A thousand miles through Italy.
Impressions of the 2014 Mille Miglia.
Pretty little country roads wind through the picturesque backdrop of the Tuscan countryside like small rivers. This picture has been part of the scenery of northern Italy for centuries. Once a year, the Mille Miglia fills the winding passages with automotive life. Pithy six-cylinder engines
– such as the one of the 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Coupé "Gullwing" – create the characteristic background noise and are reminiscent of the legendary motorsport contest that was held between 1927 and 1957. Mercedes-Benz was present on location again this year, with both classic and modern cars.
The calm before the storm.
Countless classic cars waited for the final clearance in Brescia. Strict rules were enforced which decided whether the cars met the race management's specific stipulations. Only the cars that passed this examination were given one of the coveted starting numbers. The team led by the Swiss building industrialist Adrian Gattiker with the newly restored 300 SL "Gullwing" in Bavarian blue was given the number 333 and was thus qualified to wait for the starting signal.
The next morning, however, first the Mercedes-Benz SLR CLUB set off on the route. The modern super sports cars form a homage-paying vanguard, braving the 1000 miles first, ahead of the classic cars. The Stirling Moss Special Edition SLR in particular caused a stir amongst the roadside spectators.
Its unique design is reminiscent of the historic SLR of 1955, and there are only 75 examples of this special model in existence in the whole world. It was a unique privilege to experience more than one of this rarity in action close-up. Young and old Mille Miglia spectators alike were thrilled.
Italy in waiting.
Before the official start of the race, all the cars stood ceremoniously in front of the imposing Teatro Grande in Brescia. For the spectators, that meant: history at their fingertips. Then, in keeping with tradition, each car was introduced briefly on the starting ramp before the start. When the 300 SL aluminium "Gullwing" passed it, the commentator was delighted and said he had never seen that colour on a gullwing. The Bavarian blue paint is actually a unique colour from 1955 which was recently recreated as part of an elaborate restoration project. With the words "Italy is waiting to see it!" the commentator sent the car on its way. He was to be proved right, because this unique speciality caused a real stir all through Italy.
The Mille Miglia Rookie
Processions were held every so often to satisfy the eager eyes and ears of the many spectators. And that was in almost every town. Adrian Gattiker, who was taking part in the Mille Miglia for the first time, soon had a feel for what the Italian fans wanted, which was for him to roll through the cobbled streets with the doors open.
Other participants let the engines of their fireballs roar loudly at the request of the fans. Particularly the compressor engines of some of the pre-war models created a thundering noise that echoed through the narrow streets of the mountain villages.
The queen's stage through two republics.
The rocky ridge of Monte Titano could be seen from far off, reigning majestically over the intermediate destination of the second stage: San Marino. The capital of the oldest sovereign republic in the world, with the same name, offered the participants an impressive backdrop as they approached. When they had reached the top, they could even see over to the Adriatic coast. There, Gattiker chose the village of Loreto for a well-earned espresso break. Because the second day was challenging: after only a few hours of sleep, the drivers set off early in the morning. The queen's stage is not only the most strenuous but also the most varied: green countryside, coastal roads and scenic mountain villages. The ultimate contrast to this is the cosmopolitan city which sits in the heart of the country, true to the motto that all roads lead to Rome.
La dolce vita.
Many of the former racing cars can get uncomfortable on a long journey. Some of them do not even have a windscreen. And yet, despite the sleepless nights and the strength-sapping journey, all the drivers were eagerly looking forward to the third stage. "La dolce vita" did not just sweeten the participants' short breaks at the stopping places with dolci and espressi. It was the generally friendly and truly euphoric atmosphere that characterised the Mille Miglia. As they drove along winding roads through old towns and villages, again and again the passers-by stretched out their hands to the drivers to give them a high five. The cheering in the lively regions created a good mood for both sides; outside the towns it was the spectacular scenery that compensated the participants for their efforts, just like every year.
Activating the senses.
Pleasure follows duty. The drivers had completed four eventful days and finally, back in Brescia on Sunday afternoon, presented their rarities. The last times for the assessments had been measured, but virtually nobody wanted to miss driving up on to the ramp again. The car lovers along the roadside were able to enjoy a unique experience for the senses: the sound of the engines coupled with a smell that only classic cars can produce. These are the little details that make the Mille Miglia an incomparable experience that can be taken in with all the senses.
In his summary of the Mille Miglia in collaboration with the Mercedes-Benz team, Adrian Gattiker said that he was more than happy: “It was a stroke of luck that I had such a good team with me. I knew they would be there for me if there
was any problem, but we had none. Everything went lively.” He's also more than convinced on one point: in completing the 2014 Mille Miglia, his 300 SL aluminium "Gullwing" has truly been given a new lease of life.