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IN MOZART’S Don Giovanni, Leporello does many things for his boss, one of them maintaining a catalog of the lecherous Giovanni’s conquests. (One line of the aria: Ma in Espana, mille e tre, But in Spain, a thousand and three.) Italian race driver Ercole Boratto served as chauffeur for Fascist leader Benito Mussolini. During this time, he also raced in the Mille Miglia and other events in Mussolini’s cars, and often did more than maintain a list of female companions for Il Duce. In 1945, Boratto wrote a book detailing this, prompted by the U.S. OSS intelligence agency.
Mozart’s librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte, couldn’t have concocted a better tale.
Ercole Boratto became Benito Mussolini’s chauffeur in 1923, just as the latter began his climb to a Fascist dictatorship of Italy. Mussolini was already an auto enthusiast, though he also recognized the importance of imperial image, of being chauffeur-driven past an adoring public.
Alfa Romeo was Mussolini’s favorite marque (over the years he owned 11 of them). In 1931, Boratto sent Alfa a test report of one, “to warn of a major drawback” necessitating rear-suspension repairs, “three times… in the rain” while chauffeuring Il Duce on a single drive. Otherwise, he offered his boss’s compliments to Alfa’s legendary Eng. [Vittorio] Jano.
In 1935, Mussolini took delivery of another Alfa Romeo, a 6C 2300 Sport Spyder, one of only 60 Pescara models honoring the car’s victories at Pescara race circuit. Mussolini paid 50,000 lira for the car ($2000, perhaps $35,000 in today’s dollar), well below cost, understandable given that his government owned Alfa under reorganization in 1933—and he was, after all, Il Duce.
Mussolini entered the 2300 Pescara in the 1936 Mille Miglia, one of two runnings of this Italian road race infamous for having an alternative-fuel option (1933 was the other “Gasogene” Mille Miglia). Il Duce commanded Alfa to modify the car to run on alcohol as an alternative-fuel entry. Boratto and professional race driver Daniel Mancinelli drove.
In fact, unknown to organizers, Il Duce’s 2300 Pescara was dual-fuel. Recalling many years later, Alfa’s Giovanbattista Guidotti said, “… there was a hidden lever beneath the dashboard allowing us to run the car on normal fuel after we had passed the checkpoints. The car did manage to use a few drops of alcohol. Anyway, the publicity value was worthwhile and the Royal Italian Automobile Club wrote to congratulate Il Duce whose car ‘ran the entire course with the greatest reliance on this alternative fuel.’ ” Boratto and Mancinelli finished a respectable 13th overall, 3nd in class.
In 1937, Boratto and co-driver Alessandro Gaboardi were 1st overall, likely on gasoline, in another Mussolini 6C 2300. The 635-mile Benghazi-to-Tripoli Race ran along the coast in what was then the North African colony of Italian Libya.
The 1938 Mille Miglia prompted another North African event. It had a horrific crash killing 10 and injuring 23 other spectators that foreshadowed the event’s last running in 1957 when two accidents killed nine spectators and a trio of entrants. In 1938, Mussolini promptly cancelled road racing in Italy, but not in its North African colonies.
For 1939, the Libyan coastal race was extended, its route adding 297 miles in traveling from Tobruk to Tripoli. This race was won by another Mussolini Alfa, a 6C 2500 SS. Boratto ran with Consalvo Sanesi, though it’s suggested the latter professional did most of the driving. Their winning pace was 87.8 mph over 10 hours 37 minutes.
Boratto continued his chauffeuring of Mussolini, his duties involving resolution of conflicting appearances of Il Duce mistresses with each other. At wartime’s end, Mussolini and his last mistress were hanging in Milan’s Piazzale Loreto.
Not long after, Boratto made a deal with the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, precursor of the CIA. He would share his memoirs of life with Il Duce provided A) it not be published in Italy, B) his name not be associated with the work—and C) he receive a small truck to start a hauling business.
There’s a Kindle edition of A Spasso col Duce, A Walk with Duce. It’s published in Italy, with Ercole Boratto’s name on the cover. My research is unable to determine whether his hauling business worked out. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2015
Superb piece, many thanks.
And many thanks to you.