From its beginnings as a speed race to today’s more gentlemanly and heavily-branded look that sees vintage cars motoring from Brescia to Rome and back, the legendary Mille Miglia (Thousand Miles) race revs up for another run this year, from June 13 to 17. For five days, this year’s 420 qualifying cars, masterpieces of art and design in motion, will motor through some of Italy’s most beautiful settings and cities—a journey characterized by welcoming spectators, the enthusiasm of classic car drivers, and the dolce vita spirit of a time-honored motoring tradition.
Its Origins & Modern Look
Established in 1927 by its ‘four musketeers’— Giovanni Canestrini, Franco Mazzotti, Renzo Castagneto and Aymo Maggi—Mille Miglia was created as the ultimate speed and endurance race, unfurling on public roads rather than a race track. A total of 77 cars took part in the inaugural race, covering a route of 1,600km (equal to 1,000 miles), on March 26, 1927. It took the winner Ferdinando Minoja and Giuseppe Morandi 21 hours, 4 minutes, and 48 seconds to complete in their Brescia-built OM 665 Superba. Unlike endurance races at Le Mans or Daytona, the Mille Miglia is a race against the clock rather than against other cars, with cars trying to reach the leg of the race in the fastest amount of time.
Nearly a dozen years after its birth, the event was banned by Mussolini following an accident that killed several spectators in the 1938 race. Mille Miglia was reinstated in 1947. In 1955, two Englishmen, Stirling Moss and navigator Denis Jenkinson, won the historic race in a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR, completing the distance in just 10 hours, 7 minutes and 48 seconds, with an average speed 158km/h). Mille Miglia was halted again in 1957, when two drivers and nearly a dozen spectators, including children, were killed in an accident.
In 1977, the Mille Miglia was revived as a tourist race. Its current annual format has been in place since 1987, and is open to cars that either participated in the original race or are of the same type. These rare cars are pricey and the Mille Miglia has become a rolling museum of automobiles from a bygone era. It has also sprouted counterparts around the world, and Mille Miglia now encompasses a broad portfolio of events such as electric and modern races spread across an annual calendar.
The race has also grown to international status, with replicated events taking place on stunning driving routes around the world including, Warm UP USA, scheduled for October 31 to November 5, 2023 in the Washington DC area and for 2024, 1000 Miglia is previewing in Miami, Florida.
During the Copa delle Alpi cars roll by the Chophard Boutique in St. Moritz, Switzerland
Copa delle Alpi
One of its most scenic offshoots is the Copa delle Alpi, (in early-March) meant snow and ice for its 72 four-wheeled entries this year. Over the first leg of the four day trek that started in Tirano, crews faced average speed time trials on the hairpin bended route that led them across the beautiful Bernina Pass, where, at the end of a near 34-kilometre climb, they could admire the glaciers of Pizzo Palù, Bellavista and Bernina, and the famous white lake.
Driving through the Engadin Valley, the cars reached the outskirts of St. Moritz and on the road that runs alongside the Horse Shoe (a renowned section of the Olympia Bobrun, the oldest bobsleigh track in the world and the only one with natural refrigeration), they competed in the first block of Time Trials to decide the winner of the ‘City of Saint Moritz’ Trophy. The welcome in St. Moritz is always enthusiastic and classy, and a gala dinner followed.
The second race day kicked off from the centre of St. Moritz and skirted the city’s famous frozen lake under a crystal clear sky and glorious sunshine.. It was followed by the Vredestein Trophy (one of the sponsors), a series of Time Trials on snow held at the Montebello Quarry. This particular and spectacular spot proved hugely popular with the event participants, all the more so in a winter with little snowfall. After the Average Speed Trials on the Fuorn Pass, which are intentionally competitor testing but not car damaging, the race returned to Italian territory from the Vinschgau Valley, first passing through the quaint town of Glorenza and then heading to the eastern shore of Lake Resia for the Passage and Regrouping Control, from where a view of the submerged bell tower provided an ideal selfie opportunity.
Riding along Resia Lake
After the Average Trials in Falpaus and a delightful gourmet lunch stop in Tarrenz, the cars crossed the Fern Pass before entering Germany, the fourth nation crossed by this year’s event. Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Mittenwald hosted this year’s German Passage Controls. At each scheduled stop, enthusiastic crowds gathered to snap photos of cars and grab driver autographs. It’s always friendly and unthreatening, and the local police ensure that everyone is safe.
The Average Trials held among the dense trees of the Leutasch Valley inaugurated the return to Austria before reaching Innsbruck, the capital of North Tyrol and the second city leg, with the cars entering from the Innbrüke, the bridge over the Inn River that provides the city with its name. The Time Controls at the end of the race were held in front of the imposing Imperial Palace, in the square, in front of the City theatre.
The rally departed Innsbruck at 8.30 a.m. on the third day, with a lunch lunch stop at Misurina Lake and returned to Italy to tackle the lovely Valparola Pass by mid-afternoon. The first cars arrived in Bressanone in the early evening. Competitors compared notes and experiences over a much needed and relaxing supper.
The final day lured the cars to Sarnonico, with a refreshments break in Ponte di Legno en route to Bormio and the literal end of the road.
Within two hours of arrival, the prize-giving, aperitifs and dinner followed in close order. Tired but happy crews returned home the next day.
Vintage cars crossing the Bernina Pass
Mille Miglia June 13-17, 2023
Rather than being a race for the first across the line as it was in the 1920s to the 1950s, the rally is now orchestrated as a showcase of classic cars across the finest roads in Italy, though adrenaline and speed do still factor into the race. For the upcoming June race in Italy, here’s a look at the five legs. If you happen to be in Italy at one of these delightful destinations, wave as the historic cars whiz by.
Leg 1 -Tuesday June 12
Leg 2 – Wednesday June 14
Leg 3 – Thursday June 15
Leg 4- Friday June 16
On the fourth day, after Stradella and Pavia, the Race will reach Piedmont with lunch in Alessandria, then Asti and Vercelli and, via Novara, it will head to downtown Milan, which will host the last night of the Race.
Leg 5-Saturday June 17
On the fifth day, after saying goodbye to Bergamo, Brescia’s twin city as the Italian Capital of Culture 2023, the Mille Miglia 2023 will end in Brescia in the late morning with a city circuit before the final passage on the Viale Venezia platform and the closing lunch.
In the evening, the See-You-in-2024 celebration with the Red Arrow’s full evening events will bring the intense week to a convivial end.
For drivers and car enthusiasts alike, the Mille Miglia races blend nostalgia and elegance. While the cars are the main attractions, people from around the globe gather along the roads and at pitstops for wine, culinary excellence, and the pervasive celebratory camaraderie that bubbles like a fine Prosecco.
BeSeeingYou In: Brescia, Italy
Good to Know: The race makes a stop in Siena at the Piazza Il Campo, home to the Palio horserace, one of the most spectacular annual events in Italy
WOW! Factor: More than 1,500 applications are received per year to race in the Mille Miglia in Italy
Tip: Learn more about the mythical race and see historical cars at the Mille Miglia Museum in Brescia
Author bio: Iain Robertson