Not quite la dolce vita, but it’s hard to resist 1,000 chaotic miles in a rare Alfa
Italy’s Mille Miglia is a badly managed exercise in sleep and food deprivation, but when you get a chance like this you have to let your heart rule your head
Day 2: Ferrara to Roma
Daylight means we can finally see out of the windscreen, which means we can explore the car’s terrific, strong heart with more confidence. That engine and gearbox gain our respect. It pushes along beautifully between 4000rpm and 6000rpm, and its shifts are slick and sharp.
Back in the day, Alfa claimed a top speed of 220km/h for the 2000 Sportiva. We see about 170km/h, and the car would be happy to go faster. The police rider with us would be happy to see it go faster, too, along with the spectators along the road and other cars. The only ones who don’t want to go any quicker are Greg and I, who are, coincidentally, the only ones who know how much road we’d need to stop from this speed. We calculate on it needing plenty, cubed.
By now we are among the 15 factory-museum Benzes directly in front of us. More interesting are jaw-droppingly beautiful cars like a 1955 Ferrari 750 Monza, a Ferrari 375 MM Berlinetta and a host of Alfa and Cisitalia coupés and C-Type Jaguars. And all of them are being thrashed as hard as our Sportiva.
Night falls again long before Roma arrives, then Italian organisation has us spending two hours in a dusty layby on the city’s outskirts. When we are finally escorted, slowly, around some of the most important sites in the western world, we can muster only indifference. By now it is 2am, we’ve been in the Alfa for 16 hours and we need to be back on the start line at 7.28am.
Day 3: Rome to Brescia
The third day is the biggest. According to the road book we’ve got 16 hours of driving ahead of us. We need to be in Brescia at 23.28.
Fortunately, apart from petrol fumes burning our eyes and a brake that feels like the pads are like roller skates on wet marble, we’ve gained confidence in the little Alfa.
It has a heart like a racehorse, full of enthusiasm and strength. But it is the trustworthiness of the ladder-frame chassis that impresses us the most. We get used to the floppy steering and drive around it. We get used to the lack of brakes and use understeer instead.
It is a chassis we can throw around the mountains with a confidence that frightens plenty of faster cars out of our way. Passing a Ferrari MM 375 Berlinetta on the outside of a sweeper is a buzz, passing a Maserati 200 S is another, and hacking our way through the squadron of SL Benzes – repeatedly – is another.
One jaw-droppingly beautiful Italian mountain-top village passes into another as we cross Tuscany, with the little Alfa humming joyfully, happy to be galloping out of captivity, and then it’s the Futa Pass. The ancient road from Firenze to Bologna, it crosses two mountain ranges and is one of the great drivers’ roads of the world.
The roads are still hedged with people when we arrive, and everybody wants to be part of the show, which is what it must have been like in the 1950s.