Blast from the Past

La Festa Mille Miglia, October 2007


"The first Grand Prix Race for automobiles was held in 1921 in the ancient city of Brescia in the north of Italy. In 1925, the Grand Prix Race was transferred to the newly built Monza Circuit in the outskirts of Milan. The people of Brescia, who dearly love motor sports, were very disappointed and they wanted to bring their city back into the spotlight. Based on an idea of four local men, they planned to hold a race on public roads, not on a closed circuit. The course ran from Brescia, south to Rome and then swung back north along a different route and returned to the goal in Brescia, with a total distance of 1,000 miles. In Italian, this is expressed as Mille Miglia, and this phrase was adopted as the name of the race. On March 26, 1927, the first Mille Miglia was held with the participation of 101 cars." - La Festa Mille Miglia 2007 website

Pandabonium was caught (far left) in this official photo of a 1927 Bugatti T37C

Except for a hiatus during WWII, the race was held every year through 1957 when there was a terrible accident. A tire burst on a Ferrari and it skidded into spectators. The driver, Marquis Alfonso De Portago of Spain, his co-driver Edmund Nelson and 10 spectators - five of them children - were killed and 20 more people were injured. The Italian government put a permanent end to the race.

In the 1970s Italian tourism went into a slump. To attract more visitors, Brescia revived the Mille Miglia in 1977, not as a race, but as classic car stamp rally. Rather than a race for speed, a stamp rally requires entrants to visit certain check points and have their paperwork time-stamped. There is a time factor involved but the object is to make to each point on time - not early, not late. The 1977 rally only allowed cars which had previously raced in the Mille Miglia or would have been eligible to do so up to 1957.

"La Festa Mille Miglia" is a classic car stamp rally which celebrates the Italian original, but takes place in Japan. It was first run in 1997. Starting in Tokyo-Harajuku, the rally covers a 1,000 mile course over a 4 day period, heading north and west through Saitama, Tochigi, Fukushima, and as far as Miyagi prefecture before returning along the east coast as far south as Kashima City and heading back toward Tokyo and the goal at Yokohama Motomachi. They visit 10 prefectures in all. A lot of beautiful mountain and ocean scenery lies along that route as well as very famous historic towns like Nikko, Aizu Wakamatsu, and of course, Kashima.

1957 Giaur Taraschi 1100S,
1955 Lotus Mk 9, '57 Porsche Speedster, '55 Motto MG Special, and a '59 Fiat Abarth.

Cars must be registered classic originals (no replica cars allowed), built in 1967 or earlier. The checkpoints along the route are at scenic and historic sites. Happily for me, one of those sites is Kashima Jingu (Shinto shrine) right in the heart of our fair city.

I left home early as I was not sure exactly where the checkpoint would be located and also wanted time to find a good vantage point from which to take pictures. I also had no idea how many spectators might show up. As it happened, the checkpoint was easy to find - it was the main parking lot by the shrine's entrance. I found a fence to which I could lock my bicycle and wandered over to a corner across from the great torii. There were only a handful of other people there. A rally representative greeted me and handed me a flag to wave at the cars and a nice bilingual program listing all the cars and drivers. As my hands would be busy with the camera, I attached the flag to my backpack. The cars would come up the stone street, San-do, to the entrance of the shrine, then turn to enter the parking lot, get their time-stamp and exit via the same route. It was a great spot for picture taking as the cars would have to go slow for the turns and I could catch them on the way in and out. The schedule called for the cars to begin arriving at Kashima Jingu at 9:20 am.

Surprisingly, there were only about 25 people there by that time. The gods taunted us with a light mist from the clouds, but no more than that, and even that soon ended. Finally, the first car arrived - a 1924 Bugatti T22 "Brescia" - the oldest car among the 118 entrants.


1924 Buggatti T22 Brescia - still looking good at age 83.


Why are the drivers of this "1925 Rolls Royce Phantom I Torpedo Tourer" wearing ear protectors? Because the huge six cylinder 7.668 liter (467.9 cu in) engine is LOUD! that's why.

I can't say as I had a favorite car, but the 1920's models and sensuously curved bodies of the 1950's Italian cars were for me especially delightful to see; the former for their pioneering engineering and mechanical craftsmanship, the latter as works of sculpted art. It was fascinating to watch them all - a blast from the past - a cavalcade of automotive history brought to life.

1926 Bugatti T37A

1956 Maserati 150S

The "crowd" grew as time went on until there were perhaps well over a hundred lining the street. Shopkeepers and a chef came out to watch as well. A volunteer from the shrine directed the cars toward the checkpoint and helped to keep the spectators off of the street.
1960 Austin Healy 300 MK1

While everyone was provided with flag, adults in general can be a stodgy lot and sometimes take some prodding to get into the spirit of things. As if answering the call, a kindergarten on the other side of Kashima Jingu brought their children through the shrine to join the fun.


The enthusiastic youngsters soon had everyone waving energetically at the cars, much to the delight of the drivers, such as these guys in an Alfa Romeo.

In addition to the Italian and British cars, there were also some from the USA, Japan, and Germany. A Mercedes, by the way, was the only non-Italian car ever to win the Mille Miglia, in 1931.

Two very beautiful examples from that country were a 1957 Mercedes 300 SLS (sure to please NZM) and a '58 BMW 507.

1957 Mercedes 300 SLS

1958 BMW 507

Not all of the 118 original entrants made it. Some perhaps encountered problems along the way, but I did get to see the vast majority of the entrants that day, and was grateful that I was using a digital camera and not paying for rolls of film! By 11:00 am, the last of them came through the check point (a 1955 Abarth 207A Sypder). As with a fireworks display, some of us lingered to see if there might be just one more to see, before reluctantly going on our way.

1955 Abarth 207A Spyder - 'hope to see you in 2008 - arrivederci!

An Affair To Remember

A "few" more of the pictures I took...


k said...

Nice music and wonderful cars.

Don Snabulus said...

Wow. I would love to see a rally like that hear. I'm not sure if I'm not paying enough attention or if my countrymen can't see past American cars in their appreciation of mobile engineering.

Maybe I will start checking around to see if we have anything of the kind happening here.

Don Snabulus said...

hear = here

The Moody Minstrel said...

Rolls Royce
Alfa Romeo

Why have American carmakers always had so much trouble producing works of art like those?

And why didn't I know about this?

Pandabonium said...

K - thank you.

Snabby - perhaps you won't find a rally, but a concourse or show instead featuring classics from around the world.

Snabby - thear - there

Moody - there have been some, but too few and far between. I stumbled upon this rally online last year while researching a town and made a point to see it. It was a Tuesday morning, so you'd have been busy teaching anyway no doubt. I did give fair notice to all, however, in my October 5th post "Ketchup!"

Swinebread said...

Great! That's the kinda car "race" I'd like to see.

The classic cars are just wonderful.

I also enjoyed how the kids helped everyone get into the fun of the event.

Pandabonium said...

Swinebread - It was rather amazing to see so many classics in such a short time. That they were on the road as opposed to in a museum display was a large part of the joy.

The kids were great, and if you look at the pictures of smiling, waiving drivers, most are looking at the children. They would cheer when cars came in and say "bye-bye" as they left.

ladybug said...

I really love the very first picture, with the Buddhist Priest (I'm assuming..) blessing the car! I really liked also all the versions of Astin Martins, they have some great styling (I associate them w/Austin Powers so it makes me giggle a little!)

I've been to a couple shows here and there here (always by accident, they aren't my thing generally). There's always some cool cars, mostly 50's & 60's stuff, (I am REALLY tired of hot rods though!).

I find I prefer slightly older models (30's & 40's); seems like car shows here concentrate on the later years, or very early years of car production (Model T's and so forth).

Pandabonium said...

Ladybug - close, that is a Shinto priest. Sorry for not putting a caption to that picture.

"I prefer slightly older models (30's & 40's)" - did Austin Powers say that? ;^)

Hot Rods are for kids in my opinion. I'm not a fan of them either. I was spoiled when I was about 10, as I saw a Concourse on the lawn of the old Biltmore Hotel(since destroyed and now a Four Seasons) in Montecito, California, and fell in love with a 1920's Bugatti. A love affair to remember.

Robin said...

This post is so nice..

and all this cute and beautiful cars.

wow... this can only happen in Japan

Happysurfer said...

Nice cars, nice pictures. I especially like the one in which the cars are lined up one after another. Pretty.

Wish we have this kind of rally here. What we have is once a year, there's a gathering of vintage cars.

I'm surprised there wasn't a crowd and the shops were not open yet?

Pandabonium said...

Robin - thanks. I've never seen anything like it before. Only in Europe or Japan.

Happysurfer - thank you. I was surprised there weren't more people there. It was a weekday, so I suppose most people were at work. The cars started coming at 9:30 am and shops here don't open until 10:00, so the later pictures do show them open.

nzm said...

Thank you for thinking of me! That Merc is a beauty!

Pandabonium said...

NZM - glad you like it.