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90 JUNE 2007


Chasing ghosts on the Mille Miglia When a Ferrari crashed in the 1957 Mille Miglia, the race died along with 12 victims. Ben Oliver looks back – from the wheel of Ferrari’s latest GT, the 599

Photography Gus Gregory CAR MAGAZINE



IT’S FAST BY 599 From the Raticosa Pass it’s just a hundred miles to the traditional finish point of the Mille Miglia at Brescia. Top drivers could cover that distance in just an hour back in the ‘50s. With a 599 and a ‘closed roads’ state of mind, you can do it damn fast today

you are a driver in the mille miglia in the 1950s. YOU HAVE BEEN RACING FOR TWELVE, MAYBE fourteen hours now, stopping only to take on fuel while cramming down some food and coffee and swallowing another couple of pills. It is dark, and you’re climbing through the Apennine mountains towards the Futa and Raticosa passes with over a hundred miles left to the finish line in Brescia. The road is supposed to be closed, but this is ‘50s Italy so every hairpin corner and blind brow brings a bicycle, donkey or badly parked car to deal with. The surface is lumpy and frequently broken. Your car has plenty of grunt – three or four hundred horsepower – but drum brakes and weak headlights and tyres that squeal but don’t grip. You are tired: so tired your amphetamine-addled mind is seeing things that aren’t there and missing those that are. And in this state you constantly have to make the finest of judgements; how hard to push. Back off, and you lose. Push too hard and you and your co-driver will probably die. There’s no Armco up here yet; no impregnable carbon-fibre safety cells or HANS devices or teams of paramedics on every corner. These cars barely have seat belts. Crash, and your best hope is to be thrown clear and land somewhere soft. The second best option is a quick death. The Mille Miglia ran – on and off – for thirty years between 1927 and 1957; a race over a thousand miles of public roads, starting and finishing in Brescia and looping through Rome and Florence. It broke cars and drivers; fewer than half of the hundreds who started each year would finish. It was staggeringly dangerous, enough to be temporarily banned

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in 1939, back when we thought smoking was healthy and were about to enter a world war. It had a huge impact on the development of fast road cars; Enzo Ferrari often talked about how improvements in brakes, transmissions and lighting were driven by what he learnt in the Mille Miglia. ‘In my opinion, the Mille Miglia was an epoch-making event,’ the Old Man said. ‘The Miglia created our cars and the Italian automobile industry.’ It certainly helped to create the myth of Ferrari. Towns and villages fought to have the ever-changing route of the Miglia pass through, building or improving roads to persuade the organisers. Italians could read in their newspapers about the victories of Ferrari-run Alfas, and later Ferrari’s own cars, in Grands Prix around the world. But before television, they couldn’t see them. So imagine being an Italian peasant farmer who has experienced nothing faster than a mule, and sitting on that mule in your field and watching an Italian hero like Varzi or Nuvolari or Taruffi drive an Italian car past you in a furious, deafening, 170mph red streak, and reading in your newspaper the next day that he had beaten the Germans. Ferrari is Italy, Italy is Ferrari, and this is where it all began. Enzo ran his very first car - though not yet carrying his name – in the truncated race that replaced the banned Mille Miglia in 1940. When it restarted uncut after the war Ferraris won eight of the eleven races, before a Ferrari caused the carnage that finally killed the Mille Miglia in 1957. All of this, as you have probably guessed, provides4


RACING LINES Racing has always improved the Ferrari breed. The Mille helped develop its early road cars while modern F1, and a bloke called Schumacher, had a big hand in the 599


DREAM TEAM The is praying for rain. There is more chance of seeing the Crown Prince play the bagpipes. chance of seeing the Crown Prince play the ba Prince play the bagpipes.

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a compelling reason to fly to Maranello, get a Ferrari, and drive. The 599 GTB Fiorano is the direct descendent of Ferrari’s earliest front-engined, V12 GT cars, starting with the 166 Inter, which either raced in the Mille Miglia or were developed from those that did. We won’t be following the entire route of the race, because some of it is THEN AND NOW pretty dull. We’ll just do the final 200 or so miles, Only a feeble brick wall separates Piero starting in Florence, arguably Italy’s most beautiful Taruffi’s winning city, climbing over the Futa and Raticosa, arguably Ferrari 315S from disaster (left). Fifty its best driving roads, before heading over the fast, years later, the 599 flat plains of Emilia-Romagna and past the scene GTB Fiorano excels on Armco-protected of the catastrophe in ’57 to the finish line in Brescia. sweepers We will not be taking drugs. Other than trying to understand what it must have been like to race in the Mille Miglia, we wanted to see if Italians still felt the same way about Ferraris. But we knew the answer to that, and got the proof five minutes after driving out of our hotel car park. Rolling into the centre of Florence in a Ferrari is the equivalent of wheeling Michelangelo’s David out of the Accademia Gallery and back to its original location in the Piazza della Signoria. We were mobbed. Italians regard the David and any Ferrari in the same way; part of their national birthright. It’s4

The race was so dangerous it was temporarily banned in 1939, back when we thought smoking was healthy and were about to enter a world war


SHOW-STOPPING FERRARI Everywhere you go, the 599 never fails to draw a crowd in Italy, day or night. Rino Casara (seated in 599) lost his cousin in the fateful 1957 Ferrari crash that put a stop to the Mille Miglia Overlook the hi-tech paddleshift and carbonfibre trim and the 599 has plenty of classic Ferrari about its interior. The wheel has a perforated leather finish while the old-school skin is redolent of that on classic Ferrari buckets



HANG ON The 599 has so much grip that it can be placed accurately time and again on twisting roads

not yours; it’s theirs. So there’s none of the jealous half-glances or studied ignorance you get driving a Ferrari in Britain; just genuine, unbridled enthusiasm. Through your open window people wish you complimenti and praise your bella macchina; you drive by rows of arms extended to take pictures with camera phones; people nearly fall off trying to do this while riding a scooter with a pillion. Not one person seems bothered by Pininfarina’s questionable styling. It has its angles; the vast, low, flat bonnet that makes the head-on view so threatening, the rear haunches as full, round and suggestive of power as a sprinter’s gluteus maximii, and the flying-buttress rear pillars that sit apart from the bubble rear window. But it doesn’t come together with the coherence that makes a car beautiful, as frontengined V12s like the Daytona and the various 250s managed in the past. There’s plenty of the past in the cabin too; the perforated leather on the wheel and the cross-banded, hole-punched detailing on the seats is pure ‘70s supercar. The modern stuff is less successful; the carbonfibre trim looks great but feels plasticky, and there’s an old-school Ferrari fragility to some of the switchgear. But you have the time to think about all of this because the basics are right; big, comfortable cabin, great visibility. Driving a beamy, pricey GT through Florence’s’ medieval streets ought to give you a tension headache but the view means you can position the car accurately, the automated clutch keeps going in and out happily despite the heat and the magnetic dampers know what you want and deliver the softest ride possible. It all feels disappointingly undramatic, a little too usable. But that’s one half of the GT equation. The other is power so great that it overwhelms the mass of a big car like this

and allows seemingly limitless, effortless performance. For this, Ferrari has produced the F140C engine, a 620-horsepower development of the 5999cc, 65-degree V12 fitted to the Enzo and the FXX. When the circumstances all come together – fluids warmed, road clear, straight and dry, manettino switch on the steering wheel set to ‘race’ for the fastest, latest upshifts – and you open the throttle fully you quickly stop thinking about those flimsy switches. Your view goes from widescreen to tunnel-vision; you see only the red change-up lights rapidly illuminating in the carbonfibre steering wheel top, and beyond them to the road ahead, down which your 599 is advancing faster than the other traffic could ever anticipate. Sixty in 3.7 seconds and 205mph doesn’t really describe it. The engine note goes from a bassy, flatulent low-rev rumble to an only-slightly more civilized take on the FXX’s shrill detonation at the 8400rpm change-up point. The sense of ease is heightened by Ferrari’s efforts to reduce any mechanical noise or resonance from the engine, leaving only the howl of induction and exhaust, some of which is carefully played into the cabin. God, it’s good. Totally unsustainable, of course. But we might as well, while we still can. By the end of the Mille Miglia the cars Ferrari was entering were producing over 400bhp. They were lighter than the 599, but the road-racing heroes of the ‘50s would still be shocked by the abilities of a modern road car; the combination of autostrada, 599 and a closed-road attitude to the speed limit meant we got from Florence to the Futa Pass faster than any of them ever did. Once up there, you realise that there’s just no point comparing this car to the cars they drove. There’s little point even comparing the 599 to the 575 it replaced. The 599 is based on the same light,4


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bill The 599 advances faster than other traffic could ever anticipate. Sixty in 3.7 seconds doesn’t really describe it


THE FINISH The Piazza della Vittoria in Brescia was the start/finish point for the Mille Miglia. Its challenge will never be replicated. But, in a 599, you can rapidly retrace it – in comfort

stiff aluminium architecture as the 612 Scaglietti and makes the same point with greater conviction. Where once a V12 GT car needed to be handled with trepidation and great respect for its huge masses and forces, you can now drive one like you would an Elise. The 599 is a big car, but just as it shrinks around you in city traffic, it shrinks again on these roads. The Futa and Raticosa aren’t like the Alpine passes with their spectacular but slow cascades of hairpins. Up here you get as many curves as corners; there are blind brows and bends but also long stretches where you can see how the turns link, and can plot your trajectory and not have to back off. These are exactly the kind of roads this car was made for. The steering is light but real and there’s so much FERRARI grip that you can place the nose of the car with millimetric 599 GTB accuracy. The carbon-ceramic brakes are indefatigable, despite the speed and heat and mass they have to deal with. The slickness of the shifts is at odds with the riot of noise from that masterpiece of a motor. Sometimes an engine this good dominates the car; the 599’s real achievement is that the chassis doesn’t let it. I drove the passes twice, just to be sure. Price: £179,890 On these roads it’s hard to comprehend how Stirling Engine: 5999cc 48V V12, 611bhp @ 7600rpm, 448lb ft @ 5600rpm Moss averaged almost 100mph over the entire course Transmission: Six-speed sequential, in 1955. On the long straights that lead back across rear-wheel drive the plains to the finish in Brescia it isn’t much easier. Performance: 0-62mph 3.7sec, 205mph To get that average the drivers were travelling at 170mph Weight: 1690kg here, an almost unthinkable speed even in a supercar Made from: Aluminium with half a century’s technical advantage. On sale: Now It couldn’t last, of course. On May 12 1957 the fifty Or try this: Aston Martin DB9, Mercedes-Benz SLR year-old Piero Taruffi added the Mille Miglia to his


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wins in the Targa Florio and the Carrera Panamericana. But about 25 miles outside Brescia, near the small town of Guidizzolo, his Ferrari team-mate had an accident. Alfonso de Portago was the 28 year-old nephew of the King of Spain. A rock in the road punctured a tyre at 170mph; as he tried to turn into the bend leading into the village the car flipped into the crowd. De Portago, his co-driver and 10 spectators, many of them children, died. The race was banned for good three days later. We drove into Guidizzolo slightly concerned about the reaction we’d get; Italians have famously long memories, and Ferrari was accused of negligence for not changing the car’s tyres. The town hasn’t forgotten its loss; in a bar we found Rino Casara who watched the race as a five year-old from the town square. His eight year-old cousin went out to the bend to watch, and was killed. In the square we met Andrea dal Prato, whose uncle was the town’s only photographer in ’57. He ran from his office in the square to the scene of the accident, and sold the roll of film he shot for two new ones. Andrea took us to the monument to those who died; a speed camera now stands on the bend. But any resentment towards Ferrari has passed; even at eleven o’clock at night the 599 pulled a crowd into the square. Last stop Brescia, and Mussolini’s stern fascist Piazza della Vittoria, where the cars were scrutineered, and packed away again. We arrived after midnight and dog-tired, but frankly no closer to understanding how it must have been for those who drove in the real thing. It will never be repeated, and can’t be replicated. Nothing in modern motorsport compares to it, and nobody will ever feel the same way at the wheel of a car.




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