• Mille Miglia 2017 - Bella Italia under a starlit sky.

    Mille Miglia 2017 - Bella Italia under a starlit sky.

    Every year in May, half of Italy is turned on its head. For four days at the Mille Miglia, the automotive legends of a bygone age reign supreme in the northern half between Brescia and Rome.

A small trip around the world.

Adrian Gattiker and his co-driver Oliver Sellnick took a deep breath as they zoomed up the finish ramp in Brescia on Sunday afternoon in Gattiker's Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing. While it was neither his first Mille Miglia nor that of his legendary Gullwing painted in the unmistakable colour Bavarian blue, it nonetheless was no rally like any other. The Mille Miglia 2017 was more than ever a small trip around the world. Blistering heat, crippling persistent rain, endless mountain passages, picturesque local streets and fantastic experiences – the anniversary Mille, which celebrated its 90th birthday and the 40th anniversary since the inaugural running of the new edition in 1977, had it all.

Adrian Gattiker participated in the tour of Italy for already the third time.

The route of the Mille Miglia runs through countless picturesque towns.

Boundless enthusiasm.

'The boundless enthusiasm of the Italian spectators for the Mille with extraordinary vehicles and drivers from 40 countries were something very special to me', says Adrian Gattiker in retrospect. 'Add to that the picturesque regions of Italy with breath-taking roads“. The 300 SL Gullwing of the W 198 model series owned by the Swiss car collector was one of the most exceptional vehicles in the field. There were many 300 SL Gullwings in the elitist field of the some 450 classics, but no one else was driving a Gullwing with the rare aluminium bodywork. A mere 29 of these vehicles were built in the mid-1950s. The Swiss national snatched up the unique vehicle years ago and had it rebuilt from the ground up at Mercedes-Benz Classic. The perfect vehicle for the tour of Italy.

Highlight of the season.

The Mille Miglia is the global highlight of the classic car season. Anyone who has visited the Concours d’Elegance of Pebble Beach, enjoyed the Concorso d’Eleganza at Lake Como or has soaked up the legendary racing events in Monte Carlo or Indianapolis, has to indulge in the Mille Miglia once in their automotive lives. Despite its countless copycat events, it is unique in the world. Mille Miglia means nothing less than four days of a state of emergency for half a nation. Children are off from school, towns celebrate festivals, politicians enjoy the adulations of the crowd, and the daredevil drivers in their spectacular classics are hailed as heroes just as they were at the original Mille Miglia, which was held from 1927 to 1957 as a breakneck motor race on public roads between Brescia and Rome. It made heroes of Rudolf Caracciola, Stirling Moss, Tazio Nuvolari, Huschke von Hanstein or Gianni Marzotto at the spindly wheels.

The tension is growing before the morning start.

A Gullwing parade traverses northern Italy.

The actual victory.

Today, it has long since stopped being about ploughing the almost 1700 kilometres across Italy at breath-taking speed. The record time of just under eleven hours, set in 1955 by racing legend Stirling Moss driving a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR at an average speed of almost 157 km/h, would anyway be no longer possible in the normal day-to-day traffic today. After its discontinuation in 1957, the Mille Miglia was awoken from its automotive Sleeping Beauty slumber in 1977 and since then is officially a regularity rally with about 120 individual special stages where it is a matter of hundredths of seconds. The pace is still brisk and spirited, but for most of the by now 450 participants, the actual victory is crossing the finish line in Brescia on Sunday.

The Mille.

The Mille - as it is simply called by all participants - is surrounded by a worldwide legend that can only be understood by someone who has personally driven it. Anyone who has experienced the Mille Miglia once at the wheel of a magnificent classic, has waved pennants at the side of the road or has high-fived hundreds of excited fans near Saint Angelo's Castle in Rome can understand the enthusiasm of everyone involved all too well. 'The Mille Miglia is of course a legend“, says Adrian Gattiker, 'and this legend becomes real when you then drive the Mille Miglia. It is simply unique“.

Former Chief Development Office of Daimler AG, Prof Dr Thomas Weber as co-driver in the Mercedes-Benz 190 SL.

Massive crowd at the start of the Mille Miglia in Brescia. The Mille is the annual event highlight here.

Automotive legends.

This year again, hundreds of thousands of enthusiastic spectators cheered at the sides of the roads, who saw vehicles that usually remain hidden in private collections. Eligible to participate in the Mille Miglia are vehicles that were built during the years the original race was held from 1927 to 1957. Where else do you see automotive legends such as Alfa Romeo 6C, Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing, Jaguar XK 120, Porsche 356 or spectacular pre-war models such as the BMW 328, Mercedes-Benz SSK, Amilcar GCSS or the unique O.M. models in the wild? Especially in the early pre-war models, the 1700-kilometre race is a real challenge for man and machine. Adrian Gattiker: 'In technical terms, my vehicle was absolutely reliable despite at times demanding thermal situations for the engine. The longer we were driving on the roads of Italy, the better the engine ran'.

Top performance.

However, drivers and cars are not the only ones who don't find any rest during the race. The workshop teams deliver athletic top performances during the four-day race. On the one hand, they have to follow the thundering retinue at top speed in the sometimes tumultuous Italian traffic, stretching the bounds of legality. The 1700 kilometres are no trifling matter for the vintage cars from '20s to the '50s – breakdowns are the order of the day. Prompt assistance is required. On the other, for the mechanics, the day begins two hours before that of the starters and often the night offers no real sleep. Because when the drivers and co-drivers listen to their mattresses after long and always exhausting stages filled with experiences, the wheels and engines of the vintage cars are checked, operating fluids are replenished or entire components are replaced.

Because this can hardly be handled within the permissible working hours, there are always several teams of mechanics on site working in two or three shifts.

'Our planning for the Mille Miglia starts in September / October“, relates Ralph Wagenknecht of Mercedes-Benz Classic, 'our organising team comprises eight to ten people including a team doctor, management of agencies and photographers, accreditations, security, hotels and catering. Hundreds of hotel reservations alone must be coordinated each night“. Mercedes-Benz Classic by itself is on the ground with more than 20 support vehicles. 'We have 13 service teams with 27 specialists for mechanical systems, electrical systems and bodywork“, says Mercedes-Benz Classic Project Manager Michael Plag.

The enthusiasm of the Italian population along the route is unique.

Enjoying a summer evening.

For Adrian Gattiker and his co-driver Oliver Sellnick, the trip wasn't over yet after crossing the finish line in Brescia. 'On Sunday night, after ceremonies and farewell, we drove back to Switzerland on our own power“, says a beaming Adrian Gattiker, 'and arrived safely at Lake Zurich by midnight“. But the next excursion with the Bavarian-blue Mercedes-Benz 300 SL will not be long in coming. From the garage where he keeps his vintage cars high above swanky Lake Zurich, Gattiker is just a few short minutes from unique mountain roads and is able to just enjoy a summer evening now and then. It doesn’t always have to be the Mille Miglia.