After an interim of seven years, during which World War II wreaked havoc across the European continent, the first post-war Mille Miglia auto race is held on this day in 1947 in Brescia, Italy.
The Mille Miglia (“Thousand Miles”) was the brainchild of the Brescia Automobile Club, formed in 1926 under the leadership of Franco Mazzotti and Count Aymo Maggi. An important center for Italian motor sports since the turn of the century, Brescia was smarting over the fact that Monza (near Milan) had been chosen as the site of the prestigious Italian Grand Prix. Using its considerable political connections, the fledgling automobile club gained the approval of Italy’s Fascist government to run a race from Brescia to Rome–a distance of some 1,600 kilometers (around 1,000 miles) on Italian public roads. The first race, held on March 26 and 27, 1927, featured all of the leading Italian drivers; foreign participation was limited to three tiny French-made Peugeots in the lower-power Class H field. Cars made by local manufacturer Officine Meccaniche (OM) captured the three top spots. The winner completed the course in a little more than 20 hours, at an average speed of more than 77 kilometers per hour.
After an entrant spun out of control during the 1938 Mille Miglia, killing 10 spectators–, including seven children–the Fascist government of Benito Mussolini banned the race. It resumed briefly during wartime but was suspended again after the 13th running in 1940. After World War II ended in 1945, much of Italy’s infrastructure, including roads and bridges, had to be rebuilt, gasoline and rubber were still being rationed and the country’s new government was struggling to demonstrate its effectiveness in the wake of the Fascist movement’s demise. Mille Miglia organizers were forced to postpone the starting date from late April to June 1947; they also switched to a new 1,800-kilometer route. Finally, on June 21, 1947, 155 starters left the line for the 14th edition of the Mille Miglia. Aided by a violent rainstorm that hampered runner-up Tazio Nuvolari’s small Cisitalia convertible, the driver Clemente Biondetti won the race in an Alfa Romeo.
Even in its new incarnation, Italian drivers and cars dominated the race, which popularized such powerhouse brands as Alfa Romeo, Ferrari and Maserati. Tragically, driver Alfonso de Portago blew a tire and spun off the road during the 1957 edition, killing himself, his co-driver and 10 spectators. Three days later, the Italian government banned the Mille Miglia and all other motor racing on Italian public roads.