Before the Mille Miglia race actually begins tomorrow, the cars all have to go through a process of scrutineering, which is basically just making sure they’re actually road legal. It’s like going to the DMV. Actually, since going to the DMV is like a little jaunt to hell, the Mille Miglia is like the DMV in heaven: no lines, and incredible cars everywhere.
All the entered cars — and there’s about 400 of them — are gathered in a massive old airplane hanger and one by one are inspected by a small team. And, unlike a concours show or something, all they’re really looking for are a few key things:
• Engine and chassis numbers match the car’s entry ID card
• The car has safe, road-legal tires
• The cars lights and horn and whatever safety stuff it had when new (and remember, “new” here is no newer than 1957) all work. If it had no indicators when new, it gets no indicators now.
Also, for authenticity reasons, no car can have a cage (unless it had one when it ran originally), making sure that modern-day drivers would be just as boned in a wreck as the heroes of yore. It’s less of an issue now that it’s not a bonkers, flat-out race like before, but it’s still a sobering thought.
It’s really a simple safety/legality check for the cars. But when you have 400 absolutely stunning vintage cars all around you, nothing is simple or safe or legal, at least metaphorically. I walked into that massive building and looked out at the rows and rows of cars, some of which I’d only seen in pictures, and for a brief, terrifying moment considered wetting myself lavishly just because it seemed the only proper thing to do in the presence of so many remarkable cars.
Luckily, a Jaguar representative tasked with keeping me from wetting myself publicly intervened, and I regained my composure enough to take bunch of pictures, since my goal here is to virtually have all of you along with me, my glorious readers.
So, with that in mind, let’s look at some of these cars. Two things to remember: I’m exhausted and it’s late late here, so my captions will be short and maybe occasionally error-prone, and second, please keep in mind that each one of these cars is going to drive 1000 miles tomorrow. Priceless or not, immaculate or shabby, none of these lovlies are dust-acquiring garage queens. These are cars, and they will run.
Okay. Off we go:
This first one is sort of a fakeout — it’s not in the Mille Miglia, but it was such a nice early VW Thing, with the original small bus taillights, just tooling down the road here in Brescia, I had to snap a photo. Okay, on with the real stuff.
Look how dapper and charming this little Fiat 1100E Zagato is. The two-tone, the third light, the taught little proportions — Jeezis, car, you’re killing me here.
Do you suffer from charm intolerance? Are you Charmtose Intolerant? Then you best look away, right goddamn now. Don’t even peek at that glorious little woody Topolino.
The body-colored bumpers, the odd little Matisse-like scribble on the rear decklid, the shape of those windows. Daaamn.
Spindly Bugatti. This is from the era of praying-mantis inspired auto design.
This woman was doing a very nice portrait of that Porsche Speedster over there. It’s like if they let cars enjoy the Venice, CA boardwalk.
Who was making Lancia’s headlights back in the day? Were they aware they weren’t making pieces for a duchesses’ dining room?
I’ll admit, I’m not familiar with this plucky little guy. Glaur?
This Alfa must be what they show designers when they question the value of ‘width’ in auto design.
There’s really nothing more Italian than shifting with Roman numerals.
I really like this Reilly’s smug little face.
Mercedes did some nice subtle updating of the colossal headlights by sticking a tiny projector unit inside the housing.
Here’s a team pushing their car to the scrutineering booth. None of these cars looked all that easy to push.
How many Mercedes-Benz 300SL gullwings have you seen in your life? Well, here’s more than you’ve ever seen, all together.
The father of the 300SL Gullwings, the Mercedes-Benz W194 Grand Prix car. It’s stunning. YUM is right, license plate.
A Lancia Aprilla is such a tidy, handsome little car. It feels like a fine watch you want to pass down to your grandkids, and would be willing to hide in your ass, Pulp Fiction-style, if need be.
No Isettas this year, but some iron-gonad’d Incredible Human is running this tiny Fiat 600. Tomorrow they’re going to take this 28.5 HP 50+ year old little brute one thousand miles starting tomorrow. If you don’t respect that, then I can’t help you, you lout.
I almost lost it when I saw this little coachbuilt Fiat. It’s like Dr.Seuss and a vintage Ferrari made sweaty, sticky love in a ball crawl. Fantastic.
A Borgward Isabella! Who expected this? It’s just what this party needed.
I took this picture so you could see the advanced use of tape and kitchen timers that have made Italy the pioneer in Taped Kitchentimer Tech for years.
This is an HRG. That’s an appropriate name because it sounds like the grunt of raw desire you’ll make when you see one in person.
There were two Deutsch-Bonnets here. One was powered by a a Citroën inline 4, and this one by a Panhard flat-twin. Both looked amazing.
A Cisitalia! I’ve only seen pictures of these before. They’re like the template for all modern sportscars.
This thing — oh, man, this amazing thing. This is a hand-built one-off built on a Renault R4 chassis. The woman who owned it told me she thought it looked “like a robot.” She’s absolutely right.
I just want to see these two team up for a buddy cop-car movie.
This thing’s wonderful alien frog-face really caught my eye.
A FIat 508 CS. It looks sort of like a dopey koala or something. But fast.
Here’s that dopey koala from the side. Incredible.
I just put this here because this taillight is basically a piece of candy corn.
And, speaking of taillights, I love these ones with actual word STOP.
An Alfa next to a Healey. On a floor. In a hangar. In Italy.
This Lancia looks so insanely loooonnnng. It feels like it needs a hinge in the middle.
Remember that Alfa Romeo made a Jeep? It was called the Matta, or 1900M, from ‘52-’54. I love how they stamped their traditional grille shape right in the sheet metal.
This Lotus looks like it was made to drive under 18-wheelers.
This Maserati A6 is the automotive equivalent of an impeccably-tailored suit.
OM (Officine Meccaniche) isn’t a very well-known marque today, but an OM won the first Mille Miglia in 1927. OM was a local company, based out of Brescia, and much later became part of truckmaker Iveco. So, next time you see an Iveco dumpster-hauler, think “there goes a Mille Miglia winner.”
Not everyone will be uncomfortable running in the Mille.
This old proto-Jag could use some chrome. Anyone have any chrome for this poor, deprived car?
An American! This Lincoln came all the way from California. Nice to see a countryman.
There’s so much more I haven’t shown you, I almost feel bad. But I’ll try to make it up in the next few days. Man, I gotta get some sleep now.