The Bookworm Critique

By Mark Glendenning, Australia
Atlas F1 Columnist

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The Mille Miglia was one of the greatest races in the history of the sport. A 1000 mile (give or take a bit, depending on the configuration of the circuit) blast through Italy, using wholly public roads, it called for a delicate balance of pure speed and considered caution. Safety measures tended to be more symbolic han functional, the crowd clambered for the best possible view by standing literally in the middle of the circuit and diving to one side at the last possible moment, and the roads themselves were easily precarious enough to extract heavy penalties for momentary lapses of attention. Enzo Ferrari, who knew a thing or two about racing, famously said, "No driver could ever say that he had achieved his victor's laurels if he had not won at Brescia". (Of course, Enzo was never exposed to the 'might' of Magny Cours…) This book by Peter Miller is a reprinted edition of a title that originally hit the shelves a little over ten years ago, and it explores the history of the Mille Miglia from its inception in 1927 to the final running thirty years later.

It does not trace the history of the race itself though, but instead focuses on the story of Conte Aymo Maggi's involvement with it. Maggi was behind the original conception of the race, and was (along with Conte Franco Mazzotti, Giovanni Canestrini and Renzo Castagneto) one of what the author terms the 'Four Musketeers' who worked together to make the Mille Miglia happen. It was always Maggi's pet project though, and he remained the driving force behind the event until the Italian government finally banned road racing once and for all after Fon de Portago's terrible accident in the 1957, which left the driver and a number of spectators dead.

Aesthetically, the book is difficult to fault - the clean, appealing design of the cover extends throughout the pages. The design does pose one small problem from a practical standpoint though. The chapters are interspersed with single and double page anecdotes and reminiscences from those who had some kind of connection with the race -- Stirling Moss, Piero Taruffi, and the like. While these inclusions are very welcome (in fact, they're amongst the book's highlights), the tendency to position them seemingly at random through the pages occasionally proves a little disorienting. In some instances, a sentence in the main body of a chapter is half completed on one page, then is interrupted by a double page spread, and then resumes another page later.

The only other fault that I could find with the book was that the pictures were occasionally too small. This is especially a shame because many of the shots are unpublished elsewhere, and are frequently historically significant. At the ripe old age of 27, my eyes are not what they used to be, and it was a little frustrating to have to squint at a tiny image. (Then again, it's probably a little unfair to blame Miller for the fact that I am too lazy to get glasses). Minor complaints aside, there is plenty to like about 'Conte Maggi's Mille Miglia'. Miller's passion for the Mille Miglia is evident throughout the book, and while his enthusiasm may occasionally seem a little too fevered, it is still unwaveringly infectious. More importantly, he knows his stuff. Miller was heavily involved in racing during the 1950s, particularly through his work with the Aston Martin team, and he came to know many of the characters central to the story of the Mille Miglia.

Also worthy of special note are the excellent appendices. Miller has included a brief annotated chronology of the Mille Miglia, a list of the top ten finishers for each race (along with their race times), a variety of other statistical tables, and route maps. The latter are something particularly worth getting excited about – they are clear, attractive, easy-to-read, and make an invaluable reference while you're reading the book. The Mille Miglia was run to twelve different configurations, and the maps make it easy to see at a glance how the course was changed from one year to the next. Also included (but less useful unless you're English) is a map that shows how a 1000 mile race might be laid out in England.

It's invariably the people involved that make stories such as this interesting, as illustrated by the following excerpt.

"The enthusiasm of the young race fans was tremendous and most of them dreamed of the day when they would be old enough to get a competition licence and take part in the great event themselves. In 1955 two young boys aged twelve and ten, who lived on the route in Verona, decided that they could not wait.

"Knowing that the large group of little 500cc Fiats, the 'topolinos' or 'clockwork mice', would go through Verona in the dark, they borrowed their mother's similar car, painted on false race numbers and infiltrated the race without trouble. Driving at breakneck speed for mile after mile they were initially enjoying themselves. But they had made one mistake: they had not checked the fuel tank on the car and so they ran out of petrol and their race ended in tears at the side of the road. Race officials who walked over to the parked car were at first furious when it was discovered it was not a proper race car, then amazed to find that the occupants were not even teenagers. The boys were mildly rebuked and later driven home." (pp. 103-104).

This is not the place to look if you're after a comprehensive history of the Mille Miglia, but if you have any interest in the race at all then 'Conte Maggi's Mille Miglia' will complement the rest of your library nicely.

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Print Version

Volume 7, Issue 23
June 6th 2001

Atlas F1 Special

Jean Alesi's New Start
by Timothy Collings

Team Connaught: Remembrance of Things Fast
by Thomas O'Keefe

The Newey Saga

Why It Really Matters
by Roger Horton

The Point of Lauda
by Karl Ludvigsen

Canadian GP Preview

The Canadian GP Preview
by Ewan Tytler

Technical Preview: Montreal
by Will Gray

Focus: Piquet in Canada
by Marcel Schot


Elsewhere in Racing
by Mark Alan Jones

The Canadian GP Quiz
by Marcel Borsboom

Bookworm Critique
by Mark Glendenning

Rear View Mirror
by Don Capps

The Weekly Grapevine
by the F1 Rumors Team

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