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Brescia, 26 March 1927:
The First Mille Miglia

The cars sped off at eight in the morning on 26 March 1927. The brainchild of Aymo Maggi, Renzo Castagneto, Franco Mazzotti, and Giovanni Canestrini – collectively nicknamed “The Four Musketeers” – the Mille Miglia started from the Rebuffone gardens in Brescia and headed for Rome, crossing the Apennines. They then headed back towards the Adriatic, finally ending in Brescia without any stops. On the map, it was just over sixteen hundred kilometres – in other words, mille miglia, or one thousand miles. That morning of ninety-three years ago saw the start of “the most beautiful race in the world”, as Enzo Ferrari called it. Pirelli could hardly not be there – and it could hardly fail to win. Because, by then, the Pirelli Cord had already become known as “the victory tyre”: Having become world champions with Alfa Romeo in the 1925 Grand Prix, Cord tyres were the winning card for the Italian automotive industry around the world, both for speed racing on circuits and for classic endurance racing on road.

The very best in 1920s sports car racing lined up at the start of the first Mille Miglia: the Alfa Romeo RL Super Sports, which dominated the Targa Florio, the glorious Itala cars, the magnificent Lancia Lambdas, and the Bugatti T40s that had come over from France. And then there were the OM 665 Superbas, back from great performances with the driver Renato Balestrero and later with the brothers Tino and Mario Danieli at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The gruelling sixteen-hundred-kilometre race was one of dust and gales, fog, dirt roads and cobblestones in urban centres. And the first to enter Brescia, shortly after six on the morning of 27 March, was indeed an OM Superba driven by Nando Minoja and Giuseppe Morandi, at an astonishing average speed of over 77 km/h. Behind them were two more Superbas – Tino Danieli and Renato Balestrero’s no. 13 and Mario Danieli and Archimede Rosa’s no. 12. A triumph for the people of Brescia, and for the city that had launched “the most beautiful race in the world”. One of the rare photographs that appeared in the newspapers at the time shows part of the tyre on the winning car: it bears the word “Cord”, and next to it “Milan” – another trophy for Pirelli.

Then, for twenty years, the Mille Miglia was monopolised first by Alfa Romeo and later, after the war, by Ferrari. Giuseppe Campari, Tazio Nuvolari, Achille Varzi, and Carlo Pintacuda were the pre-war heroes aboard the red racers of the Cloverleaf: the authentic creators of a legend. Under the banner of the Prancing Horse, Clemente Biondetti, Giannino Marzotto, Gigi Villoresi, and Giovanni Bracco found stardom in the new world that was taking shape in the 1950s. Alberto Ascari drove to a thrilling victory in 1954 at the wheel of his Lancia D24, again with Pirelli Stella Bianca- and Stelvio-shod wheels, keeping alive the legend of the “victory tyres”. The driver-engineer Piero Taruffi promised his wife that he would stop racing only after he had won a Mille Miglia. And he did so, in 1957, in a Ferrari. He was true to his word, and stopped racing. And the Mille Miglia ended with him.

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