There’s a place in this world where cars have a holiday dedicated to them. And it’s a genuine holiday. Not the lame-ass British ‘holiday’ that’s just a jaunt to some tepid seashore, but holiday as in people stop all the normal rules of life and celebrate. The place is Italy, and the holiday is the Mille Miglia.

There’s really no other way to describe what’s going on here. This morning, the entire town of Brescia pretty much shut down and everyone went to ogle and moan over the massive collection of remarkable cars that was amassed in a lovely, ancient-feeling town square. There was a festive feeling everywhere, and everywhere you looked was an amazing car.

Crowds of people were taking pictures, talking to owners, touching fenders, staring, wishing. There were men, women, kids, old people, rich people, broke-ass people, foreigners, locals, everyone everyone everyone. It was like a fantastic, chaotic Cars and Coffee that snaked throughout the narrow streets of an entire city.

And that’s just the morning, before the race began. Soon a parade of cars started, and as the engines rumbled and bleated to life, the excitement level rose, palpably, through the crowds. The clouds of exhaust smoke were greedily inhaled by onlookers, hoping to add an olfactory element to the visual and auditory spectacle. I know I breathed deeply and delightedly when an archaic Aston Martin fired to life in front of me, and I can tell you unburnt fuel never smelled so grand.

(I know this Alfa wagon was only a support car, but I loved it.)

Cars made their way to the start, either on their own power or pushed by the owners, and soon were taking off down the roads, mixing in with the modern traffic, but with special dispensation to seemingly do whatever the hell they wanted. Which was mostly going loud and fast on skinny, skinny tires.

Soon after, I piled into my Jaguar F-Type R AWD Coupe with my driving partner, Cliff, and took off on the route. Which is when the full scale of this event really hit me. As we drove through town, we encountered crowds of cheering people watching the cars pass. Which makes sense — they’re right there in town. But what was unexpected was that these clumps of excited spectators never quit.

All along the route, for miles and miles (fine, kilometers and kilometers) we met groups of car-loving Italians cheering as the cars drove by. Even the F-Type I was in, while not a rare vintage classic, was exotic enough to merit cheers and a particular kind of gesticulation — arms outstretched, bouncing up and down like the people were dribbling two invisible beachballs — that meant PUNCH IT.

Of course, usually there was a car 10 feet in front of you, so punching it would just mean punching your radiator right into the back of the car ahead, but I really wanted to give these people something. Happily, the F-Type’s V8 is absurdly loud and terrifying, so I’d drop it down into 1st and put it in neutral, rev the gas, quickly let up, and then the engine would burble and boom like you were inside the devil’s mouth as he gorged on Pop Rocks and piping-hot cola.

They liked that.

The whole country seems to be participating in a massive automotive lovefest. Every gas stop we had was like a miniature street party and car show, with people coming out to see every spindly old racer and sensuous red Italian sportscar as they refueled. People took pictures, asked questions, congratulated the drivers. I asked a man about the strange SU carb in his old Fiat and he answered like an old friend telling me about a new project he was excited about.

And, incredibly, in case the 400+ official entrants to the Mille Miglia weren’t enough for you, it seems that everyone in Italy with an interesting, fast, or unusual car had it out on the road today. It seems locals with cars that don’t fit the Miglia’s rules — newer than 1957, never ran in the Miglia, etc. — just take the opportunity to get out and drive the route with the Mille Miglia runners.

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Plus, because traffic laws seem to be on a bit of a vacation as well (save for some key safety rules and letting the Miglia cars pass) most of these drivers are hauling some very stern and serious ass. I saw Lamborghinis, Ferraris, original Fiat Abarths, 60s and 70s Alfas, Porsches, and some much rarer stuff.

Like this father and daughter in a KTM X-Bow. Holy crap, that’s a fantastic dad. She looked to be about 9 or 10, maybe, and having a spectacular time. Is there a cooler little girl around?

Or look at this — a BMW Z1. I’ve never seen one of these out of a museum. I had to go up and ask the guy to make the door go up and down, because I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t.

And look at this — this has to be the best-packed Fiat 500 trunk I’ve ever seen, period. It makes all my weird space-utilization fetishes tingle. I could stare at this all day, because apparently, I have a weird problem.

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So, I have to get up to drive a huge stretch in about — fuck 3 and a half hours — so I’d best wrap up. But I was really excited to tell you what it’s like out here, in this. If you ever have the chance to experience this, take it.

The love of cars isn’t always rational or productive or easy to explain. But here, in this environment, it’s easy to see why so many of us are so hopelessly smitten with these loud, smelly, dangerous machines. They’re fantastic things. Period.