The Four Musketeers, the Devil’s Son and the Iceman. The history of Mille Miglia part 2

2017-03-09 The Four Musketeers, the Devil’s Son and the Iceman. The history of Mille Miglia part 2

And so, on March 27, 1927, exactly four months after Mazzotti, Maggi, Casagneto and Canestrini invented a detailed plan of the new race; the first Rally of a Thousand Miles set off. Seventy-seven teams stood at the start line at Viale Venezia in Brescia. At 8 o’clock in the morning, Renzo Castagneto waved a flag and the drivers raced towards Rome. Among them was one of the originators of the rally, Aymo Maggi, who sat behind the wheel of sports Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A. Next to him, Bindo Maserati, an engineer and co-owner of the fledgling factory of sports cars, sitting on the pilot’s seat. Maggi joined the competition on the route from Brescia to Rome and back in the role of a front runner. He had a great car, and he was a great pilot with a lot of past successes. The year 1926 was very successful for him - he won in the Circuito del Garda, in the Grand Prix of Rome and in the Etna Cup. He therefore had a reason to believe that he would be the first at the finishing line of Mille Miglia. But he miscalculated because he had not taken into account that the race he co-authored was really different than anything else. He reached the finish line of his home Brescia seventh. The first edition of the Thousand Miles Rally was won by Ferdinando Minoia (the same who became the first ever European Car Championship winner four years later). The then 43-year-old Nando overcame the route in 21 hours, which means he drove at an average speed of 77 km/h. Not really a racing tempo? Today, most of us develop faster speed on the way to work. Sure, but it is worth remembering that Minoia maintained such a pace for 1600 kilometers of winding roads with normal traffic, and his OM 665 Superba did not have seat belts, power steering or shock absorbers, with tires that were not much wider than those that are used in bicycles today.

However, the winners of the first Mille Miglia were, above all, the young originators of this rally. The four Musketeers, as they were called, no longer had to convince anyone to their party. The Italians loved their race, they were excited about the fact that they could admire the struggles of drivers while sitting at their windows at home. And when Benito Mussolini himself sent a letter full of praise to the organizers after the first edition, it became clear that Mille Miglia would find a permanent place on the calendar of Europe’s most important motoring events, and every year it would attract adrenaline-hungry racers.

The second and third edition of Mille Miglia was dominated by Giuseppe Campari, one of the most colorful figures in Italian motor sport. This man, actually standing out with his very overweight figure, who had taken his place at the wheel of his Alfa Romeo 6C Spider Zagato with considerable difficulty, moved so fast and agile on winding roads that his rivals did not have the slightest chance to take away his victory. Campari was also a favorite of the fans, the hearts of whom he conquered not only thanks to his racing skills. His other passion and profession was opera singing. One of the Mille Miglia legends says, that when in 1928 Campari reached the finish line as the first, he gave the audience a series of popular opera arias, which of course broke out an even greater enthusiasm among the crowds. A year later, when he once again triumphed in the Thousand Miles Rally, he repeated his performance. In 1930 Campari, however, he did not have the opportunity to sing to the fans in Brescia. When he reached the finish line in less than 17 hours, he came to know that he was only third, and the crowd had been cheering in honor of Tazio Nuvoliti for more than half an hour. Nuvoliti not only won the rally, but traveled the entire route with an average speed of over 100 km/h. The Mille Miglia race had a new record and a new hero, and Italy had its new idol. For Nuvolari, who had begun racing in rallies just two years earlier, the triumph at Mille Miglia was a prelude to a great career. And although he won many prestigious races later, including the European Car Championships in 1932 and the 24-hour Le Mans in 1933, he felt great fondness for the Red Arrow for the rest of his life. He stood at the Brescia starting line many times and each time, his name was mentioned in the group of front-runners. Nivola, as he was affectionately called, took first place only once, in the seventh edition of the Thousand Miles Rally, but even when he lost, he enjoyed the adoration of his fans. He drove daringly, spectacularly, he did not care for bruises or breakdowns, and if only his car was able to move after an accident, he continued the race. His mad driving style caused that Nuvolari was referred to as "a man who knows no fear" or, more bluntly, "the devil’s son”. The emotions of the fans fired up his duels with two other legends of Mille Miglia - Achille Varzim and Clemente Biondetti. The first one was a complete opposite of the hotheaded Nivola, always cool, contained with a stony face, behaving as if victory was the last thing he wanted. In 1934, the "Iceman", as that was Varzi’s nickname, made Nuvolari furious, as he checked in at the finish line just eight minutes earlier and deprived him of the chance for his third victory in Mille Miglia. Achille gained sporting revenge for the rally four years before when he was unable to beat Nivoli and had to settle for second place.

Author: Artur Grabarczyk