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
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!
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!
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.