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Here and There in Motoring's Past: 1927 - The First Mille Miglia, and the Last

Pre-WWII Racing Topics:  Mille Miglia

Here and There in Motoring's Past: 1927 - The First Mille Miglia, and the Last

Peter Helck
Antique Automobile
March-April 1972

Benito Mussolini is remembered for many reasons.  Perhaps a few, such as getting the Italian trains running on time, may be considered as commendable.  He was also known to be a keen motorist.  Legends tell of his thundering passage through provincial towns, his P-2 Alfas and blown 1750's being handled with the skill of Varzi and the audacity of Nuvolari.  This would fit perfectly with Mussolini's oft-repeated precept to "live dangerously."  However, his detractors claim that the man at the wheel in these demonstrations of derring-do was the Dictator's stooge, selected because of his remarkable physical resemblance to Il Duce, and then thoroughly tutored in the art of fast driving.

In any case, we do know that Mussolini gave his full support to the planning of one of the most notable series in motor racing, the Mille Miglia, the one thousand mile cross-country dash from Brescia to Rome and return.  The first of these annuals was staged in 1927, not exactly an early period in racing history but certainly late enough in this sport's existence to have had the lessons regarding crowd control fully noted.

As a witness of this first Mille Miglia, the writer recalls no purposeful effort in making this long race safe for the participants and the highly demonstrative Italian spectators.  True, there were warnings by the press and requests that the normal highway traffic be suspended whenever possible.  But the roads were not officially closed.  Among the crowds in the Rome sector, the Fascist blackshirts were certainly in swaggering evidence, but seemingly as spectators only.

Visualize a half-hundred fleet sports cars, not to mention the less swift entries comprising five categories, sharing 1000 miles of road with teenagers on bikes, chauffeur-driven limousines, tourers and even lumbering mule-drawn farm wagons.  Consider the twisting mountain passes, the crowded provincial villages and above all the playful holiday antics of a demonstrative populace unchecked by any authority!  Fortunately, a kind Providence prevailed that early spring day.

So it is ironic that exactly thirty years later, when protective measures had been brought to near perfection, that this great classic was abandoned.  A particularly reckless but experienced amateur left the road and crashed into the unobtruding crowds, with fatal results to nine spectators, himself and his riding companion.

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