CAR has been invited along to take part in the historic Mille Miglia road race along 1000 miles of Italian roads. It’s CAR contributor and Fifth Gear TV presenter Jonny Smith’s first Mille Miglia and here he charts his experiences at the wheel of a Jaguar C-type with live hour-by-hour blogs. NB Start at the bottom and work your way up the page (all times local Italy time)!
SATURDAY 16 MAY 2009: DAY 3, MILLE MIGLIA
The missing hours: what happened at the end
Okay, so my phone battery died, but I made copious notes to cover the last few hours of the 2009 Mille Miglia. Here's what happened once we left Maranello. Despite the quantity of immaculate women and Ferrari factory workers shouting 'bella!' at the Jag, we didn't hang about in Maranello long. Peter felt the C-type's brakes had recovered so we chipped on to make up lost time.
Sorry colleague Mr Oliver – when I'm less busy, we'll hook up for a beer. The triple short time trial at Modena went surprisingly well considering two of the stopwatches gaffered to the dash had lost their LCD displays because of the heat. From here the route book took us to the checkpoint in Parma, where the kind people thrust a jumbo bag of ham and cheese onto my lap. A generous gift, but not very useful when the only remaining stowage space is being used by my legs.
Every road towards Cremona centre was clotted. Dusk had set in and visibilty through the fly screens was minimal. Before Caselmaggiore we stopped to brim the tank and swap seats. My turn for a stint behind the Jag's wheel. Perhaps it was because I'd now sat inside her cockpit for 700 miles that the controls felt less alien. You have to select gears slowly because otherwise the Moss four-speed 'box will crunch. Straight away we were immersed in the Cremona chaos. The checkpoint was slap bang in the centre (as usual) and everywhere we looked frenzied scooter riders chased and locals forgot what the indicator stalk is for.
I was feeling the pressure. It wasn't my car, it was damn rare and I didn't want the imprint of a C-type on a lamp post or support car. It's always a bit unnerving when the owner is sat beside you and we're trying to create an invisible middle lane through traffic amongst waves and salutes. I'd decided to salute instead of wave by now. The Cremona square was absolutely electric. I guided the Jag through swarms trying to touch and high-five us to the checkpoint. The bright light shone down on us and the PA system boomed 'C-type-e, bella bella'. And so off we charged, out of the city.
Like I said visibility was tough as dark set in and I made a wrong turn. The traffic warden noticed and she ran after us to get the car safely u-turned. The stop-start didn't bother the big six but it was giving my clutch leg cramp and spasms. My knees keep fouling the steering wheel and my race booties are starting to chafe the heels on the throttle foot. My confidence to drive at pace like Pete just isn't sufficient. I don't want to lose all the time he'd gained so after a couple of hours we swap back. Besides, I'm now in the zone for nav duties and want to reach Castiglione Delle Stiviere with the other Jag lads.
The variety of non-competitor cars sprinkled throughout today has been astonishing. I have spied everything from an Alfa SZ, Porsche '73 RS, Lambo Espada and a pink Lotus Elise to 12 Jeep Wranglers, a pair of Ford Thunderbirds and mirror polished Caterhams. Beyond the Cremona congestion you could call it the home straight because now the roads are magnificently Roman and largely flat. For us it's a blessing that lets us capitalise on two of the '53 C-type's greatest attributes: power and speed. Doing a ton in a modern car is effortless. Doing a ton in a 60-year-old car with no roof makes you concentrate. It's no slouch and the feedback from a flexing, loose rivetted wood rim steering wheel doesn't get more communicative. I'm not joking when I say this was the hairiest spell of the trip. Certainly the quickest.
Rummaging about for my goggles in the dark I accidentally open my wallet and lose €50. Couldn't find the goggles so just squinted – it was like skydiving sans eyewear. Massive open straights are now broken up by roundabouts full of fans who demand a high level of showboating. Exiting each roundabout in second gear, the Jag's voice thunders off the armco. With a Union Jack embroidered on our backs, we feel as if we are riding a ground-bound Lancaster bomber heading home post-mission.
Peter overtakes 10 competitors in one manoeuvre and a speed camera captures the Kodak moment passing a howling ohc Porsche 550 Spyder. We pass through Isola Dovarese, Mantova, Gozzolina, Castiglione Delle Stiviere. Roadside bars have their music drowned out by car after car on full chat. I still can't believe I haven't felt tired for more than 10 minutes. No need for coffee when there's a side exhaust 20 inches from your face. We're high on OCTANE!
The concentration and calculated risk taking are paying off. We get to the Castiglione Delle Stiviere checkpoint ahead of schedule. Pete and I have made up some 30 minutes lost time from the brake repair stoppage. I rub my eyes in disbelief and hug the C's body as the waving crowds became clapping crowds. It's almost as if they knew... We're back in a pack of Jags, formation flying and keeping the mad Lancia men at bay.
Peter doesn't bother putting on the dash lights – no point when you don't need to regulate your speed. We arrive at Carpenedolo: just seven pages of the route bible left. Having achieved our goal of catching up, we stop driving at 99% and wind it back. The signs for Brescia have appeared. We're coming home.
Even the Ferrari pilots are nodding in the last few miles – as if to say 'well done for not denting it'. Finally at 11.15pm, Peter steers MVC 630 towards the finish line. The checkpoint is about 15 clicks from the centre of Brescia. We came, we drove like hell in white cotton shirts, had minor brake issues and conquered. No Nomex, no cages, no problem. The pain climbing out of the chair was extortionate. I ran through the cameraphone wielders to find a safe loo-stop tree and then heard Peter shouting we'd got a break til 11.49pm – the time we were due to roll through the checkpoint. Bliss.
So a police escort takes a line of us into a fever-pitch Brescia for the official ceremony. Lots of queuing (I was glad to push the car rather than sit in it) and a handshake on the ramps in front of thousands. Before I knew it, we are parking the C under our hotel and emptying it. The culmination of flair, insanity, flamboyance, terror and immeasureable appreciation was taking its toll. I was truly knackered. But we'd made it. In fact all of the Jags had made it. No crunches or deathes, which was nice.
Even better – we came 172nd out of 377 entrants, and third of the Brits. Not bad for our first time at Mille Miglia! I know this was nothing more than a historical re-enactment (beats dressing up as a Norman for battle in Amersham) but the sense of homage and achievement ran deep. I don't honestly believe there is a better road trip than the Mille Miglia. They say all roads lead to Rome. But then you gotta turn around and come back to Brescia.
2.55am: We've made it!
We made it unscathed! It's nearly three in the morning in Italy and I've just clambered into my hotel bed and back in touch with the real world thanks to an electric plug. I did a lot of driving back on the home leg and have lots of notes which I'll file on Sunday. This is my most memorable road trip ever. Insane. PS: one of my favourite cars on the MM? A Sieta V8? I can't believe I never knew of cars called Sieta.
11.37pm: It's gone quiet again...
Bugger. Just as we're hoping to hear of Jonny's exploits at the finishing line – if he made it – and we're plunged into radio silence again. Judging by his comments earlier, his Blackberry has died again. We're no wiser than you. All we know is CAR's Ben Oliver texted Tim Pollard this evening asking for Jonny's number because he was at Ferrari's place. But we've not heard from either of them. More updates as soon as we hear from either of them [Ed]
7.37pm: Ferrari factory at Maranello!
Just got to prancing horse HQ and been allowed in. Peter reckons brakes feel better so we're cracking straight on. My bottom's got serious tooth ache now. Phone battery nearly dead from calling mechanics etc. Will try to charge when can. Got tons of miles to do but on the greatest roads I've ever had the pleasure of. We've been in the zone for the last 100km, have clawed back time. Only 10 minutes late for our lates checkpoint. PS: I want a Fiat 750 Abarth. PPS: these cars are all being driven like hell. Let's not forget the £££££ here!
5.30pm: Pianoro, heading to Maranello
Brakes have held up nicely, which meant we had to get a shove on. Missed our checkpoint by 40 minutes despite some no-messing-about mountain pass wheelmanship. We had to be quick to keep in the race, so we were. I'm so damn impressed with this car's behaviour. It's taken a lot of stick and rewarded handsomely. We owe it to the people to finish the MM. The rapid pace kept us both on our toes. I was too busy concentrating to feel numb bum syndrome. Three sets of time trials ticked off in Monghidoro, Loiano and Paiaoro. The latter we cocked up because the dreaded brake bind returned. It's squealing right now. We're going to try to make Maranello without using the anchors. All this looking down and acrid emissions is making me feel strange. No leather hat or goggles today. Yet. Two nuns just shouted "GAS! GAS!". I thought old ladies tutted when you sped through 30mph limits.
Ok, drama. Not been tapping blog as had to help Peter with overtaking and map reading. As we neared Firenze a suspicious clonking kept occurring behind my arse. It got worse in big corners when car being pushed. We didn't want to lose a wheel so stopped. Besides, the underside got knocked coming away from lunchstop. I opened boot to find a jack handle out of its case and rolling about. Phew. Drama over. Or so we thought. Getting into a crowded Firenze the brakes were binding and squeaking like hell. Car trying to stop itself. The drums weren't well. We crawled through firenze frenzy, got checked and smiled, then pulled over in front of ice cream parlour for check. Mechanics jacked up and found n/s front drum not backing off when engaged. The Jag heritage boys did their best and got us out of congestionsville. Ten miles out of Ppratolino, the problem comes back. Cue Duncan and Alan our support crew to the rescue in a car park. Here we are cleaning off drum dust and the adjusters backed off. Should be back in the game v soon. Luckily we'd made up ground on the fast roads. Now we'll just have to do some more speeding....
2.57pm: 30km away from Castlellina in Chianti
Lunch grabbed and left 2.26 (our time slot). Straight through Castellina and into a spiral section of road like a helter skelter. You just want to turn back and give it another bash. Stunning vineyards either side, people hanging from tree branches over road to get killler photo! Soon as the monstrous twists are driven, rain drops the size of Brazil nuts come pelting down. We welcome it, it's bloody boiling hot out here.
Our exact checkpoint time and now quick lunchstop. Huge heat.
1.01pm: Isola d'arbia
In the last two hours we've charged through and conquered Radicofani's glorious landscape in a five-strong pack consisting of Ferrari, Maserati, another Ferrari, Jag C and us (Jag C). Horses grazing on the summit of lush green hills, blurred by Rosso red paintwork. The curved roads heading towards Pienza have fresh tarmac and are wide enough to carry pace safely. You sit higher as co-driver in a C-type so I have the eyes for overtaking. Peter has had this car in his collection for about five years and probably driven her 100 miles. In the last three days we're truly dusting off the cobwebs. The Pienza roads have been a highlight amongst massive highlights. Arrived at checkpoint in S.Quirco D'Orcia at 12pm dead. The town was waiting with open arms and for some reason getting this level of adoration doesn't get boring. Soon after the spring water top-up (surprising amount of elbow room and stowage down doors - good to know if we ever do a GBU on small volume vintage race beasts) we had four timed sections in a row. Excellent meandering road with some switchbacks that got the rubber chirping. Things were going exceptionally until the weak steering wheel spoke broke. We phoned ahead and are going to make a splint using gaffer and two pieces of wood, but not yet. Roughly speaking we've got 50 mins til lunch and then about 12 more hours to Brescia. Bet Moss and Dewis didn't stop for a sarnie. A brief Hello to Buonconvento amongst stagnant heat and a pollen frenzy, and then pick your speed to get to Siena....
10.55am: Radicofani checkpoint
Italians wave better than us. More gusto. Just been overtaken on a blind corner by a lunatic in a pedigree coupe with a deathwish. 1km later by the roadside three men dressed as Amish/Swiss mountainmen serenade us with Alpine horns and drums. See what I mean about madness? The heat of the day (hardly any wind) and yesterday's mountain descent has punished the drums and we're finding the brakes worsening. Not good when there's more peaks to tackle. We're 25 mins early for the checkpoint so grab a friendly toilet tree and stretch. Pain in posterior getting serious. Saab drivers getting more entertaining.
Village full of enthusiastic Telly Savalas look-a-likes, all loving the MM in their neighbourhood. When the C hits 3000rpm it is operatic. With a belly full of Super Blu, we're now joined by a pair of Ferrari 430s blipping on the downchange every 10 seconds. But today, everyone wants a piece of the golden oldies. Right, about 13 more hours left. Time to save phone battery.
9.50am: Fuel stop 10km outside Viterbo
Gauge just below half. Our fuel tactic = have loads at all times. Alongside us is a clinically restored concours Ferrari 166 MM driven by an American couple. Its sound is better than any iPod.
9.20am: Lago di vico time trial
On the right side a sill sparkling lake. In front, six consequetive time trials ranging from 8" to 4'48". We got the stopwatches set up and it went well. Five minutes later we wind up in Viterbo. The architecture of these places gets better with every passing town. Unbelievable archways and a smattering of portcullis. It's super narrow though. I don't envy the boys in the Mk7 Jag....
9.14am: Ronciglione to Lago Di Vago
Checkpoint through the gorgeously rustic Ronciglione. Got our sheet stamped (found a new one) and took more water on board. This morning I shampooed my hair and grey/black grime flowed into the plughole. It's shocking what finds its way into your locks from a road 'race' like this.
8.56am: 10km from Ronciglione
Saturday morning rush hour in Rome would normally be an utter nightmare. Not for us. Off the starter ramps and the relentless waving commences. Guardia Civil hold up the white gloves to commuters and whistle us straight through red lights. Three lanes of city scape is all ours and although at first she spluttered, the heat shimmer soon shook off the six-pot 3.4 and the C-type runs like silk. The one single set of lights we had to abide by was outside the Collosseum. Ferrari to the right, a D-type to the left. Lights green, black smoke, white grins.
7.35am: Piazza Adriana, Rome
Four hours sleep last night. In the bathroom mirror I resembled a solvent abuser - red face and puffed eyes. But today is the big one. We have to drive non-stop back to Brescia. It's hard to conceive Stirling Moss and the boys completed a similar route in 10 hours: 1000 miles in 10 hours through lanes averaging over 99mph. It's taken us two days so far and I'm bloody tired. And to think Red Bull hadn't even been invented back then. Last night the traffic meant it took a while to get back to our hotel so this morning we set off in the C-type to the Piazza Adriana start point in plenty of time. Duncan and Alan had serviced the car and checked all was fine. Thankfully our Ecurie Ecosse steed hasn't missed a beat. As I type this we're lining up outside the Castel Sant Angelo (see pic) for the start. An Italian photographer just tapped me on the shoulder and said today's route will be more beautiful than anything so far. I'm not sure that's poosible. Here's hoping...
FRIDAY 15 MAY 2009: DAY 2, MILLE MIGLIA
Midnight: A quick recap
Charged my phone up after it died... We arrived on the ouskirts of Rome around 10pm. Thanks to patched, butchered roads and the fact Italians don't bother to alert motorists when there's a speed ramp in a 40mph zone, our C's suspension took a pounding. Luckily the Jag's not too long and has a side-exit exhaust so nothing was ruptured but the small of my back is now so painful I had to take 30 seconds to climb out of the Jag cockpit at the end of our stint. Several power lunges and car pushes later we were told that the cars were being paraded around the historic centre of Rome. In other words, grab your hot bothered old race cars and head into a chaotic city full of scooters and diesel Smarts.
The next hour will stay tattooed in my head forever. Every single main street of Rome was cordoned off so that the Mille Miglia heros (the cars, not us) could be seen and heard in all their barking, CO2-unfriendly glory. In essence we cruised in a big loop around every floodlit ancient monument in Rome, with crowds so tight that kids were reaching out and slapping the car. Spirits were high and everyone wanted to see action. Imagine London getting totally sealed off in order for some old motors to lark about. No? Because it would never happen, that's why. The MM is like the race car Olympics for Italians. Peter stopped checking the water temp gauge after it went north of 90C. We were on a world stage in front of thousands and number 301 couldn't let us down. And despite going off the gauge, she got back to a massive underground overnight parc ferme without boiling over. Getting back the adrenaline started to descend (I've not needed any expresso or Redbull as yet) and excessive smog inhalation set in. Things were already bad before we sat behind the Saab with a naughty habit. As the mechanics began prepping and checking the cars for tomorrow, something very important dawned on us. We were only halfway through. Tomorrow we have to cover 500 miles. Back to Brescia asap. I've captured shots on the digi camera and promise to share them tomorrow. Go get a 2010 diary and pen in the Mille Miglia. You all need to experience feverpitch car worship of this calibre first hand.
11.55pm: Roma! Roma! Roma!
Right, as you can see there is a chronological gap between my last blog and now we've arrived in Rome... Hurrah! The reason for going quiet, is because my Blackberry died and C-type Jaguars tend not to have fag lighters, rendering my chances of communicating low. After the mountain stage of the Mille (which totally took us by surprise. When I say mountains I mean 7ft snow drifts piled at the roadside and steep twisty cold wet terrain) we stopped for a checkpoint. It was organised by Italians so it was, well, totally disorganised. Double parking, cars all over the place, mayhem when leaving checkpoints etc. Lots of wealthy men getting angry. I didn't really care because we'd just experienced all four seasons within the space of an hour. With the stopwatch set, we set off and then straight away found a problem. A big problem actually. The clipboard with all my co-driver times, stamps (check points) and info wasn't in the car. Bad news. We had a map but nothing more. The next bloody checkpoint I had the town mayor bloke stamp our map and sign my hand. Not sure yet whether losing all these docs has scuppered our chances of getting placed. I'm not a competitive fellow but I'm convinced that clipboard was on the seat. Someone has sabotaged it and thrown it away. Hey-ho, on with this epic travelling show that Italy cannot get enough of. Ever had three 80-year-old ladies wave handkerchiefs at you? I have now... We head towards Rieti.
9.57pm: Has the phone died?
Long silence – we fear Jonny's phone might be out of juice... further updates once he's back in the world of communication later on/tomorrow morning [Ed]
Another cute walled town, another bag of Italian dough balls. Another crazy carnival. Flags waving, narrow vintage rubber trying hard to grip. Pete's back in the seat to make up some time. We leave town and there are miles of wide snaking valley tarmac, all one way. Snow capped peaks over my shoulder. The temperature's dropping now, so I sling my jacket on. I lost my cap a few miles back. Meanwhile, I'm marvelling at Pete doing 70mph and picking the racing line whilst chomping a local-spec Eccles cake.
6.30pm: Spolato to Ruscio (I think – the map's wobbling)
Somewhere in the mountains. No idea where because we pulled over and Peter demanded I took to the wheel. Nervous, but didn't want to let the side down. Fortunately the steering wheel adjusted out so my throttle knee didn't break. The clutch proves standard and progressive. Engine getting hot during timing points so you gotta switch on an electric fan and raise the revs so the alternator charges the battery. Immediately we hit a narrow treacherous windy pass, jagged rocks inches from the Jag's multi-million one-piece alloy body. Within about five miles there was a checkpoint on an incline with big queues. It's a big test of clutch and cooling.
The roads are littered with landslide grit and I get the hang of leaving time to double-declutch downchange before corners. Peter urges me to use more gas. Before we know it another time trial stage. My first ever. It was slow, so we did alright. My phone battery's about to die and the C-type has no charger – I might have to stop soon to borrow a socket then chase this Alfa 159 cop car to Rieti! By the way, I've been dogfighting with two Weisemanns, a new Alfa 8C and a Netherlands Ferrari dude with a €uro mullet. Still stunning scenery, but not easy to appreciate when clinging to a split steering wheel of a huge buck classic. Magic.
6.00pm: Radio silence
We haven't heard from Jonny for a while. It's been radio silence – maybe because he's actually got some navigating to do or perhaps his Blackberry's died. We'll let you know as soon as we have news and will be reporting through the night and into tomorrow's final stages [Ed].
You can see Assisi miles away because it's stuck high up on a hilltop. Just as traffic started building, we heard sirens and along came the bike cops to part the seas. It really doesn't compute when you are chasing a cop, rather than them chasing you. We had a good stretch of autostrada pre-Assisi and upon arrival for time check point a big brass band was playing. As you would obviously expect. A good 90-100mph gallop for 60 clicks on the motorway was a blast. The big cat is just fine at a cruise. Seen other injured Ferraris en route. Next stop Spoleto. I tell you, writing and photographing a feature from a race car isn't easy. Good job I don't get travel sick – the fumes are ridiculous from our pack.
3.09pm, Sansepolcro town centre
You know I said we were about 10km away from Sansepolcro? I lied. We were miles away on ribbon-like mountain roads, which ended up being the most challenging so far. Patchy rain under trees then bone dry. Barely any overtaking spots and a fella in front with a mid-50s Alfa Sprint. He kept cutting us up. There was even oil on various corners, just to add spice.
So, we pulled up slightly late at our check point, parked up and headed into the square to be greeted by medieval re-enactments and knights in armour lifting their swords for us to enter the food area. And by gosh what food. A buffet table the length of seven Maybach 62s with exquisite grub. If this was Britain we'd have got weak tea and a burger smothered in pubic hair. No more than 10 minutes to scoff, Peter to meet his wife and then grab a quality ice cream before grabbing the roofless Jag, clocking in under the arch of medieval drummer boys, getting scented roses sprinkled over the car and offered a bag of almonds before heading out of town. Surreal to put it mildly. Next stop on the MM route is Assisi. Never been. We stopped for fuel and got let out the fuel station by David Coulthard wearing a leather race lid in the legendary SLR. Sweet. The rain's stopped too. Just seen the Saab boys again, mixing up their two-stroke race potion.
1.45pm: Probably 10km from Sansepolcro checkpoint
Because it's a checkpoint we need to get there on time, which for us is 2.20pm. Ish. The rain has made the twisty rural roads damn slippy and the C occasionally twitches. As we approach a series of sharp lefts we see one Ferrari in the verge. It's taken a slap. Then no more than 2km later another prancing (limping?) casualty with front-end armco damage. Both drivers were head-to-toe in race gear.
1.30pm: Just past Secchiano towards Ponte Molino Baffoni
Hilly route. Rain. Proper rain this time. Sod. Decision to stop for fuel (even though we've got nearly half left!). We put jackets on. All going well until we unstrap and unfold limbs from the Jag to discover the fuel station is closed for the afternoon nap. So jackets on, and time to pick off some cars. It's that Saab again, and a body roll champion of a Fiat. Forgot to mention that in the last 100kms, we've spied a field full of 500s, a field full of dead aircraft and choppers (before San Marino) and a front garden with an Opel GT, Manta and XR3i in. I do adore variety.
12.32pm: The summit of San Marino!
Crikey, the last 30 minutes have been superb. Climbing the winding dual carriageway up to San Marino meant we could soak up the curves knowing a Lucky Strike smoking Scania driver wasn't coming the other way. We reached the next timed section and this time I bloody well mastered the stopwatch situation. I think we did okay. Strangely, the timed sections weren't fast at all, but you get penalty points for crossing the line too quickly so there's a bit of trial and error. Out of the last timed section and immediately you're into narrow paths around San Marino Castle. Seriously narrow for a bulbous ex-works race car. Italian women of a certain age are loving it! This has been the best slow section so far. The castle access roads are footpaths. There's a jewellers' shop on a hairpin which nearly got stuffed. San Marino's Republica gave us some stamps. We gave them the din of a leaping cat. Surreal!
12.05pm: San Martino, not San Marino (which is where we're heading)
Roads are narrow and squiggly now. There are four Jags in a line, none of them shy of the loud pedal. I reckon I've been smiling for five hours straight. The time trial stage seemed to go well (I operated the stopwatches this time) but it's the roads where the fun is at. Every time I see a close shave or a drift on cobbles you realise these cars are worth millions, not thousands. Crashing or damaging a supercar is terrible news (I know), but ruining an antique race car is catastrophic. You'd probably die too, but let's not think about that. Just about to go into a tunnel so Peter's cogging it down. You have to shift sympathetically on old Jag 'boxes otherwise they get hurt. San Marino hoves into vivew in the distance. This is another world.
11.36am: leaving Gambettolo, heading to San Marino
Checkpoint went well. More rows and rows of people pleased to have their town invaded. A local mayor type person handed me a punnet of strawberries and then we were straight into a timed section. Nowhere to put the strawberries. You wouldn't get Jenson Button being chucked a bag of plums before his qualifying lap, would you? Hey ho, we'll cook them on the side pipe. Rolled up alongside the Jag XF support car and told them about our cracked steering wheel. Perhaps an emergency tig-weld tonight? To think we're still not even half way.... Utter motoring madness. It's starting to rain again. PS: the Dutch fellas in this rally two-stroke Saab are living the dream: cigar smoking, white scarves and wringing the neck off the poor thing... Gambettola checkpoint arrives. We're early. Again. It goes with the territory when you're in a lightweight, powerful fast car compared to a lot of other entrants....
10.55am: Gambettola checkpoint
Like I said before, the original MM was just balls-out: first back to Brescia via Rome wins. These days they can't call it a race so there are timed sections throughout the 1000 miles. I'm not a fan of these because it involves maths and clocks, but the road routes are glorious. We've got to the Gambattola check early, so pull over for a vital stretch. We apologise to the Italian XK drop-head owner for nearly gashing his wing. He's cool. Peter is driving well. He's noticed a cracked alloy spoke on the steering wheel. The wheels on C-types flex a lot so this could be bad news. We shall see. Got half a tank of fuel left. Not bad considering if we'd been driving a new Honda Insight the digital leaf eco display would show skeletons, volcanoes and pandas with darts in their eyes.
10.41am: Rimini (I think)
We've started taking risks. Not paint swapping but I've been bracing myself a few times. Bike cops are carving a third lane in the middle of traffic so we can roar through, but then we hit congestion ahead. We nearly hit a Ferrari coupe as it fishtailed away from a T-junction and then cut up a Jag drop-head XK on a roundabout. We feel lawless, but slightly guilty all the same. Nowhere but Italy would you get away with this.
10.16am: Leaving Ravenna
Our Scotch C-type is getting hassle from the Germans again. An XL120 lies in front and several modern 911 Porsches behind. I didn't realise this before, but lots of people chase the Mille Miglia pack in their own supercars and later classics (anything post 1957). Some of them are fooling around and not letting us through, some just want to race. The road surfaces are deteriorating and we're hopping around a bit now. I wonder if Hakkinen is enjoying himself in the topless SLR tribute act?
09.56am: 12km from Ravenna
The roads are wide, the goggles are down and all three SU carbs are singing. We're part of a multi-million pound caterpillar across rural landscape. Barking exhausts, roadblocks and old ladies blowing kisses. Chest hair growing by the minute, head hair still being tugged off. As co-driver in a right-hand-drive car I'm making sure we overtake without ending up in an olive grove.
08.57am: Ferrara centre outside Cassa di Risparmio
Normally pushing a car signifies failure, or that your car is a bit crap. Not today. There's no ridicule. We're saving the Jag's engine temp and pushing her through the streets to the start line. The appreciation from onlookers is massive. A string of red Ferraris versus a line of green Brits. We hear rain is on todays' menu...
07.58am: Ferrara square
You can hear it before you see the square this morning. Cars warming up and being derobed from sleep. Mechanics Duncan and Alan are already spannering our C because last night the starter button gave up. It's a bit intermittent, combined with a flat battery – the latter because of all the town driving with lights on. Our car was fitted with an alternator for the event but it doesn't work below 2000rpm. Town driving flattens the battery so this morning will be a push start.
06.45am: Touring hotel, Ferrara
Alarm gone off and time to shower. Face feels as if it's been grit blasted. Eyes look as if they've been ruined by decades of liquor abuse. Never seen them so bloodshot. Must wear goggles more often. We'll be heading out to the square soon to check the C and get ready for 12 hours in the cockpit. Just for a second I am wondering what the point of all this is – but then I hear a Bugatti strike up outside. Fresh shirt, clean pants and a few bags of olive oil and bread from village mayors....
THURSDAY 14 MAY 2009: DAY 1, MILLE MIGLIA
02.59am: Ferrara Castle
We did it. A couple of hours ago we thundered into the historic down of Ferrara and congregated in the centre. As I write this lying in bed the square is full of parked cars that would easily stretch to £500 million in value. A few have tonneaus thrown over them, but otherwise they're left under the spring Italian firmament. Police sky-blue Alfas are patrolling all night long and tomorrow morning we will be greeted by 400 eclectic exotics all peppered with dead flies. The parade through town before parking up saw Mika Hakinnen slicing through the cobbles in the forthcoming Sterling Moss edition roof-chop McLaren SLR, followed by David Coulthard cruising with pint of beer in hand. Yes. Drinking and driving in the square doesn't seem to be a problem here. Hell, we pushed our Jag into place and sipped our pints. And then we realised the starter button had malfunctioned. If I put my Blackberry down now and sleep I'll get four hours. A super-long day awaits tomorrow. Can't wait to show you the morning photos of cars around a castle. Night all.
Well, we got to Ferrara some 30 mins ahead of schedule. If you ride through the checkpoint too early you get told off and points are removed. So we've pulled over and checked everyone's numbers. It's a great chance to put feeling back into the buttocks and have that wee I promised myself hours ago. Lots of jostling for position at the checkpoint but most cars still sound fine and aren't spewing Castrol. Feel immense sense of achievement.
12.49am: Ficarolo and beyond
We're blatting straight through villages now, gathering pace: Gaiba, Zampine and Stienta whizz by. We're on pretty open, quick roads and it's time for a dice with a hot-headed German in a Gullwing SL. Starting to get the competitive flavour in my mouth now. Maybe it's the goggles talking. The C feels super-stable and the turn-in just never ceases to impress. Knobbly tyres let her slide on town cobbles, but that's all part of the feel when you're not running 375/35 20 V-rated rubber. Or ABS. Or traction. Or a roof. Or a windscreen.
The C-type's misfire seems to have gone. We've had quite a few straights to stretch the Jag's six-pot. You forget that although these things are nearly 60 years old, they can still shift. There's incredible torque, especially as our Ecosse car has special extra-long inlet tubes. A few nutters overtake us on blind corners but otherwise we're just charging on when the roads are clear and bathing in Britishness when the villagers appear on roundabouts. To stage an event like this with police presence so huge must cost a bomb. But that's why you gotta love the Italians. The passion burns deep. Becoming a bit worried about when I'm going to be able to have a pee stop...
12.03pm: We lose our number
Our race number's fallen off. It was never sticky enough. It peeled off and missed my right ear by inches. C'est la vie!
No more rain. We've been pressing through the towns. The enthusiastic cop bikes keep the public off the roads and there are no speed cameras on duty today. It's like 21st motoring complications have been suspended for the day. The Jag is starting to misfire every 30 seconds or so. We suspect it's a condenser prob. I hate condensers. Them and points. Nevertheless, we continue to drive with glory (Pete at the wheel) and stares of bemusement (me driving). My hair follicles are numb from wind battering.
11.49pm: The Plan
A quick word on where we're going. The Mille Miglia starts in Brescia (the event was founded by wealthy backers out of protest when the Italian GP went to Monza), then heads to Verona, Ferrara, Ravenna, Repubblica Di San Marino, Rieti, Rome, then homeward via Viterbo, Sienna, Firenze, Modena, Reggio Emilia, Parma, Cremona and finally back to Brescia. One dirty big loop – all ensconced in my snug C-type.
We're driving history through history. Cobbled streets and race cars do mix! The jag contingent is in a three-strong convoy passing the Colosseum. Traffic all halted. Bars brimming with cheering veronaians. I'm pinching my jowls to check this is all real. Been busting for a pee since the start line. I cannot believe I'm writing copy in the passenger seat of a roofless priceless car in the middle of a automotively besotted country.
11.26pm: Near Verona (not quite sure where)
Rain started five minutes ago and because the windscreen is only four inches tall my eyes were getting pounded. Braved the goggles and leather cap. It repelled all moisture, but as we entered a lit village I removed offending garments. I'm turning all Italian and vain. Rain is now subsiding. Both Pete and my arse are killing from the wafer-thin bucket seat rump padding. The C-type Jag heritage car fell behind some miles back – allegedly out of fuel. These old Jags hold 41 gallons of super unleaded and we brimmed it. We're doing fine. My feet aren't. Cooper Jaguar in front is popping and crackling through bridges. I won't forgot tonight until I die....
11.15pm: Outskirts of Peschiera
Just been overtaken by a rally-spec two-stroke Saab. They must be late. This event is like the spawn of Goodwood Revival and Le Mans. The enthusiasm and smiles are electric, priceless cars getting a thorough work-out and my arm nearly falling off through excessive waving.
11.10pm: Peschiera Del Garda
This is possibly the prettiest town I've ever cruised through in a C-type Jaguar. Peschiera is littered with bridges over rivers and ancient archways to drive through. The support and crew vehicles must bypass the villages but we storm through. We have crowds to arouse.
11.01pm: En route to Verona.
Spitting with rain but who cares when you've got roasted race shoes (burning hot floorpans) and a leg more cooked than parma ham (exhaust runs next to left leg)? There is bad news. Amongst the adrenaline and relentless waving through cobbled towns, I've been rubbish at time keeping through the timed sections. Pete is forgiving me because we're not out to beat anyone. Not even the Germans in their brace of Gullwings. Well...
Heading into the towns is epic. Shouting, screaming and tons of girls seem to appreciate old fast loud smelly cars. This is the gentleman's Gumball, my friends. Everytime we get to a town we have to stop and meet the mayor, who then gives us a gift to take away. The C-type is not exactly an MPV and is filling up with ham and other local specialities. Four cars have dropped out so far: two Ferraris by the looks of it. We're in a convoy with another C- and a D-type. Some of the drivers are wearing leather hats. I've not dared yet.
10.45pm: Somewhere in vineyards near Solferino
People camped out with flags and wine. 'Go Jag-oo-ar go!' Chanting. Peter loving the chance to let rip, especially when cycle cop pulls alongside and tells us to follow at full chat.
10.15pm: Ponte San Marco
This is madness. It would never be allowed in England. Families line the streets with tables, chairs and kids in pyjamas allowed to stay up and watch a race their grandparents watched. Brilliantly nuts.
10.08pm: Writing on the move (excuse th etyping!)
Gosh where do I start? Writing a feature on a phone in a £2 mill+ car while trying to map read an Imperial car with a kilometre route isn't easy. I'm navving while Peter drives. The C-type is running brilliantly. We climbed the floodlit start ramp, shook hands and set the clocks. Heart in my mouth, then we set off. Not all guns blazing, we're playing things cool. When in Italy, remember... More soon.
8.55pm: And we're off...
Ok, no more faffing. We leave for the Mille Miglia in 30 minutes' time. Plugs changed so the straight six is revving freely again. Got that feeling inside that I always got before going to swimming club. Terrific nerves. Our stopwatches are gaffer-taped to the dash. Straps adjusted. A discreet prayer. Dusk has set in and it'll be dark within an hour. Whose idea was it to start a 1000-mile endurance race in the dark with four timed sprints in the first five miles? Someone is testing us!
8.43pm: To the start ramp of the Mille Miglia
Pushing the C through the street parade closer to the start ramp. Never seen so many cameraphones, kept Italian wives and old men nodding in appreciation. There's a gladiatorial feeling to all of this – almost like running with the bulls in Pamplona. Stirling Moss is kicking about in his old blue race overalls. Is there anyone more British than old Moss? (Impotence adverts aside)
8.07pm: Zagatos, Healeys, Alfas... and our Jag
The street is closed and it's chaos. There's a huge queue to drive in – all in our numbered order, so we've come down early. Butterflies setting in like mad. Next to our C is a Zagato Fiat 750, '56 VW Beetle, Alfa Giulietta Sprint Veloce, D-type, Healey 3000, you name it... Possibly the most historic heat shimmer in Italy ever.
7.35pm: Museo Mille Miglia, Brescia
Just had my first drive of the C-type. Cockpit tight for a long 'un 6ft 3in like me and my throttle knee chafes on the steering wheel. The Jag feels great! The clutch is standard so not too heavy. Non-servo drum brakes need a strong prod to elicit a response. I still cannot compute the sheer number of people, colours, smells of mechanical history and the blatant wealth on show. Everyone is friendly, with the occasional whiff of competitive male peacock feathers. We're apparently now leaving in about two hours but I've got to get the stop watch situation fathomed and find cubby holes for confectionery. I've never seen so many Porsche 356 Speedsters in one sitting. Marvellous.
6.45pm: Countdown in Brescia
Ok, the team photo is over and it's time to head to the town centre and line up. Car stocked with waterproofs (even though it's sweatily hot) and water. I fully intended to bring a crash lid but everyone I spoke to said 'no one wears that stuff. Would you want to for 1000 miles?'. Not really, but then we've got no roof, no roll cage and the windscreen comes up to my chin. Great for keeping flies off your chestwig.
6.12pm: Back at the hotel, Brescia
There are as many as 20 Jaguars taking part in this year's event, but of the C- and D-type contingent from Britain, there are mechanical gremlins already. Not our car, but one other C has had voltage regulator failure so the mechanics have been scuttling about finding a period replacement. You'll need that battery to charge because we start in the dark and drive through the night to Verona and then Ferrera. As we're number 301 we're towards the back of the pack. I'm glad, as it gives us more time to learn the mapbook (thick as War and Peace) and discuss the stopwatch usage for the various timed stages pottered throughout the routes. One of the D-types had issues overfuelling but all fixed now. Just had a briefing about road rules and event manners. The bike-mounted chiselled jawed cops basically hold off all traffic around the towns and encourage you to drop the hammer and ape Fangio. We'll see. What's for sure is when we drove through the square earlier I felt like a Hollywood icon. I'm not, sadly. Next stop, the start line...
4.11pm: Still waiting for our 8.00pm start
Just remembering more from last night’s dinner. We were joined by a short old man wearing a cowboy shirt. His name was Norman Dewis - he co-drove the Mille in 1952 with a baby-faced Sterling Moss. It turns out the 88-year-old only competed in the event so as to finalise the development on the new disc brake developed between Browns Lane and Dunlop.
‘The scrutineers were confused when they looked through the wire wheels and didn't see a brake drum,’ he recalled. ‘We removed a wheel to show them the clamping calliper just as Mercedes-Benz team manager Alfred Nordberger came storming over and tried to get us disqualified for incorrect brakes. The scrutineers called an emergency meeting and needless to say we got through. We didn't start on the ramps though - as was tradition - in case Sterling damaged the sump or exhaust when we shot off.’
3.47pm: Still waiting for our 8.00pm start
1.17pm: The rules bit
Pedigree is everything in the classic car game, and of the 50 or so Jag C-types ever made, this is a 1953 Ecuri Ecosse racing team car. Ecosse were a successful Scottish privateer outfit who won at Le Mans in D-type Jags. Our car, MVC 630, was the last Ecosse team car, winning its first outing at Castle Combe and in the same year raced at Spa, Reims and Nurburgring. Not shabby pedigree then, which is precisely why it is allowed to form part of today's Miglia. Cars can compete if period (made between '27 and '57) or if a car of the same type raced at the actual time when new.
1.17pm: The Jaguar C-type hoves into view
The atmosphere is absolutely off the Richter - and it's a week day. Only in Italy could they organise this type of mass pandemonium. The 'last supper' yesterday evening was the first opportunity to meet the bloke who owns the car I'm going to be driving in the Mille. I quietly hoped Peter Neumark wouldn't be the competitive type, especially after seeing the girth of the route book and five stopwatches lashed to every car's dashboard.
I didn't want to know how much the C-type was worth, but I heard figures of £2 million plus being muttered over chilled tonic. That’s at least 20 Audi R8 V10s in today's money, and I wouldn't have a chance to drive it until the flag drops in front of thousands of fanatics tomorrow. Talk about a bloody baptism of fire.
12.50pm: Brescia town square
The Mille Miglia event starts today – and our start time is slated for 8.00pm tonight. The 1000-mile distance is the same, the half century old machinery is all wonderfully authentic and the start/finish line still lies in Brescia – but it's no longer a race. Well, unless you're a competitive local entering an Alfa. Mika Hakkinen has just parted the crowds in an SLR to join the 377 near-priceless antiques gathering in Brescia's town square. Or at least I think it's the square. The ancient architecture is barely visible for flag waving kids, women behind €300 sunglasses and quivering camera phones.
10.30am: The medical and other preparation
Tradition has it that the Mille Miglia always kicks off in the centre of Brescia. To the locals this annual mechanised carnival goes beyond the emotion of F1, which means as the 377 entrants burble into the narrow cobbled streets they are mobbed. I can't remember the last time I saw a bunch of Italians wearing Union Jack shirts and doting over a British car, but our triple-carbed 260bhp straight-six is resonating off the crumbly street walls and drowning out the church bells. The Ferraris, Fiats and Alfas are being worshipped as they park up through the square. With scrutineering and a medical done and dusted (I say medical, but it involved staring at me and me handing over a €20 note) marshalls approached us and fitted a commemorative medallion and numbers to the bodywork. Number 301. Shame the decals don't stick. Bless the Italians.
In the bygone years your race number signified what time you set off. Usually the smaller capacity cars like teeny Fiat 500s set off first. Stirling Moss in the '55 722 SLR, for example left at 7.22am. These days it seems more relaxed, with the oldest (and slowest) cars tending to head off first. The €6000 entry fee gets you the chance to drive in the tyre marks of the sooty-faced by-gone heros. Once parked in the square we head off to several gazebos where sponsors Chopard kindly give you a limited edition wrist watch, Stefano Ricci handed us a bag with padded bodywarmers in, plus an obligatory baseball cap. This is big business, make no mistake. The weather is muggy and hot, but everyone is telling me the Mille Miglia traditionally starts in rain. We've packed waterproofs.
9.58am: Losing my Mille Miglia virginity
A thousand miles flat out through meandering public Italian roads. In an historic Jaguar. Sounds like bliss! Born in 1927 and all over by 1957, the Mille Miglia needs little introduction to anyone remotely into cars. I somehow don’t think I’ll be matching the pace of Stirling Moss, who won it in 1955 at an unbeaten average speed record of 98mph. Don’t think 'Jonny Smith' has quite the same ring as 'Fangio', do you?
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