Milli Miglia Bee­tle

Last sum­mer, our friends at Just Kam­pers took part in the 90th Mille Miglia rally through Italy. They com­pleted the whole four-day, 1169-mile rally in a 1956 VW Bee­tle that they’ve dubbed Jack the Gi­ant Slayer. Pow­ered by an Okrasa-style Old­speed mo­tor, t

Classics Monthly - - Contents - WORDS: JOSH REYNOLDS/PAUL KNIGHT PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: JUST KAM­PERS/PAUL KNIGHT

How a spe­cially pre­pared 1200 Oval took this fa­mous clas­sic event by storm.

The Mille Miglia is a 1000+ mile rally that takes place an­nu­ally in Italy and since 1927 has been a huge part of the coun­try’s rich mo­tor­sport his­tory. The rally re­ceives a lot of press and me­dia cov­er­age, hence it also draws some im­pres­sive crowds, all hop­ing to catch a glimpse of some clas­sic ma­chin­ery be­ing driven hard along spec­tac­u­lar routes.

The rally starts in Bres­cia, North­ern Italy, and then heads down the East side of the coun­try to Rome, be­fore head­ing back up the Western side to Bres­cia again – all in just four days!

The ex­act route changes each year and the rally has be­come so pop­u­lar that it gen­er­ally at­tracts around four times more en­trants than can ac­tu­ally take part. In or­der to be el­i­gi­ble, your ve­hi­cle must have been built be­fore 1957 and ful­fil a num­ber of strict cri­te­ria.

This year, one of the en­trants lucky enough to se­cure a place was Mark Reynolds. Mark is a clas­sic car fan who founded Just Kam­pers back in 1989, which is a name well known in the VW com­mu­nity. We’re sure ev­ery­one knows that JK is one of the world’s big­gest sup­pli­ers of parts and ac­ces­sories for VWs old and new, but it’s great to see that the whole team at JK are 100 per cent hard­core VW fans that en­joy noth­ing more than get­ting in­volved with all as­pects of the VW scene!

Hav­ing spent most of his life in and around VW Bee­tles, the ’56 Bee­tle was an ob­vi­ous choice of ve­hi­cle for Mark and the newly formed JK Race Team, as well as be­ing some­thing of a novelty for the event (which is typ­i­cally full of very ex­pen­sive ex­ot­ica), we should add.

You Don’t Know Jack!

It’s rare for a Bee­tle to take part in the his­toric Mille Miglia and even rarer for one to fin­ish this gru­elling event, but that didn’t put off the JK Team. They not only com­pleted the rally but man­aged to suc­cess­fully fin­ish in the top 50 per cent! The se­cret to their suc­cess? Team­work and an Okrasa en­gine.

The Okrasa they had fit­ted into their Oval-win­dow Bee­tle is a replica of a fa­mous TSV1300 race en­gine from the ‘Fifties. Us­ing a pe­riod- cor­rect en­gine and an­cil­lar­ies like this al­lowed the team to pass the scru­ti­neer­ing process without any is­sues and gave the Bee­tle con­sid­er­ably more than the stan­dard 30hp you’d ex­pect from a 1200cc en­gine. Once they’d seen what the en­gine could do, they named the Bee­tle 'Jack the Gi­ant Slayer', hop­ing it would be able to hold its own against some of the ex­otic vin­tage race­cars they’d be up against.

Since the Okrasa wasn’t im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous, the Bee­tle didn’t seem to gar­ner much at­ten­tion in the of­fi­cial han­gar be­fore the race. While a lot of peo­ple seemed to like the Bee­tle, no one really fan­cied its chances… but that all changed when they hit the open road, though!

Built in late 1956, Jack was 60 years old when he took on the mighty Mille Miglia. As soon as they flew off the start­ing line and be­gan the rally both Mark and Josh (his son and nav­i­ga­tor), got the dis­tinct im­pres­sion that Jack the Gi­ant Slayer had been wait­ing for this chance to shine his whole life! Jack ate up mile af­ter mile of the Mille Miglia course without an is­sue. He sped through towns and vil­lages, rush hour traf­fic, botan­i­cal gar­dens, mil­i­tary air bases, me­dieval cas­tles and the au­tostrade with a barely con­tained en­thu­si­asm.

The team were able to over­take all sorts of amaz­ing, rarely-seen race cars with ease, much to the amuse­ment of the other driv­ers, who clearly hadn’t ex­pected the lit­tle Bee­tle to be quite so quick – it really was a gi­ant slayer!

Mak­ing Friends

Since all the cars set off in nu­mer­i­cal or­der each day, they of­ten found them­selves form­ing packs on the road and speed­ing around Italy to­gether. As Josh told us: “Driv­ing as part of one of these packs was hugely en­joy­able, as it added a lit­tle friendly com­pe­ti­tion on a smaller scale to see who’d be run­ning out front and who’d be strug­gling to catch up”.

Af­ter the first day the word about Jack the Gi­ant Slayer had clearly got­ten out, as other race

teams be­gan to ap­proach Mark and Josh to ask: “What have you done to that thing?!”. The power of the Okrasa mo­tor cou­pled with the rugged agility of the VW chas­sis was be­gin­ning to look like a great com­bi­na­tion.

It wasn’t just the other race teams who were im­pressed with Jack, though. Ev­ery town, vil­lage, and round­about was full of peo­ple of all ages cheer­ing, clap­ping and en­cour­ag­ing the rac­ers on. There were cries of ‘ Mag­gi­olino!’ (the Ital­ian name for the Bee­tle) ev­ery­where, fol­lowed by cheers and laugh­ter when­ever Mark hit the vin­tage klaxon horn.

This lively, ex­cited at­mos­phere really made the event spe­cial. No mat­ter where they were in the coun­try, or what time of day it was, there were al­ways peo­ple cheer­ing and wav­ing, stand­ing or sit­ting by the road­side to watch the 460 clas­sic race­cars fly past. When it’s gone mid­night and you’ve been driv­ing since 8am, the sight of a small crowd cheer­ing you on makes a huge dif­fer­ence.

Highs & Lows

The Mille Miglia is fa­mous not just for the in­cred­i­ble qual­ity and rar­ity of the cars that take part, but also for be­ing in­cred­i­bly chal­leng­ing on car, driver and nav­i­ga­tor. That said Mark, Josh and the sup­port team (not to men­tion Jack him­self) had an amaz­ing time.

Be­ing able to drive at top speed through the stun­ning Ital­ian coun­try­side was a truly amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and one that no one will for­get. The route took them along the tiny res­i­den­tial streets of places like San Marino, up and down wind­ing moun­tain passes and through the heart of Rome, all of which was truly in­cred­i­ble.

Four solid days of ral­ly­ing was men­tally and phys­i­cally drain­ing, but it wasn’t enough to break the team’s spir­its. The only thing that came close was the ab­so­lutely gi­gan­tic storm that broke over Rome as they ar­rived at the end of the sec­ond day.

The rain flooded the streets and scat­tered the crowd who had gath­ered at the fin­ish line. By the time Jack ar­rived the streets were empty and the rain was so heavy they couldn’t see the road signs or hear each other speak! They man­aged to find their way though and fi­nally got to bed at around 1:30am. But hey, no amount of bad weather or sleep­less nights could stop the JK Race Team!

They fin­ished the event without a hitch and came 223rd out of 460 com­peti­tors. At first their goal had been just to fin­ish, then – as their con­fi­dence in Jack’s abil­i­ties grew – the goal be­came ‘to climb ten places’, but they never thought they’d climb over 200 places and end up in the top half of all en­trants – a true tes­ta­ment to the hard work the team put in!

Fi­nally, Mark and Josh would like to thank the JK backup crew (Pete Dempsey, Alex Noel and Steve Gosling), State­side Tun­ing (Okrasa build) and ev­ery­one that helped to make Jack’s Mille Miglia ad­ven­ture such a suc­cess!

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A stan­dard look­ing VW Bee­tle like this isn't what you'd usu­ally see lined up at the start of the fa­mous Mille Miglia clas­sic rally. Left-hand drive cer­tainly made the Bee­tle's 1000 mile dash through the Ital­ian coun­try­side slightly more com­fort­able for the driv­ers.

The se­cret to this Bee­tle's suc­cess in the 2017 Mille Miglia is the 1389cc Okrasa air-cooled flat four nestling un­der­neath the en­gine lid.

This 1957 Bee­tle doesn't look that par­tic­u­larly quick – but there again, looks can of­ten de­ceive.

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