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Some of the Mille Miglia’s best race cars on display for 90th anniversary

by Jennifer Clark

Over 30 classic cars of the hundreds that ran the Mille Miglia road race from 1927 to 1957 have been painstakingly tracked down, identified, and are now on gleaming display in Brescia, from a 1953 Ferrari 340 MM valued at €11 million to a 1951 Lancia Aurelia with a bad paint job that a lucky collector scooped up for €70,000.

Some of them will roll out of the Mille Miglia museum in a few weeks to take part in the legendary race running from Brescia to Rome and back from May 18. The rest will stay on display until January as part of the show “90 Years, 1000 Miles” which is timed to coincide with the road race’s 90th anniversary.

In its ninety-year lifespan, the Mille Miglia 1000-mile race through Italy’s hills, ancient towns and stunning piazzas has morphed from a dangerous and sometimes fatal speed contest at the peak of the car industry’s glamor years to a movable classic car show that is part cultural event and part spectacle. Siena has its Palio, Venice its gondoliers, and Brescia has the Mille Miglia.

“Three years ago we realized we wanted to do an exhibition about the cars that had been in the race, which wasn’t so easy because they are all over the world,”said Fabio Fedi, commercial director for the Museo Mille Miglia. “We hope the show will help promote the auto industry and the race worldwide, as well as make a technological advance that will hopefully bring in more young visitors.”

Each of their cars has been equipped with a touch screen totem that has been loaded complete written and visual documentation in English about the vehicle and its participation in the race, including press clips and certificates. The information is also contained on a website.

Many of the cars are equipped with BLE technology (or Bluetooth Low Energy) chip that can transmit this information when outside of the museum to the cellphone of a person standing nearby.

One of the cars in the show that will be racing May 18 is the 1933 Alfa Romeo 6C Gran Sport Testa by Zagato. It ran the Mille Miglia in 1934 driven by a female “pilota,” Anna Maria Peduzzi, also known as the “Marocchina,” who came in at 13th place.

Only in Italy could a car museum be housed in a former monastery dating from 1008, St Eufemia della Fonte. And nowhere could there be a link between cars and religion other than Brescia -- except maybe in Maranello, the home of Ferrari.

Not by chance, Enzo Ferrari called the Mille Miglia “the most beautiful race in the world.” 

The Mille Miglia was founded in 1927 when motoring was still in its infancy. It is a grinding endurance test that pushed both car and driver to the limits.

And not to mention tested the speed limit. The quickest-ever time was 10 hours, 7 minutes and 48 seconds, achieved in 1955 by Sterling Moss and Denis Jenkinson in a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR, with an average time of 157.650 kilometers per hour, or 97.96 mph. The fact they reached those speeds on the narrow roads of the day shows how dangerous it was for both drivers and spectators who thronged the streets. During its first 30 years, 56 people died. It was suspended in 1977 after a fatal crash and has now been reinstated for only classic cars.

Drivers in their classic Jaguars, Bentleys, Alfa Romeos, Porsches, Mercedes and Ferraris are timed during the race. They have to navigate the open roads with the help of a co-pilot.

The iconic cars will roar through 190 towns and villages that are set in some of the world's most beautiful scenery, starting from Brescia's historic cobblestoned streets then passing through Verona, Vicenza, Bologna, Florence and Siena on the way to Rome, before looping back up through the vineyard-covered hills of Tuscany.

“This race was unique for the cars, the drivers and the fact it was on an open road, which means the drivers needed more skill,” said Sandro Binelli of Automotive Masterpieces, who curated the show.