In December 1926, a group affectionately nicknamed the "Four Musketeers"—consisting of Giovanni Canestrini, a journalist with the Gazzetta dello Sport, Renzo Castagneto, secretary of the Brescia branch of the Regio Automobil Club, and enthusiastic patrons Aymo Maggi and Franco Mazzotti—created a car race from Brescia to Rome and back.
The route was 1600 kilometres long, which Mazzotti, who had recently returned from a trip to the United States, realised corresponded to 1000 miles. Thus the Coppa delle Mille Miglia (Thousand-Mile Cup) was born.
It was an instant success: within four editions Nuvolari and Guidotti became the first to exceed an average speed of 100 km/h in the legendary 1930 contest, on board an Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 GS. That record was set during a golden age of absolute domination by Alfa Romeo and its courageous and equally daring drivers, who besides Nuvolari included Achille Varzi, Giuseppe Campari, Carlo Maria Pintacuda and Clemente Biondetti among the more famous names. A serious accident in 1938 caused the government to temporarily ban road racing, causing the cancellation of the 1939 edition. Nevertheless, the organisers did not lose heart and reinvented the race in the form of a circuit between Brescia, Cremona and Mantua, which was lapped nine times and called the Brescia Grand Prix of the Mille Miglia.
The competition was suspended for a second time due to the war, before resuming in 1947 under difficult circumstances, with bridges destroyed, roads torn up, fuel and tyres rationed and a car industry that was struggling to get back on its feet. The three editions from 1947 to 1949 were as difficult to organise as they were exhilarating to compete in.
The eight editions of the modern era, from 1950 to 1957 saw the emergence of official teams from all over the world, as well as professional drivers. The event took on such international importance that it contributed significantly to the reconstruction of Italy's road network and the development of the automotive sector, becoming a driver of the country’s recovery in the immediate post-war period and beyond.
In the 1956edition, Stirling Moss set a new average speed record of 157,65 km/h, but the race had become so dangerous that after two fatal crashes in 1957, all motor racing on public roads was banned. Refusing to admit defeat, the organisation doggedly created a formula that is still adopted for rally racing: long highway sections at legal speeds interspersed with special stages involving speed trials on purpose-built tracks or hillclimbs on private roads. The three editions of 1958, 1959 and 1961 followed this formula, which was no longer based on pure speed and ultimately proved unsuccessful.
The race was discontinued until 1968 when Alfa Romeo marked the launch of its new 1750model, in honour of the legendary vehicle that Nuvolari drove to victory in 1930, by organising a re-enactment tour for a number of historic cars, followed by journalists on board new 1750s. This event was the precursor of modern editions.
Subsequently in 1982, the Mille Miglia was revived as a historic re-enactment, initially on a biennial basis, and has since become a race run on public roads at legal speeds that is only open to cars involved in the 1927-1957 editions. The Mille Miglia has taken place every year since 1987 and attracts collectors and public figures from around the world, even beyond the automotive sector. But the cars are the real protagonists, because they have written the story of the Mille Miglia.
Although the inaugural edition in 1927 was won by an O.M.car, Alfa Romeo triumphed in almost half of the 24 Mille Miglia races staged from 1927 to 1957, accumulating no fewer than 11 victories. Ferrari dominated from 1948 with eight victories, including a series of six straight successes that was interrupted only by Alberto Ascari's 1954 victory in a Lancia D24 Spider.
Discover more about Mille Miglia 2017.
Read the stories of the FCA Heritage cars that starred in the 2017 Mille Miglia:
The Lancia Aprilia first series: a true technological marvel.
The Lancia Aurelia B24: for many the ‘most beautiful’ spider ever.
The Alfa Romeo 1900 Super Sprint: a car favoured by gentlemen drivers.
The Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Gran Sport: one of the iconic cars of the Mille Miglia.
The Alfa Romeo 6C 2300 Mille Miglia: Merzario and Jarier reunited in the cockpit after 40 years.