Italy is a truly remarkable place; divine food, inspirational architecture, effortless style, passionate people, and on this particular day capable of an enormous unforeseen traffic jam which was causing our hosts, Jaguar, untold grief.
‘Okay, Brian Johnson is here now. But has anyone seen Jay Leno?’ was the disturbing chirp we heard on the radios when we eventually made it across town to the agreed meeting point. Consider that this was happening at a time when the first cars should have been setting off and you can imagine the headache it was causing.
In the end all was well and Mr Leno took his place in the ex-Ecurie Ecosse XK120 he’d been charged with piloting in ‘The World’s Most Beautiful Race’. However, the frankly horrific traffic had meant that sadly I was to miss the start-proper and had to make do with my first glimpse of the cars escaping the congested clutches of Brescia about a mile down the road after they’d set-off.
There was barely time to squeeze-off a selection of shots on the camera before we were summoned by Jaguar to take our places in our F-Type Coupe R ‘chase car’ for the 130 kilometre stretch to Padova. What happened next was simply one of the most intense, wonderful, joyous, and fast driving experiences of my life.
Leaving Brescia after most of the Mille Miglia competitors had departed I didn’t expect much of a crowd to still be out. How wrong I was. Thousands of people lined the roads, first from Brescia to Verona, and then on to Padova; all of them shouting and waving relentlessly for the cars to go faster. On the tighter sections through the small villages the locals occasionally held out ‘pit stop’ signs, meaning that they wanted to you come to a stop, wait for a gap to develop between you and the car in front, and then light the tyres up at full throttle as they jumped around and roared in appreciation. Jaguar had told us to expect this. They smiled as they did so…
The locals weren’t the only ones feeling the fever of all these wonderful machines visiting their towns and villages. The police were in on the act, too; waving you enthusiastically on as you exited the roundabouts, and then whizzing by on motorbikes with blue lights ablaze as they beckoned you to follow them on a safe path past the slower traffic. Everything stops for the Mille Miglia, and speed limits aren’t even advisory… they’re flat-out redundant.
Things slowed down a tad as the cars enter the jaw-droppingly beautiful city of Verona, and the crowds just got even bigger. It’s been my privilege as a motoring journalist to see some remarkable things, and driving through Verona following a Maserati A6CGS is right up there. The crowds relentlessly chanting ‘Maserati!, Maserati!, and then ‘ Jaguar!, Jaguar!’ as our ferocious F-Type drove past. This is the kind of epic stuff you dream about as a car nut.
A short stint later and I arrived in Padova; another beautiful place which was to see the first stage of the Mille Miglia come to a close. It was midnight when the cars started to arrive, but the place was packed. Thousands of people of all ages applauding each and every car that showed up; bars and restaurants doing a roaring trade and showing no sign of closing for the night.
Italy is the only place this kind of event could happen, and I will never forget the experience. The punchline is though, that according to Miglia veterans this was the dull bit! Roll-on Padova to Rome and 13 more life-changing hours in the F-Type before the whole rally makes its way back through the mountains and on to Brescia.
If you ever get even the faintest opportunity to do the Miglia, you must make every sacrifice you can to do it.
This. Is. Incredible.