Photo caption: (bottom) Jack May and Gil Nickel in 60 Anni de Mille Miglia (1987).  Car: Ferrari 340 America Vignale Spyder #0140A.

60 ANNI di MILLE MIGLIA: 1987

It’s funny how symbols work. Symbols often have nothing to do with what is represented. A flag can stand for a nation, a bear can stand for a market, and a pair of skin-tight, fire-engine-red pedal pushers was once firmly bound, in my mind, to one of the world’s greatest automotive races. Those pedal pushers were molded to a body that rivaled the sculptured works on the tracks. I was 16. The object of my dreams was brightly posturing from the vantage of a Campari-scarlet, tented-top semi rig. The year was 1954, and I was there for the 12 hours of Sebring. I soon learned that this voluptuous creature was the property of a foreign, megabucked playboy driver named Marquis de Portago. The man immediately had my full attention and respect.  I did come to learn more about him. So impressed was I with the taste, style, and panache of this bon vivant that I followed his career until its fateful conclusion in May 1957. For him, it ended at the Mille Miglia.

The Race

The automobile race called Mille Miglia was probably the product of outright nationalism when it was created in 1927. Quite simply, Italian automobile enthusiasts wanted a race with greater prestige than the French 24-hour race at LeMans. So they developed a genuine road race of 1,000 miles, Mille Miglia (pronounced mee-lay meal-yah) over public roads, a race to provide a moving showcase for Italian cars, Italian drivers, and the historic country itself. The event commenced and ended in Brescia in north central Italy and passed through some of the most magnificent countryside in the world. The actual route had varied some over the years but usually followed a clockwise loop around to Rome and back. The race was an immediate success, held each year until interrupted by World War II. Afterwards, it was resumed annually until a running in 1957, exactly three decades after its inception, when the race was suspended again.

On that historic day in 1957 about sunset, toward the end of the 1,000 miles near the town of Guidizzolo, the playboy driver Marquis de Portago, traveling flat-out in a 400-hp Ferrari 335S (a 4-liter, 4-cam, V-12) had tire failure and veered through a crowd standing beneath a line of stately cypress trees. In a millisecond, a dozen spectators, my hero, his co-driver, and the race Mille Miglia were ended.

De Portago died running a race many had vied for. Often 750 drivers would apply for a position. But the rules were strict and only the best could hope to start on race day. Italian drivers dominated the event, largely because they were able to take unlimited practice laps, that is, to drive the race route while it was open to normal traffic. Italian machinery was also predominant, particularly Alfa Romeo, which won five times when the race team was Scuderia Ferrari, run by Enzo Ferrari, and Ferrari, run by the same fellow.

Divided into classes, the slowest and smallest displacement cars started first, leaving at one-minute intervals. The initial auto scratched off sometime before midnight, and big iron began to peel out just about dawn. Mandatory checkpoints were established along the course, as well as pits for fuel, tires, and mechanical assistance. The winner was the car with the lowest elapsed time within its class. Co-drivers were allowed, but many racers went solo to grind out the 1,000 miles of uncountable curves, pedal to the metal. What a day of automotive excitement that must have been with over 500,000 miles of racing in less than 20 hours and spectators numbering in the millions!

In response to a growing interest in historical racing automobiles, the Mille Miglia was resurrected by a group of dedicated Italian sportsmen as a vintage event, a cause for celebration among automotive cognoscenti.  Then a sponsor, Automobile Club of Bresci, deemed that the double anniversary of 60 years since inception and 30 years since conclusion in 1957 merited a special race, 60 Anni de Mille Miglia (1987).

The historic event had been modified and adapted for current times, conditions, and cars. Nonetheless, the rules were still strict. Entries were restricted to either actual machines that were in the competition from 1927 to 1957 or their contemporary peers. The rules prescribed a timed rally with 24 checkpoints, timed to an accuracy of 1/10 of a second, and two overnight stops. Included were 22 special trials involving selected segments of highway and special timing. The 1,000 miles were covered in about 48 hours, start to finish, at an average speed of less than 30 mph. The modest average speed did not reflect the reality, which was often full bore and fast.

As in any automotive event, technicalities abounded. For example, the point and penalty system remained an enigma to most drivers. Points were given only to the top 40 finishers in each stage. Penalties, if assessed, were deducted only from points by stage. How is a driver going to be able to roll over the rubber timing hose to within 1/10 of a second for those checkpoints? But even this dilemma was considered minor. There were indeed high-speed thrills and chills and also a few spills, but this was fun motoring rather than ragged competition. The challenge was low key and mostly internal. The race was the thing!

It was reported that there were over 580 entries for the 1987 Mille Miglia. Only the top 289 entrants were accepted, all with those vintage automobiles that warm the cockles of car aficionados. The entrants included 186 foreign teams from 23 countries, and 37 marques of automobiles were represented. Because of the quality of this field, the 60th Mille Miglia was described as the most important historic car event ever held. Sample entrants: 1929 Mercedes-Benz SSK (as well as 300SL and 300SLR), Bugatti Type 57, 1928 Bentley 4 1/2-litre TT, Jaguar C- and D-types, Alfa Romeos from 1924 to 1957, Pegaso Z102, Aston Martin, Porsche, Cisitalia, Fiat, Lancia, Allard, Cunningham, Maserati, BMW, and no fewer than 61 Ferraris. Each and every machine had a pedigree, usually including actual participation in the original Mille Miglia. Selection was essentially an endorsement of the historic value of a particular automobile. Acceptance into the race labeled it a thoroughbred. The 1,000 mile race in 1987 concentrated 30 years of racing into one event, the splicing together of the finest of three decades, a distillation of a special era of motor racing vehicles, a tribute to great machines and heroic drivers.  The ultimate moving vintage car museum! 

The Drivers

The year before in the 1986 Mille Miglia, my co-driver was Gil Nickel, car enthusiast and owner of Far Niente Winery in Napa, California. He and I had been close friends since we met in the 1975 Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash (the Cannonball).  I became lost at one point in that race, and it was only by following Gil’s Mercedes to the finish at the Pacific Ocean that I was able to establish the still-existing world's record time from New York to Los Angeles (35 hours, 53 minutes) driving a 1973 246GTS Ferrari Dino with co-driver Rick Cline. 

Our car in 1986 was from Gil's growing car collection, an extraordinary machine: a 1951 Ferrari.  When we began to consider racing the special 60th anniversary event, we fretted over the nightmarish logistical problems of again returning the fragile Ferrari to Italy from California nearly 7,000 miles (and at 50 cents a mile each way). As in so many facets of life, logic has absolutely no place in automobile racing. We decided to go for it. Furthermore, it would be his car's 35th anniversary. 

In 1986 we had finished 35th out of 252 starters, the second highest ever for an American team (Phil Hill was number 22 that year). Never had all-American teams done so well. We wanted to improve our mark.  We agreed, no one ever said you couldn't put two check marks next to the same dream! 

So it was that exactly 29 years after the demise of my hero de Portago, we were selected to participate in the reincarnated race of legend.

The Car

The car certainly deserved to be among the Mille Miglia's vintage cars. The most striking feature of this 1951 Ferrari (#0140A) was its color.  Instead of the traditional red, it was an intense electric yellow, Fly Yellow, as it is officially known.  For some reason, flies of all types are attracted to it. "Why is it yellow?” was a frequent question with at least five good reasons: (1) the color was an official shade of yellow from the background of the Ferrari Cavallino insignia, (2) privateer campaigners frequently raced their Ferraris in Fly Yellow to be distinguishable from the factory red cars, (3) at least 90% of Ferraris were red and this car was part of no crowd, (4) the classic design showed its curves best in this color, and (5) most importantly, it was Gil’s car and Gil liked yellow! Because neither Gil nor I spoke much Italian, most of our communication about this was conveyed with smiles and hand signals!

This gamboge jewel was a 1951 Ferrari 340 America Vignale Spyder, a 4.1-liter, single overhead cam, Lampredi-designed, V-12, developing 24 0bhp, according to factory specifications. This was the maximum power the engineers could design, equivalent to today’s Formula 1 Grand Prix engines. It was a one-off, that is, only one car of this body style was produced, probably as a design experiment. Obviously, the aluminum panels were hand hammered. The even serial number of 0140A indicated that the car was built by the factory as a race car as compared to the road cars, which have odd serial numbers. The suffix A for America was used for the largest engined Ferraris of the time. Twenty-two 340As were constructed in a variety of body styles. In that era, as was common with many constructors, Ferrari built only the chassis and the coachwork created by separate firms.

Like many old race cars, the exact history of the 0140A is difficult to document. In true Sherlock Holmes fashion, however, Gil continued to research its pedigree, running down the facts and making the logical deductions. He believes it was almost certainly built to be part of the factory racing team. Although the car was completed in 1951, the earliest event in which we can document probable entry is the 1952 Mille Miglia. The Ferrari effort that year was optimistically spearheaded by their new, awesomely powerful 340 Americas. In this race, the famous Italian driver Piero Taruffi was in a Vignale Spyder, we think 0140A, our car. By the time they reached Rome, Taruffi was in second place and had closed to within three minutes of the leader. Then, outside Florence, he lost the gearbox and was out. Taruffi is said to have commented that the car was so powerful and had so much wheel spin that it was akin to driving a regular race car in the rain!

A few months later, 0140A, sold by the factory to Ecurie France, was entered in the 24 Hours of LeMans. The drivers Rosier and Trintignant, who were in third position overall at one point in the race, had mechanical problems and did not finish.  Details of the original bodywork are unknown.  After LeMans, the car was returned to the Vignale body shop for repair. The story goes that Vignale, like many an artist with an opportunity and a commission, redid his original work, correcting, improving, and refining. The success of this final effort cannot be disputed.

The car was then sold to Chinetti, the American distributors for Ferrari. Chinetti resold the car to a resident of Denver. Well-known Ferrari author Dick Merritt describes it as “one of the most beautiful Ferraris of all time” (Ferrari, the Sports and Gran Turismo Cars, Fitzgerald and Merritt). This was the car we drove: a thoroughbred with a great pedigree, albeit incompletely filled. Yet we were among others claiming a heritage nearly as great.

The Drive

I have been fortunate to drive hundreds of exotic cars since I’ve had a driver’s license, even a Crosley Hotshot before that.  About this time, I was asked which race car had been most exciting.  I had to qualify my answer and name two: a properly set-up Formula Ford is the most sublime, but the 340 America is the most visceral and erotic!  Now hearing the unmistakable whine of the 0140A's old-style Ferrari starter motor reminded me of teenage dreams. I could imagine myself motoring in a car such as this, scorch marks on the hood from the intense heat of the high revving V-12, silk scarf abreeze, shutting off the ultra-loud engine in order to hear road directions offered by the peasants.

In this historic event, entrants were numbered in approximate chronological order: that is, the oldest car was number 1, the most recent would be number 289. Our number was 155. The start was in numerical order, beginning about dark. The cars departed as of old, only at half-minute intervals. Our departure time was scheduled for 9:24:15 pm. The start was from a huge, raised, brightly lit wooden dais that, in the high emotion just before a race, seemed perhaps designed for offerings to the gods. 

When the time was upon us, Gil and I, tense and saying only what was necessary, maneuvered 0140A in line, pushing it forward once each half minute as a lower numbered car ahead of us departed. Our jitters began to subside as we neared the ramp. The bustle and noise of spectators and press stood in counterpoint to our quiet determination. It was “show time” and we loved it. Four cars away, we climbed in, donned our vintage 1952 crash helmets (worthless), snuggled up our seat belts, whirred that special starter, and were rewarded by the crisp, reassuring rap of that marvel of internal combustion.

The lights and the crowd at the starting ramp dimmed through the cloud of nostalgia. We focused on the moment but with a certain awareness of what had gone before. From this very spot, many great race drivers of history, the heroes of our youth, had bumped up the start with adrenaline pumping, blasting like rockets into the dark and the unknown. We were sadly aware that many had waived their last goodbyes from this very ramp.

Suddenly, the flag! Our spirits soared as the clutch engaged and the trusty 12 cylinders pressed us back into the bucket seats. How did Taruffi feel in this same machine exactly 35 years ago? Every nerve seemed to be alive. It is for such moments that all human life exists! As the Repo-man said in the movie, “Life can be intense!”

Brescia lies in Lombardy in the north central part of the 750-mile Italian peninsula. This, the Plain of the Po River, is the only area with much flat land in the entire country. Here flow the rivers draining the mighty Alps to the north. We would finish here in the level land where we began; the rest would be mountains.

We quickly left the crowds and bored steadily through a dark night toward our first checkpoint at Bussolengo. We passed only occasional groups of spectators now, most happily waving their wine bottles and apparently cheering us on. After a time the course exited at a small village, little more than a wide place in the road, with seemingly every inhabitant out in the wee hours after midnight to wish us well. We pressed on and the lights faded behind. For the first time, we could see no tail lights ahead. As we blasted down the cypress-bordered, two-lane, the engine seemed to hum a lullaby. I looked up, above the glare of the headlights. Constellations shone brightly in the black sky, a moment to remember.

Pressing on, many hours after the start we reached Ferrara, our first stop. We climbed out wearily, anxious for a few hours of rest. We knew that the next day would be long and filled with its own special demands.  We both slept reasonably well but were wide awake early. Just after sunrise and a fantastic double-cup of Italian espresso, we quickly rinsed yesterday’s road grime from the enamel-smooth aluminum, using only a towel and a bottle of water. I wondered aloud, "Is this any way to treat a priceless car?" “Hell, yes,” said Gil, paraphrasing Diamond Jim, he added, “Them that has ‘em, drives ‘em."

Friday’s route took us to the east coast and the Adriatic Sea by way of Ravenna and Forli. The roads were mostly straight and traffic was light, so we pushed hard, more for excitement than necessity. So far, no problems and no delays. By now, Gil and I were both comfortable in the yellow feline. We were getting sharper with our double clutching and shifting, even as our rumps adapted to the bumps and potholes. Maps, flashlights, clipboards, stopwatches, sunglasses, candy bars, gift packages, and wine bottles from the many generous onlookers filled the miniscule cockpit. The first astronauts had more room!

At Ancona, after a short lunch stop, we turned inland toward the great Apennines mountain range that forms the backbone of the Italian peninsula. Most of the 1,000 race miles ranged through these mountains. Some are low and rolling, but many are high, wild, and grand. Narrow gorges, rocky masses, sharp ridges, windy hollows, and dark forests mark much of the terrain between the small ancient towns, seemingly situated on every hill or mountain top. The road led from town to town by way of hairpin curves and switchbacks without guardrails: sweeping downhillers, off-camber, and dicey.

The masterpiece numbered 0140A performed flawlessly. The gauges all registered optimum operating temps and pressures. Our only problem in 1986 had been overheating in the slower traffic of the towns because this race car had no fan and was hardly designed for city traffic. For this race, we had made a temporary installation of dual electric fans, operable by a dash switch. These worked admirably. Our checkpoints were being met on the button, at least according to our primitive system of stopwatches, not exactly ideal for accuracy to 1/10 second. We even had time for quick coffees and quarter-hour stretches, mostly spent trying to answer the questions of spectators, opening the hood to show off the innards, autographing everything from matchbooks to casts to hats and shirts, and posing for photographs. We could only guess at our contribution to Kodak on this drive. Stopped or at speed, day or night, cameras were always pointed our way, thousands, tens of thousands!

Andy Warhol said we would all be famous for 15 minutes. Hellfire, Gil and I had by now been famous nearly two days! We were far ahead of our quota and had adjusted admirably. In fact, we were beginning to suspect that we were cut out for it. The cost of fame, though, is not fleeting. The Ferrari has a gas tank of 130 liters (34 gallons), the “formula” at the time of construction. Consider that gas cost more than one dollar a liter in Italy, you can see why it was necessary to visit the bank before we started. Every fuel stop was both a major gathering of fans and onlookers and a major financial event that undoubtedly skewed the international balance of payments!

On we went, filled with fame and good fortune. We pushed, cut corners, and bullied the traffic at times. At speed, we continued on through sheltered valleys and emerald meadows speckled with flocks of sheep that ignored us completely. Green fields of wheat, accented by the yellow of mustard in bloom, flew by. One scene blended into another in a visual symphony apparently orchestrated from on high! Gil, ever the vinter, took time to marvel at the great number of vineyards. Apparently, any plot that would allow grapes to flourish had been planted. Centuries of experience had selected every suitable hectare and each blossom with care.

We methodically made our checkpoints on time and eventually headed down through the mountains to Rome, speeding along the opposite side of the peninsula from where we began the day. We had covered hundreds of miles of stunning scenery past a melange of Roman ruins, barrel-tiled roofs, Renaissance churches, graffiti, ancient villages, and buildings of most every color except white. The cars we passed were miniature, usually driven at full throttle, and nearly all trucks were slow and belched black diesel exhaust. But above this changing panorama was a sun-filled sky like a flower-blue umbrella. In the air the pungent smell of a Bugatti ahead burning Castrol R, and all around us was the symphony of the Ferrari exhaust. This was dolce far niente (sweet idleness) in motion!

Comparing this 36-year-old race car to a modern version is akin to comparing apples to oranges. Concentrated in this machine is all the knowledge and ingenuity available in 1951 to make the ultimate fast, dependable, and safe car for the competition of that decade. Modern race cars are, of course, much faster but they are designed, by and large, to be driven around pond-smooth, specifically made race tracks, not on the public roads of Italy.

The two prime areas of design emphasis in race cars (acceleration, both positive and negative, and handling) have been given almost slavish attention by race car designers. Our Ferrari’s strong design point (aside from its spectacularly sculpted body) is power at the rear wheels. In a smooth aluminum skin weighing less than 1,800 pounds, it easily spins the rear tires at speeds over 100 mph. In fact, the car was set up to be controlled by the combination of steering wheel and throttle, an assumption of great skill by the drivers.

Brakes of that era were huge finned drums, effective under hard application once, twice, then diminishing according to their temperature and frequency of use. Driving 1,000 high-speed miles, mostly in mountainous terrain, makes infrequent brake use difficult if not outright hazardous to your health. The 0140A demands integration to the gearbox as part of slowing down. Downshifting is essential. With a close-ratio, 5-speed crash box, it’s no task for the novice. Double clutching is mandatory. Braking an old-model race car is (and was) a most demanding, exacting, and sometimes risky task!

Some Ferrari document listed the maximum speed for the 340 America as 240km/h (149.2 mph). I cannot personally attest to the top end because the speedometer has the wrong gears and reads some obscure, meaningless number like driver heartbeats per hill climb. However, at one blast on a nice smooth road, the tachometer was passing 7000 rpm in fifth gear and climbing. This was a brief moment though. Increasing traffic, combined with a growing uneasiness on the passenger side as my own courage became dampened by common sense, lifting seemed like the thing to do. Thus, we didn’t test the car, but we learned that it is, in no uncertain terms, lightning fast!

The low average speed of the event is misleading. Because the race is run without detailed maps, we could only speculate on the distance and terrain to the next checkpoint. Traffic conditions were unpredictable, occasional wrong turns were probable, and it would have been nice to have some time for mechanical ailments. So we did not dare to drive too slowly but also did not want to be foolhardy. Enthusiasm and opportunity occasionally found us at f-15 speed, but safety first was our plan.

In the fading light of late afternoon, we entered Latium, the region around Rome, that capital of history’s greatest empire. An occasional strada lined with cypresses and umbrella pines created an unforgettable setting in the golden light. We were covering a mile in less than a minute that Roman legions covered in 15 minutes. The sense of history was overpowered only by the sweet reek of Castrol and some urgency about an unfinished adventure. They had been there and so had we! We made our last checkpoint at Rome that evening right on time and trudged to the hotel for a welcome hot meal and a few hours of much-needed sleep.

The excitement and concentration were taking a certain toll. But the best was yet to come. Who has not witnessed a concert or the public appearance of a movie star and not envied, at least secretly, the throngs of cheering, rabid fans?  In Italy, race car drivers, including those driving vintage cars, rank right along with opera singers, rock stars, and others of great public acclaim. Of course, we drivers must soak up most of our appreciation while zipping along at 100 mph or double clutching into third gear. Nonetheless, the fans let us know that they were there, over three million strong, from nearly newborn to last legs. The uniformed school girls, out of class for the entire day, gawked, gaily jumped up and down, waved, and squealed. The old women in black waved their white handkerchiefs, and I could imagine their eyes dampened by fading memories of their young heroes. It was a moving experience to be a hero and a star, however briefly. They loved us and we loved them. Our celebrity status, though fleeting, gave us a sense of responsibility along with a sincere respect for our admirers.

It’s a special treat to be on the other end of a vicarious experience! Imagine being the center of attention for a 1,000-mile run through a gauntlet of three million admirers and see if your perspective does not warp! Of course, “Vintage Mille Miglia Fame” is like a fine soufflé that must be enjoyed immediately because, too soon, it is gone. In fact, this fame had an exact measure of 1,000 miles and could be extended by one foot. It is gone in a puff when at the finish you crawl out of the sweaty bucket seat and fade into the crowd.

But our time was not yet over. We still had the next day. In the midst of a forest of television cameras, we left Rome early on a Saturday morning, heading north by way of Siena, Florence, Bologna, past the Ferrari factory and Commendatore Enzo Ferrari himself (we like to think he is especially proud of 0140A!) So far, so good. The fatigue of two days of intense concentration and little sleep dissolved into the clear, cool, pristine air on the outskirts of Rome. By now we were far, far above the mundane concerns of normal life. We smiled at each other, happy men (boys?)

Most two-seated race cars are right-hand drive for the practical reasons that most race courses are clockwise, and drivers negotiate faster on inside corners. Adjusting to right-hand drive takes surprisingly little time, as opposed to adjusting to driving where the traffic is on the left, as in England. The Mille Miglia is conducted on two-lane, public highways with normal traffic, all left-hand drive on the right side of the road. In our right-hand-drive car, passing another car called for a team effort.  The occupant of the left seat was a “signaler” while “exposed” to the oncoming traffic, much like a motorcycle sidecar on the wrong side!

Trust was essential, but still hard on the nerves.  Spoken communication is almost impossible in an open cockpit in a muffler-less race car.  However, on one particularly spirited blast in the “third lane” or center of a two-lane road near Maranello, home of the Ferrari factory, Gil as passenger did manage to make himself understood. I had the accelerator pressed into the firewall. The scenery in the distance seemed to explode toward us. Cypress trees flying by, my face felt as if it were pressed flat, dented only by my berserk grin. The tachometer read over 7,000 rpm in top gear. Gil’s words were memorable: “Don’t kill us!” I yelled back, “We’re taking her home with her ears laid back!” The sweet yellow machine was screaming like a banshee, the ears were laid back, the spectators seemed to be cheering for us even more. I was in a happy hyperconscious trance. Gil repeated his thoughtful, well-reasoned request. Louder this time, “Don’t kill us!” In a rare surrender to sound judgement, I snapped out of it, turned down my adrenaline, and eased off. But I remember being grateful to Ferrari for one of the earth’s greatest thrills.

Beautiful Lago di Bolsena appeared on our left, the early morning sun dancing brightly from the tranquil surface. It was near here that Hannibal won his greatest victory over the Romans. At this speed though, we couldn’t dwell on history, and we couldn’t afford the sort of bad judgement that doomed the ancient Romans. We could smell old-fashioned wood smoke in the bracing air. We couldn’t suppress our smiles. Mille Miglias, old and new, require intense concentration by both driver and navigator, which meant that generally Gil and I did not talk much, although we had an unspoken rapport. The 340 simply was not designed with conversations in mind. The melodic note of the sweet V-12 was intended to and did fill our heads and occupied our minds. Legend had it that Enzo Ferrari, once an aspiring operatic tenor, selected the firing order that produced the sweetest sound! It is one of the sweetest sounds I’ve ever heard.

Our final scheduled lunch was at a spot where local cooks vied for attention (and when Italian cooks vie for attention, great things happen). But here at the stop between Radicofani and Siena, this American team got one up, even on the Italians. Our ladies met us there with picnic baskets. They were dressed fit to kill in our “team colors” of yellow and black. Envy shone green in our competitors' eyes. Race car drivers, virtually to a man, are vain and proud. We were indeed proud of our ladies.

Soon we were off again, barreling through the Italian countryside. The ladies were pushed from our minds as we concentrated on the road. Let me say a word about concentration. Absolute concentration is the key to fast motoring. Constant focus on the road, the traffic, and machine is essential. Correct, adjust, maintain as much margin for error or the unexpected as possible, predict the traffic because it goes where it is not supposed to, anticipate the next curve, don’t touch the brake pedal except when absolutely necessary, adjust, think, concentrate. This makes the machine go safely and fast. It is said, and of course I agree, that race drivers have the highest IQ of all athletes, although some say it's the pole vaulters. We need it, according to my wife. She said it is the least nature could do to compensate for our monumental lack of common sense!

Why do we hang at the edge of physics? Why do we challenge? There is a reason, but it is a general, vague, and ethereal one. Quite simply, racing stands as a symbol of our approach to life, the ultimate game. Fulfillment is attainable only by pressing to the outer boundary and finding our own frontier. Fast motoring presents one of those frontiers: a joy, an art form, something unimaginable and inexplicable to the uninitiated. The pedal is pressed to the floor, the car is pressed to its limits, and we are pressed to our personal frontiers.

The Finish

We motored the last leg back into the finish at Brescia feeling pure, clean, content, and satisfied. At the finish line, we were rewarded by our ladies greeting us and out-cheering the teeny boppers. We managed to better our ‘86 finish with a 30th place, disappointing for us because we were only 12 seconds off perfect. But our combined ‘86 and ‘87 positions gave us the highest average finish by any American team ever. It felt good and it feels good today.

And the Mille Miglia, what was it all about? Gil and I shared an adventure beyond most people’s comprehension. There are secrets between us now no one could hope to understand. Much of such a race is about living, about action. Even when you are weary and exhausted, you feel more alive than before. By focusing all your energies in one direction toward one challenge, this is when life is best. A glow is created that never fades.

In a kind of crazy way, the Mille Miglia is a time machine, an exciting cruise to the days of yesteryear. In those 1.000 miles, we visited a bit of history, both ancient and modern. Our route was the route to a bygone era of heroes and their racing machines, of open road competition, of millions of cheering fans. Grueling, yes. Frustrating, of course. Exhilarating, assolutamente! And, oh, when you hear the melody of that exhaust, like a thousand organ pipes in paradise!

An earlier version of this story appeared in Car Collector, December 1987.