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WE USUALLY associate Italy’s Mille Miglia 1000-mile road race with high-powered sports cars. And, indeed, after an O.M.’s victory in the 1927 inaugural Mille Miglia, Alfa Romeo garnered 10 wins in the pre-World War II events; Mercedes-Benz and BMW, one each. Post-war, Alfa won the 1947 Mille Miglia. Ferrari took eight of the subsequent 10 wins; Lancia and Mercedes-Benz, the only other victories.
However, the Mille Miglia typically had scads of entries. For example, the 1935 event had 48 finishers, plus another 37 that DNF’d. The 1953 race lists 283 finishers, 183 more that DNF’d—and another 89 that entered but DNA’d (did not arrive; i.e., failed to show up for the start).
Even in Italy, there weren’t that many high-performance cars. And, in fact, some mundane, if charming, machines have earned Mille Miglia reputations. Here are several of my favorites.
Fiat 508 Balilla. In 1932, Fiat introduced its 508, designed to offer high-class features in a modestly priced car. Its Balilla soubriquet honored an 18th-century Genovese patriot, and the Fiat 508 developed its own particular sense of brio.
Fully 22 of the 48 finishers in the 1935 Mille Miglia were Balillas; another 16 Balillas participated but didn’t finish. The Villoresi brothers, Emilio and his younger brother Luigi, co-drove theirs to the best Balilla placing, 18th overall and 2nd in class to a Maserati.
Alfa Romeo 1900 M AR 51 “Matta da slegare.” The 1952 Mille Miglia had a military category, with a pair of Alfa Romeo 1900 Ms competing against two Fiat Campagnola counterparts. Army Captain Antonio Costa and Lieutenant Francesco Verga finished 114th overall; the best Campagnola, 157th. The other Fiat came 217th of 272 finishers that year; the other Alfa ended up in a ditch.
The Alfa 1900 M’s nickname “Matta da slegare” comes from matta being Italian for “mad woman” and da slegare literally meaning “to untie.” Related to this, there’s an Italian idiom, “woman to tie” meaning “raving lunatic.”
Citroën 2CV. The Citroën 2CV may have displayed Gallic nonchalance in its mechanicals, but this didn’t stop seven of them from participating in the 1955 Mille Miglia. Four of them were ranked 248th, 264th, 265th and 272nd of the 279 finishers.
Beginning in 1949, Mille Miglia car numbering designated its departure time from Brescia. The smallest (and, one assumes, the slowest) entries began the night before. For example, the Dagonet/Chewot 2CV, number 11, would have departed at 9:11 p.m.
Iso Isetta. The lowest numbers, and earliest departure times, were allotted to even smaller cars. In the 1955 Mille Miglia, these were four Iso Isettas, prior to their being built under license by BMW and others. Reflecting their 236-cc powerplants, the four were assigned nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4, finishing 277th, 269th, 267th and 276th, respectively.
Being car no. 2, Aldolfo Montorio’s Isetta left Brescia at 9:02 p.m. He raced for 20 hours 28 minutes and 30 seconds at an average speed of 48.4 mph. Thus, he crossed the finish line just a tick after 5:30 p.m. on race day.
By contrast, the winning Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR of Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson carried number 722. That is, its 7:22 a.m. departure was more than ten hours after the Montorio Isetta’s.
Moss and Jenks completed the 992 miles in a record 10 hours 7 minutes and 48 seconds, averaging 97.9 mph. By my calculation, they received their Brescia checkered flag just a tick before 5:30 p.m.
That is, Moss and Jenks would have blown past Montorio’s Isetta on the streets of Brescia a scant 42 seconds before the finish line. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2016