed in a full-on programme of events to ensure I’m au fait with all that’s required from a navigator on a regularity event such as the Mille Miglia.
As far as I can work out, it’s partly about speed, partly about fine judgement and partly about good luck. Except, of course, the very best don’t need luck.
In particular, it’s the time and average speed tests that intrigue me. In simple terms you have a set distance to cover in a set amount of time, or to a set average speed.
To help, the car is fitted with a pre-programmed computer (pre-programmed by me, because if I don’t know how to adjust it I won’t be able to react to any late changes) that counts you either up or down according to what’s required.
That’s all very well, but progress is measured to the thousandth of a second, and penalty points imposed accordingly. To get close requires seamless communication between driver and co-driver; what’s staggering is that the very best crews will, I’m told, amass less than a second in penalties over the course of the four-day event.
Out in Germany, Ian and I practised and practised one such test, set out over a simple rectangular course, and at best we got to within three-tenths of the target.
More mind-bogglingly, these tests are often run two or three at a time, so a finish line for one becomes the start of the next and so on. To keep your wits about you when the challenges are coming so thick and fast is going to require some serious concentration.
To do these and then switch into maximum attack mode to get through the towns and cities in the required time for the next time control will also require a mental switch that I’m not certain you can prepare for.
Wednesday 13 May, 4pm: The last thing I expected when I got to scrutineering was to find myself half-naked with a variety of wires attached to my chest (don't worry, there aren't any photos).
However, to compete in the Mille Miglia you must, first, have a race licence, but to get a race licence you must first join an Italian ASN, and to join an Italian ASN you must first have a medical...
So there's been a lot of queuing, but nobody seems to mind because every step of the way is officiated by an army of unreasonably good natured, and good looking, men and women, seemingly there to steer you along each of its very many steps.
This, I suspect, may be the start of entering a Mille Miglia bubble where reality shifts a bit to the left of my normal humdrum life.
Still, I passed the blood pressure test, so my concentration is clearly in the right place. Already, the car has passed scrutineering, which is carried out in a vast, modern hall and which today contains hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of pounds' worth of cars. However, the thing about being surrounded by so many 'beautiful' people, is that the value of the cars doesn't matter. In this company, someone can always be one up on someone else, so everyone is just getting on with admiring the beauty, engineering and history of the cars. That, it seems, is the real beauty of events like this.
Wednesday 13 May, 1pm: Before the serious preparations get under way, I thought it might be worth reflecting on my first chance to test the €20 million (lest I forget) BMW 328 Berlin-Rome Touring Roadster that we’ll be driving in anger on the Mille Miglia in just over 24 hours from now.
I arrived in Germany last week already conscious of the scale of the task that lay ahead, and was greeted by fierce rain and hail just to make the challenge that bit greater.
To be quite honest I was amazed when they wheeled this sort-of priceless open-top car out into the storm - and even more surprised when they handed me the key and told me to drive it.
Initial testing was on a BMW-owned airfield, so I guess it was unlikely that I’d hit anything, but even so I was amazed by the BMW Classic team’s nonchalance.
After a thorough talking through all of the controls, dials and equipment, I was told to climb aboard and go. I’ll put my hand up here and now and admit that I asked if one of the crew fancied hopping into the passenger seat alongside me.
Given the storm outside nobody jumped at the opportunity, but one was kind enough to take pity.
The amazing thing is just how driveable the 328 Touring Roadster is. The engine pulls smoothly, the gearbox is manageable, the steering is feelsome and the car is agile. In fact it’s so unintimidating that early on I spent a lot of time reminding myself of the car’s history and value. While I intend to enjoy the event, I know the responsibility of being allowed in such a car means I must never relax.
Anyway, those that know say the tail end can get a bit lively when you press on, and that the brakes - good for their day but about half as good as today’s - can cook under hard use.
Given the rain and hail that lashed down, I never got near that, but out on the open road there were other obstacles to consider, from parked cars to huge lorries sending up roosters of spray as they thundered the other way.
At times, the hail was so hard that it stung my face like a swarm of bees, to the extent that I caught myself driving one-handed at around 60mph, using my free hand to extend the peak on my period helmet a shield my face. Driving a €20 million car one-handed… whatever next?
My final piece of acclimatisation was supposed to be a run on the autobahn to get used to some top-speed running, which I’m told we’ll do a lot of on the Mille Miglia. Weedy though it is, I’ll confess to huge relief when this was cancelled because of the conditions.
Driving a car of this value and history, and with so few safety features, fast is one thing, but doing so in biblical conditions would have tested my nerves to breaking point.
Still, it never rains in Italy in May, right?
Wednesday 13 May, 9am: If you like cars (and given your current choice of website, you probably should), the chances are you’ll be reading a lot about the Mille Miglia this week, as the reinvented event makes its way around 1000 miles of Italy with upwards of 100 Ferraris at the head of the field, followed by a selection of more than 450 vintage and historic cars.
The event was originally made famous between 1927 and 1957 as an open-road endurance race, and it was reputedly watched by upwards of five million people. Standing alongside the likes of the Targa Florio and the Carrera Panamericana as a headline-grabbing road race, it was seen as a perfect showcase for grand touring cars from the likes of Alfa Romeo, BMW, Ferrari, Maserati, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche.
In Britain, of course, it became scorched forever into the national consciousness 60 years ago this month, when Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson took victory at the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR, averaging 98.53mph over the course of 10 hours, 7 minutes and 48 seconds of driving. Contemporary motorsport magazines described it as the greatest drive in history – and there are commentators who feel no need to update that assessment today.
Like every other road race, bar perhaps some of the Dakar Rally-style cross-country events, the Mille Miglia became too dangerous for modern sensibilities.
In 1977 it was reborn as a regularity event for classic and vintage machinery that took part in the original, and it found popularity among manufacturers keen to emphasise their heritage. As a result, many journalists join the ranks of wealthy collectors and keen enthusiasts as manufacturers seek to promote their involvement and reassert their place in history - something the younger, more upstart companies can never match (did anyone mention Audi?).
And that, of course, is how I find myself in Brescia, Italy, sharing driving and navigating duties of a BMW 328 Berlin-Rome Touring Roadster with the firm’s board member responsible for sales and marketing, Ian Robertson. While my pictures (above) from a recent test day in Germany are not first-rate, the beauty of the car still shines through, I hope.
Built on the instruction of the German national sporting authority in 1940 by coachbuilder Carrozzeria Touring, it was one of three 328s streamlined to take part in the Berlin to Rome race of 1941, an event subsequently cancelled for obvious reasons. Powered by a 1971cc in-line six-cylinder engine linked to a four-speed gearbox, it has 118bhp at 5500rpm and weighs just 700kg. Top speed is rated at 120mph or so, while stopping power comes from a combination of drum brakes and ventilated anchor plates.
The car’s value is rated at “somewhere between €15 and €20 million”. When you are in the business of giving or taking five million, I’ve decided it’s best not to worry too much...
Today, the Mille Miglia is not as fast nor as tough as it once was - but it is still fast and tough. I’m told to expect flat-out driving, often under police escort but still on open, public roads, and at least three of the four days to involve 16 hours or more in the cockpit.
We will run east down to Rome and then back up west to Brescia again, taking in 16 time controls, 17 passage controls, and 76 regularity tests and eight regularity tests at an imposed average speed.
The complexity of these challenges is mind-boggling - and the ability of some of the crews to achieve them more so. As the week unfolds, I hope to go into much more detail on that.
So, too, I hope to share some of the excitement and trepidation of being in such an incredible car on such a historic event over such a long distance. Both Ian and I are tall at around 190cm, but we fit well in the cockpit.
Even so, the absence of seatbelts or a roll-hoop is an attack on my conservative senses, as are the near 40deg C cabin temperatures, which are enhanced by the heat soaked up by the lightweight bodywork. Ian’s done the event before with much success, so there’s a certain pressure not to let him down, either.
For now, that’s probably enough of a history lesson and overview of what lies ahead, but I’ll be posting as many updates as I can before and during the event, so do please ask questions as well as following this story over the next five days.
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