ATLAS F1   Volume 7, Issue 3 Email to Friend   Printable Version


The Bookworm Critique
By Andrea Curami (ed)
Published by Giorgio Nada Editore.
by Mark Glendenning,

Click here to buy this bookFor those that may have arrived on the scene a little late, the Mille Miglia was a tremendous annual event contested on a course that snaked along 1000 miles of Italian roads. The final race in 1957 saw the curtain fall on a tradition of long-distance road races that stretched right back to the birth of motor sport in the late 19th century. As a road race being contested in the world-championship Grand Prix era, the Mille Miglia represented the strongest link between the gigantic test of bravery, skill, and endurance that was characteristic of the city-to-city races, and the newer, more practical, and safer closed-circuit racing of modern times. A 1953 excerpt from 'The Motor', reproduced in this book, sets the scene nicely:

"Throughout the route, every village street is packed, every city square a sea of faces which only opens at the last moment to let the cars shoot through at 100 mph over the tram lines. Police and troops line the course, as excited as the spectators, and if any local insists on his right to drive on the officially open road, his life is in some danger from the populace as well as the cars as they come sliding and braking through the tortuous Italian streets. Even in the open country the crowds come in from the entire region to line the roads, shouting themselves hoarse as the drivers flash past - the man at the wheel cool and confident, the co-driver crouching in what looks so like terror." (p. 59).

The Mille Miglia attracted an enormous array of entrants, and on any given year one could expect to see anything from Moss and Fangio in specially developed works machines to local Italian enthusiasts who had spent a few weeks tweaking the family Fiat. It was a race that everybody dreamed of winning - outright victory represented a combination of virtuosity, cunning, and stamina; more often than not combined with a liberal sprinkling of luck. It was also considerably prestigious, which is why it attracted such a strong field of top-level drivers, and why the big teams like Mercedes, Alfa-Romeo, Maserati and Ferrari were prepared to go great lengths to maximize their chances. Another 1953 race report, this time from 'Motor Sport', concluded, "He who wins the Mille Miglia is some driver, and the car he uses is some sports car."

'Mille Miglia Race - The Postwar Years' is a collection of race reports from English magazines; primarily Motor Sport, Autocar, and Motor. As the title suggests, the scope of the book is limited to the postwar races held between 1947 and 1957. The appeal of drawing a selection of contemporary reports of this great race into a single volume is easy to appreciate. Unfortunately, one of the book's shortcomings to becomes apparent almost immediately. The brief introduction invites the reader to enjoy "some of the articles written by the most famous motoring journalists of the era". Sounds good. Somewhere along the line though, Andrea Curami, the book's editor, has elected to omit the names of any of the journalists responsible for the pieces that have been reproduced. (The sole exceptions are Denis Jenkinson's accounts of his experiences as passenger to Stirling Moss).

I'm assuming here that the authors responsible for the reports were credited in the original publications. Never having seen a 1950s copy of Autocar or Motor Sport, I could be wrong. Even so, the prestige of both the event and the magazines in which these reports appeared should have meant that most of the writers could be identified through a little detective work. I'm at a complete loss to understand why details of such fundamental importance have been omitted, and there are no clues in the book to shed any light on the problem.

It would also have been nice to see some supporting information to accompany the articles. Readers who are reasonably familiar with the race will have no problems with 'Mille Miglia: The Postwar Years', but the lack of any background or historical details means that anybody who treats this volume as their introduction to the event will be halfway through the book before they have any appreciation for the stories unfolding on the pages before them. I would also have dearly loved to see a map of the Mille Miglia course for each year. The event was run along a variety of configurations, and the inclusion of a series of maps that charted the route, which would have taken relatively little effort on behalf of those responsible for the book, would have enhanced the reader's experience immeasurably.

There has been some effort made in other areas though. Each year is represented with a good selection of photos that show everything from the tiny Fiats and Renaults in the 750cc class right up to the mighty Mercedes-Benz 300SLR. There are comparatively few action shots. Instead, most cars are depicted either on the start ramp or in scrutineering; a situation that can be attributed to the fact that the motoring press tended to spend the entire event in Brescia, where the start-finish line was located. (Considering the length of the course, they didn't really have any other option).

All up, there's no doubting that these accounts of the Mille Miglia make for great reading. The fact that original copies of the magazines from which the reports have been drawn are so difficult to track down makes their inclusion in a single volume all the more appealing. It's difficult to escape the sense that the book as a whole is a little undercooked, and this detracts from its value as a history of the event. It's a useful reference though, and there's plenty of fun to be had for the historically inclined motorsport fan with an afternoon to kill, a copy of this book, and a supply of something good to drink within easy reach.

Mark Glendenning© 2007
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