Mille Miglia Adventure

Written on
November 24, 2020
Mille Miglia Adventure

For as long as I can remember, Stuart (Dad) has gone on about the Mille Miglia and how he dreamed to do it. So, a couple of years ago, I decided that life was too short and we should get on with it whilst we still can. Now, those of you that know a little bit about the event will understand that it really is for the wealthy and sadly that is not us. So, some sacrifices had to be made and all of our personal bike collections would need to be sold to fund the operation. It was ambitious to say the very least. Whilst toying with the idea, I went along to the Goodwood Revival in 2018 and found myself wandering around the Bonhams tent where I saw this wonderful little Aston Martin DB2/4 that had been raced in period by its owner at the time Sir Patrick Lindsay. Having done some research about trying to get an entry in the Mille Miglia, I understood that cars that raced in period were more favoured by the entry committee. Perhaps this could work I thought!  I stood and watched the auction and not having a penny in my pocket as usual there was no way I could put my hand up, but, as I watched, there appeared to be the usual auction trickery going on. Invisible bidders were working flat out! A week or two later, I spent a couple of hours on Google and found the car and its owner. I got in touch and told him of our dream to do the Mille Miglia and how we liked his car, but, we would have to sell the family silver to buy it. Unbelievably, he turned out to be an incredibly kind and thankfully patient man, so we gave him a small deposit and started selling our old bikes. Suddenly we were in with a chance of making this real!

Here is a picture I took of the car at Goodwood

An embarrassingly long time passed and we finally paid off the car and bought it home. We began to start jumping through the many hoops required to get a car into the Mille Miglia. First of all the car needs to be registered with the Mille Miglia and accepted on to their list of approved cars. Then you need a FIVA passport which is a document that proves the authenticity of the car, so with these in hand, we sent in an entry to race in 2020. After several months, the announcement is made detailing who made it into the race. Unfortunately we only made it as far as the reserve list. Whilst this was disappointing, by Mille Miglia entry standards this was a real achievement as I have heard stories of people trying to get in for years and years. Meanwhile, we continued on as normal working away and the car sat in the garage untouched with a broken half shaft that occurred not long after buying it. Then the global pandemic came along and we figured that it was unlikely to run at all. Sure enough, the race was postponed until later in the year. We thought our chances of a start in the Mille Miglia 2020 were fading fast, when all of a sudden the race was rescheduled for October and we began to imagine if some of the long distance competitors like the Americans would want to make the trip given the circumstances and our minds began to wonder if we might get called up. With around 6 weeks to go, we got an email inviting us to compete!! The sleepless nights began!.

We decided to try and make a bit of a video diary, part 1 is below

As the paranoia quickly went deep into my brain as to whether the car would finish, I decided we needed to strip the engine and make some upgrades as these cars had bottom end trouble from new. Historically, the rods were very weak, this car was no exception, as it went back to Aston under warranty for throwing a rod. You can actually see where the crankcase has been repaired in period. With a few weeks to go, we had the engine on the bench and were down to a bare crank case !

The engine as it came out
Meticulous cleaning has to be carried out on all parts before reassembly

We decided that a billet steel crankshaft should be fitted along with Carrillo con rods and forged pistons as well as an upgrade flywheel, twin lipped rear crank seal, new diaphragm clutch, upgraded oil pump, upgraded water pump. This engine had already had a top end rebuild shortly before we had it, so the valves and cams etc. were all like new. So some time and money was thankfully saved here. Also we upgraded the rear axle to a Limited Slip Diff with billet hubs and half shafts as this is another weak area.

We made a short video of the engine rebuild :

I literally worked day and night (to my wife's delight!)on the engine as I wanted to get it thoroughly run in and tested before we set off. Most specialists will tell you that it takes 200 hours to build one of these properly because every tolerance has to be checked accurately and properly. Thankfully the build went well and just over a week after taking the engine out it was going back in again with all of its upgraded and refurbished parts. Running in and testing could begin.

I started to drive the car daily through the pouring rain to work and back which is a 80 mile round trip. I constantly fettled in between, as the Mille Miglia is not really like any other race. This is because across the 4 days, especially this late on in the calendar year, we were likely to see rain, fog, dark, cold and blazing sunshine. Therefore, we needed the heater to work, the lights to work, the wipers to wipe. In fact, every aspect of the car needed to be tip top as they would all get thoroughly used during the event. Needless to say my paranoia was justified as we endured various disasters; like the heater matrix splitting and various pipes letting go as we suddenly asked this 65 year old car to work as hard as it did when it was new.

We decided to upgrade a few extra bits to make the car better for the type of event that we were about to take on. This consisted of; upgrading the suspension springs; refurbished dampers; heavy anti roll bar; Alfin aluminium brake drums; new rubbers and bushes all through. We even fitted some period bucket seats and race harnesses, as the original seats were flat with no belts and this made cornering at speed difficult as you felt like you would fall out the car! Here is another video we made as the car was being tested and checked.

I managed to cover around 700 miles in the car before we set off and got to the point that I was happy that we had done all we could do and we were as ready as we could be. We even had a day or 2 spare!! The car was polished and loaded in the trailer, it was time to head to Italy!

We stopped off at our regular spot just above the Guzzi factory in Mandello

We arrived in Brescia on the Wednesday morning and the race was due to start on Thursday afternoon. Before we could start, we had the usual scrutineering and signing on, made more interesting with Covid. The Italians flare for organising and their love of red tape was evident, but we made it through and headed down to the town centre for our seal to be placed on the window. Finally, after 2 years we were ready to start.

Common as muck! We line up for scrutineering with another 2/4
The famous window seal goes on
The start ramp ahead, let the madness begin!

We rolled off the start ramp with Stuart at the wheel and really nothing could have prepared us for what lay ahead. We had heard tales off crazy driving and high speeds. However, none off it prepares you for the sheer lunacy of driving at race speeds through traffic; the streets lined with people cheering you on and the louder and faster you drove the more people clapped and cheered and so did the POLICE! Yes, the police give the race cars escorts with blues and twos and feel its only fair that they get to have a bit of a race too. You find yourself racing police outriders and each other though stunning Italian villages and scenery surrounded by priceless cars being driven like they were stolen!.

The face says it all, this is what joy looks like
Dinner stop on the first night was in a stunning theatre

We arrived at the first nights stop (Milano Maritima) around 11.30pm to find a chap revving the life out of his Bugatti GP car as it banged flames out of the exhaust. Apparently he had a misfire and people were trying to help and offer advise and it felt pretty surreal and fun to be stood in the street at almost midnight surrounded by cars being serviced, fixed and revved. We couldn't help but laugh at what would be happening if we were in England at this time of night; revving cars with open pipes.

At 6am the next day, we were back in the car heading for Rome! we would need to cover just over 400 miles today. Much of this would be over mountains and through villages, a real test for us and the car. We were delighted that the Aston did us proud and we made it in to Rome around midnight without a hiccup, having seen some incredible places like San Marino along the way.

San Marino roads can be pretty tight !
Can you imagine a UK policeman taking a selfie while riding ?

Another early start from Rome the next day and the rain fell on us for most of the morning, but it didn't dampen our spirits as the madness continued and it was now easier to get it sideways ! The scenery as we headed towards Sienna was breath-taking and even through several hours of torrential rain the Aston thundered on without even thinking about giving us any problems. Stops in Fabriano and Sienna as we headed for Parma.

It isn't all glitz and glamour
lunch stop
Some amazing cars around
Sienna in all its glory
Arrival in Parma

Arrival in Parma for our last overnight stop and only a short run into Brescia tomorrow we begin to wonder if we might actually make it to the finish line. After the huge journey that we have been on, it seems bizarre that we might actually cross the line and finish the race that I think Stuart has dreamed about since being a small boy. When people like Stirling Moss and Fangio were risking their lives racing this thing for real. I understand that pace notes were invented by Stirling Moss and his co driver in order to set the all time record of just over 11 hours !!

heading for the finish!
Not everybody got away with the madness un scathed

As we headed across the finish line, I expected us to both be in tears of joy, but instead we almost felt a little empty as we began to mourn the loss of the journey that we had been on not just for the past 4 days but the 2 years building up to it as we bought and prepared the car. It really is hard to put into words the joy and the stress, the highs and the lows that this fantastic event has brought into our lives.

lining up to get our finishers medal

Special thanks to Woodgate Aston and Four Ashes for the parts and help. Also many thanks to Struan for coming along and driving the support van. As it happens we never actually got the tools out but I'm glad we had the reassurance of it. Credit for all of us at Lusso Veloce for the flawless preparation of the car. Last but not least, thanks to my wife for keeping my dinners in the microwave for when I returned back home after another long night working on the car prior to the event!