Monday 20th May 2013


HARRIS ON THE MILLE MIGLIA: PH LIVEBLOG

Police escorts, chasing priceless Ferraris and a sneaky visit to a place Chris really shouldn't be



Chris Harris is out in Italy driving an ex-Fangio Jaguar C-Type. Envy is never a good thing so if that sentence has you green-tinged take some heart in the fact he's also getting a soaking in the process.

For the full route and timings click the map to the right to enlarge and to gaze in wonder at the entry list click here - take your time and be prepared for your jaw to drop.

For blow by blow updates we'll retweet Chris's updates on @PistonHeads and he'll be checking in regularly with more in-depth updates below. Scroll to the bottom of the page for a collection of Chris's pics snapped along the way.



Bologna, Maranello and more
We drove into Bologna on the wrong side of the road - oncoming traffic had to move to accommodate us. This dispatched a two-mile queue of traffic

Once in the town we spotted a police motorcyclist - he didn't acknowledge us, he just bolted from the lights and we followed. The feeling of having the path cleared for you is so foreign and so liberating I think it's worth doing the Mille Miglia just to experience it.

35km later he deposited us at Maranello. I won't forget that convoy.

I hadn't realised we would be heading through Ferrari-town. We drove through the factory and then did a time-trial at Fiorano. I'm supposedly not welcome at either of these places, so this felt especially naughty.

Earlier in the day spirits dipped a little. The whole timing element of the Mille Miglia is frankly a complete pain. It gets in the way of all the fun stuff. We were hopeless at the regularity stages, so we decided to take penalties and enjoy the driving. Oh, and have a hearty lunch.

The final hour into Brescia is a drive I will always remember. Peering through the darkness at the rounded bottom of a very well driven Ferrari 250MM as we both drove as fast as we dared in the conditions. It was as much fun as I've had on the road in years.

We drove for 15 hours on open pipes and with an aero screen and no ear defenders. We looked like zombies but we'd done things in an extraordinary car that we will probably never do again.

When it's good - which it isn't always - the Mille Miglia is everything you could hope for.



As a slight Mille Miglia sceptic I am pleased to announce that leaving Rome at 8am in convoy with another C-Type and an XK120, following a police car as it cleared a path at some speed, that I now fully understand this event.

Nowhere else is this possible. In fact I'm beginning to wonder why Italy doesn't base its entire national marketing strategy around the Mille Miglia. The place is beautiful, the people relaxed and tolerant and the food is cracking - the event demonstrates this perfectly.

The police bikers are also right up for it. We followed one for a while this morning and I just couldn't stop grinning from the absurdity of doing such things in the presence of the law.

The car hasn't missed a beat, but yesterday was a long day and my backside is now aching like it did when I was rude to the teacher.

I was too ruined to blog last night. Apols. We got to bed at 1am after an 8.30am start. Alarm call was 5am today. It may not be a proper race, but there's no time for fraternising - it's drive-sleep-drive-sleep. The first third of the day was wet, too treacherous for me really, but we kept a good pace.

We followed David Coulthard for a while in the SLR, before Al naturally blatted it past him!



Somewhere in northern Italy, Friday
Driving someone else's 5m Jaguar in the lashing rain on treacherous Italian roads concentrates the mind.

Look of fear masked by all essential goggles
Look of fear masked by all essential goggles
My goggles would steam up, so the best method of avoiding the pin-prick rain jabbing your forehead is to sink down into the seat and peer through the steering wheel and the aero-screen. It's quite cosy, but the car wants to spin its back wheels most of the time in first three gears, so you need to be ready.

The rules of the road are fairly baffling. Basically there aren't any. You make third lanes in town and generally do what you want. I find following someone extremely pushy is the best way of making ground.

Despite the rain, the crowds are out and when it did stop howling it down, we had a great drive to San Marino. If every C-Type drives like this, is I'd be staggered. The only thing that dates it badly are the brakes. Otherwise it's a weapon and on completely open pipes.



Ferrara, Friday morning
We finished Leg one at 0140h this morning. It was a mixture of the expected and unexpected.

The route out of Brescia was just what I'd hoped the Mille Miglia would be: thousands of merry souls cheering old cars as they initially screamed, then trundled through town. I have never seen a group of people so obviously in love with motor cars. It made me smile.

Al with the C-Type - Chris takes over today
Al with the C-Type - Chris takes over today
The sanity continues just long enough to confuse you into thinking that all this talk of people really pushing it is just talk. And then a C-Type effectively makes a third lane for itself and roars off into the distance. At this point you either tut and watch him go. Or you give chase. Being a racing driver, Al gave chase. This C-Type is absurdly fast and loud. And it doesn't have much grip. Al drove it beautifully.

At intervals there are regularity trials, those things where you time yourself over a short distance. Neither of us could really see the point in going deliberately slowly against a stopwatch, and it's hellish fiddly on the Branz trip meter, so the first one was a shambles. I wanted to sack the rest off and just enjoy the route, but we persevered and now an annoying sense of pride means we are actually trying to do them well. Competition is, after all, competition.

Dicing with a German mentalist in a Porsche 550 Spyder is not something I will forget for a while. Nor was ticking off we had from officials afterwards.

A load of the route was closed because of the terrible weather, but over five hours in the passenger seat felt enough for me.

We have more than double that to complete today. I'm starting with a steering wheel in my paws.

I'm standing next to a row of cars in Ferrara that beggars belief. This is a very special event.



Brescia, Thursday
Driving into Brescia in a stunning convoy. Weather all over the place.

Al's starting, I will attempt to navigate.


PH towers, Thursday
To get you in the mood here's a little vid.



Brescia, Thursday
I have never seen such a collection of cars under one roof as there were yesterday evening at the paddock in Brescia. Countless millions of pounds of significant road and competition cars primed for what remains one of the most famous motoring events.
But what is the Mille Miglia?

Al Buncombe gens up on the route book
Al Buncombe gens up on the route book
It's the race immortalised by Moss and Jenks in 1955 and stopped just two years later after a terrible crash. It was then resurrected in the 80s as a regularity adventure event for the right sorts of cars and has run yearly until the present day, where it has reached a position of great importance on the classic car calendar.

But it isn't a race. It's a regularity event: one of those things where you have to arrive at check points on the exact second and average 37.12km/h over five hours. And to be frank, that doesn't appeal to me.

This is not too much of a worry though because it would appear that through the international code of nudge and wink, there is another way of competing in this event. Driving rather quicker than is suggested and then quaffing espressos while you wait for the next check point. I will leave it for you decide the method that myself and co-driver Al Buncombe (serious GT race driver) have decided to take.

For me it's a chance to gel with a beautiful car and have a great adventure. None of us do enough of either.

Coulthard behind Jag in another ex-Fangio car
Coulthard behind Jag in another ex-Fangio car
It has rained all day today. The ceremonial line-up in Brescia was a complete wash-out, but even so thousands of people lined the streets. I shouldn't really need reminding that Italy is the crucible of car-adoration in the developed world. The way people responded to our C-Type make us grin like kiddies.

Ah, the C-Type. First registered owner one H.M Fangio (but only for a matter of days, allegedly) and now a well-known historic race car. I have covered 6km in it and can confirm that even for my tiny frame it's a tight fit. It's a beautiful machine and a joy just to lounge around in when stationary. We now have 1,550km in which to better understand it.

Three days of rain and drum brakes could be interesting. Oh, it has around 280hp. And a 140-litre fuel tank.













Author: Chris Harris
Want more PH news like this daily - then signup for the PH newsletter here!