The Fast and the Beau­ti­ful

The once per­ilously fast Mille Miglia road race may have turned into a bit of beauty pa­rade but it’s still a one-of-a-kind oc­ca­sion that’ll get en­thu­si­asts’ adren­a­line pump­ing.

Bespoke - - MILLE MIGLIA -

The Mille Miglia (which means 1,000 miles in Ital­ian) was an open-road en­durance race that was estab­lished by the young Count Aymo Maggi and Franco Maz­zotti, in re­sponse to the Ital­ian Grand Prix be­ing moved from their home town of Bres­cia to Monza. To­gether with a group of wealthy as­so­ciates, they cre­ated the world’s most spec­tac­u­lar, and dan­ger­ous, race and it firmly re­in­stated Bres­cia at the top of the au­to­mo­tive food chain. Es­sen­tially the course ran from Bres­cia, near Mi­lan, to Rome and back, in a fig­ure-of-eight shaped course of roughly 1,500 kilo­me­tres – or a thou­sand Ro­man miles. But, ac­cord­ing to my guide when I vis­ited Bres­cia’s Mille Miglia Mu­seum this May, the course changed al­most every year. This hardly mat­tered though be­cause, with hun­dreds of cars, thou­sands of twists and turns, closed roads, in the dark and the rain, stop­ping only for fuel, the driv­ers were seen as glad­i­a­tors. And for the au­tomak­ers, the event pre­sented an ex­cep­tional op­por­tu­nity to mo­bilise the pop­u­la­tion and ad­ver­tise their prod­ucts to po­ten­tial buy­ers all over Italy. In 1927, the win­ning car, an OM (or Of­ficine Mec­ca­niche, a mar­que that was – ap­pro­pri­ately – from Bres­cia) com­pleted the course in a lit­tle over 21 hours, and while times would im­prove in sub­se­quent years, so per­ilous were the con­di­tions that driv­ers were con­sid­ered lucky to even fin­ish the race. Re­mem­ber, these were the days be­fore as­phalt and with only rudi­men­tary me­chan­ics, car prob­lems were par for the course. Yet it was the crashes that would prove the great­est li­a­bil­ity for both driv­ers and spec­ta­tors, espe­cially given the in­cred­i­ble num­ber of peo­ple that would line the roads to watch the cars rocket past. With no crowd

pro­tec­tion, in­juries and deaths be­came com­mon­place. In fact, an ac­ci­dent in 1938 killed 10 spec­ta­tors and led to the can­cel­la­tion of the 1939 event. But there was a lot more to come and af­ter the war, it be­came more pop­u­lar than ever. In the 1950s, Enzo Fer­rari fa­mously called the Mille Miglia the "most beau­ti­ful race in the world". But with catas­tro­phe al­ways loom­ing, fate struck in 1957 when Al­fonso de Portago, an oldschool play­boy and god­son of the King of Spain, stub­bornly re­fused to pull over from a win­ning po­si­tion to change his de­te­ri­o­rat­ing tyres, only for one of them to ul­ti­mately ex­plode. He lost con­trol of his Fer­rari 335S while trav­el­ling at over 240 km/h. The car cut a tele­graph pole in two, ploughed through the crowd and ended up in a small canal. Eleven peo­ple died, in­clud­ing the Mar­quis de Portago, his co-driver, and five chil­dren. The race was per­ma­nently scrapped and that was the end of it. Over that course of 30 years , the Mille Miglia had been held 24 times. Alfa Romeo dom­i­nated the pre-war pe­riod (win­ning 11 races), while Fer­rari won eight times af­ter the war. Re­mark­ably though, the record time be­longed to a non-ital­ian driver in a nonI­tal­ian car – Sir Stirling Moss in a Mercedes-benz 300SLR – with a quite death-de­fy­ing time of just 10 hours, 7 min­utes and 48 sec­onds, which equates to an av­er­age speed of 160 km/h, in­clud­ing stops. Nev­er­the­less, like a phoenix ris­ing from the ashes, the Mille Miglia was re­vived in 1982 un­der the name Mille Miglia Stor­ica and it has re­mained on the cal­en­dar ever since. Un­like be­fore how­ever, not just any­one can en­ter: only ve­hi­cles whose mod­els raced the orig­i­nal event be­tween 1927 and 1957 are el­i­gi­ble to par­tic­i­pate. 84-year-old Enzo Fer­rari even lent a hand to help get the recre­ation of the race back on the road again, and he de­scribed it as “a mu­seum in mo­tion, unique and charm­ing, in a beau­ti­ful frame­work of ju­bi­lant vis­i­tors.” Un­doubt­edly, much of Mille Miglia’s global ac­claim can be at­trib­uted to its last­ing part­ner­ship with Chopard, which has been in ef­fect since 1987. We caught up with the owner and co-pres­i­dent of Chopard, Karl-friedrich Scheufele at this year’s race.

How did Chopard first get in­volved in the Mille Miglia? Karl-friedrich Scheufele – I at­tended my first race in 1987 af­ter a friend had rec­om­mended I go see it. I was hooked and im­me­di­ately went and met with the or­gan­is­ers to put for­ward the idea of a part­ner­ship where we would make a watch for every race. And from 1988 we be­gan the part­ner­ship with the first watch com­ing out in time for the 1989 race and every year since there has been a watch as­so­ci­ated with the Mille Miglia and the watch col­lec­tion emerged.

How has the race changed since then? In those days there was a smaller and more fa­mil­ial at­mos­phere. There were un­der 200 par­tic­i­pants, but this year there are 440. It be­came, like many things, more and more pro­fes­sional, with many more re­stric­tions, espe­cially with re­gard to the driv­ing, which was still some­what free. Over the years they have had to con­tain ev­ery­thing, to the point that it’s ex­tremely well or­gan­ised now, with po­lice es­corts, and so on. It still has the same spirit as be­fore, I must say, it’s just that, in my eyes, they could do bet­ter with just 300 par­tic­i­pants.

When was your first race? Even though I owned some vin­tage cars I did not own a car that was el­i­gi­ble un­til 1989 when I en­tered a 300SL Gull­wing Mercedes, with Jacky Ickx as my co-driver. This car has ac­tu­ally en­tered every year since, so I would guess it has the most ex­ten­sive Mille Miglia par­tic­i­pa­tion record of any car.

Do you know how many peo­ple ap­plied this year? The past few years have seen be­tween 900 and 1,000 ap­pli­ca­tions, for just 400 or so slots.

It’s clas­si­fied as a rally now and not a race, so how does one win? Points are scored for ar­riv­ing at check­points at the right time. And be­tween those check­points are tests that re­quire you to cover a pre­cise dis­tance in an even more pre­cise time. It doesn’t re­quire big av­er­age speeds; rather it’s all about pre­ci­sion, and win­ners are of­ten de­fined by a mere tenth of a sec­ond.

And is it only the win­ner who re­ceives a Chopard watch? No, the win­ner gets a tro­phy. But all the par­tic­i­pants re­ceive one driver’s Chopard watch, which is a lim­ited edi­tion that changes every year. There’s also a se­ries of 1,000 watches that are for sale, so if a par­tic­i­pant wants to choose a num­ber that cor­re­sponds to their car for ex­am­ple, they can. Fi­nally there's the on-go­ing Mille Miglia col­lec­tion of seven or so ref­er­ences, which are al­ways avail­able and not lim­ited.

How ben­e­fi­cial has the as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween Chopard and the Mille Miglia been? Very. Next year it will be 30 years since we be­gan our part­ner­ship and over that time we have car­ried the Mille Miglia name to every cor­ner of the world. In fact, we made a sur­vey and some coun­tries in the Far East as­so­ci­ate the name Mille Miglia with a Chopard watch – they didn’t even know it was a race. But it has been great and it’s won­der­ful to be back every year. There’s some­thing mag­i­cal about this place and the peo­ple – Ital­ians are just so pas­sion­ate about cars.

Chopard’s Mille Miglia col­lec­tion has be­come one of the brand’s best sell­ing lines has it not? It’s a line that we al­ways po­si­tion as be­ing ac­ces­si­ble and sporty and in that bracket it is ex­tremely suc­cess­ful. It rep­re­sents a fair part of our busi­ness and you could say it has be­come an icon of the Chopard watch col­lec­tion. How did you come up with some of the more fa­mous de­sign in­spi­ra­tions, such as the treads on the rub­ber straps for in­stance? It was in 1996 or 1997 and it was the first time the Porsche Mu­seum had lent us their 550 Spy­der RS and I was ly­ing in the grass next to the car, re­lax­ing be­fore the start and I no­ticed the car’s beau­ti­ful Dun­lop tyres and I thought how great they’d look on a strap. So Jacky put me in touch with Dun­lop and they were very help­ful and they gave us per­mis­sion to use a re­pro­duc­tion of the ac­tual tread and it lead the way to our first ever rub­ber strap. The sad part of this story is that they no longer al­low these tyres to be used on the road.

There have al­ways been watch as­so­ci­a­tions with For­mula 1 but was yours the first in the clas­sic arena? Yes, we were the first to as­so­ci­ate our­selves long-term with an event like this in the world of clas­sic cars and we did it be­cause of a per­sonal pas­sion, not for com­mer­cial rea­sons.

Could you ex­plain what you fore­saw in such a part­ner­ship back in 1987? I was just amazed by the at­mos­phere and the pas­sion that these peo­ple had and I thought an as­so­ci­a­tion could be re­ally in­ter­est­ing. At that time I as­sumed it would just be a niche thing but was thor­oughly con­vinced by the crowds: there were men, kids, women, all age groups, all classes, and I re­alised how uni­fy­ing an event it was and thought it could be a re­ally in­ter­est­ing as­so­ci­a­tion.

Fi­nally, do you have any ad­di­tional part­ing words about the Mille Miglia? Any­one who loves cars sim­ply has to at­tend at least one Mille Miglia, and if you can find a way to race it – all the bet­ter.

Left: Swiss fash­ion jour­nal­ist and blog­ger MarieChar­lotte Vananty raced in the other Porsche 550 Spy­der RS en­tered by Chopard. Top right: A big red 1935 Lagonda M45 Rapide on the start straight sur­rounded by Fi­ats, As­tons and Al­fas. Mid­dle right: The...

Left: It may be a clas­sic race but the level of so­phis­ti­ca­tion in terms of the tech­no­log­i­cal wiz­ardry re­quired to win the race is any­thing but. Right: A 1937 Al­lard K1. (This year's race was won by the same car as last year – a 1931 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750...

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