Mille Miglia in a 1938 Alfa
TG mag Editor, Charlie Turner, takes on one of the biggest challenges in motoring...
Posted: 17 Jun 2013
Mille Miglia: Day 2 Ferrara-Rome
Three and a half hours in bed is just sufficient to make you painfully aware of how tired you are without actually running the risk of compensating for that lack of sleep in any way. As I haul out of bed it's clear that day two requires a different tactic.
"Right you're driving"
Alessandro and I take the 6c out of its cocoon and install Co-pilot into the driving seat just in time for the weather to break and start raining again. This does not help Co-pilot's disposition. Time for some words of encouragement.
"So you know when they say that this 6c is priceless? I wonder what that actually means in real terms? I mean, is it worth more than your house, or all you possess, or all both of us possesses?"
"You're not helping"
"Sorry, but just try and put the priceless bit out of your head for now, I always find that it's always when you're worried about something and you back off that you'll have the accident. In this priceless car. Which is, by all accounts, priceless."
"Like I said, you're not helping, please shut up"
"Ok, time to start her up, and remember, it's priceless"
"WILL YOU SHUT UP!"
With the rain pouring down and a nervous Co-Pilot pilot it's not the ideal time for the wipers to start to untangle themselves. Twenty miles into the stage and the bar connecting them un-connects, and we're left with one sorry wiper (on the driver's side, fortunately) flapping lazily across the screen. The fact that the remaining wiper isn't touching the screen hasn't improved the Co-Pilot Pilot's mood. We head tentatively towards Rome passing through Lugo, Ravenna, Cesena and Gambettola and onwards towards San Marino and our first battle with the stopwatch.
San Marino is perched at the top of the kind of hill that would have Sherpas feeling a little hill-weary, and the 6c- despite having cleared its throat yesterday - is now breathing hard on the ascent. Whatever remaining cobwebs there were have now been dispatched, and the more time I spend in this wonderful carrozeria-bodied (in aluminium by Superleggera) four-seater, the more I fall in love with it. It's hard to dial back to 1938 when you're surrounded by the modern day furniture like Armco, traffic jams and fast food, but in 1938 this thing must have felt like the Millennium Falcon. While the bodywork wouldn't feel out of place in a gangster movie, it's the engine that's the star of the show and now it's working cleanly its clear that this car has a huge - if slightly ancient - heart.
As I ponder the vagaries of age, we're split from the mainstream traffic and plunged into the first regularity stage of the day, which despite some shouting of "Where the hell am I going?!" from the driving seat mid-stage, passes without major drama.
We pass through the stunning medieval squares of San Marino, stopping to pick up a stamp at the checkpoint, we head down the hill and onto lunch at Sansepolcro. Or what would have been lunch had it not been for an alarming development: As we arrive in Sansepolcro we inspect the car out of a sense of duty more than anything more practical, only to find long black streaks of oil running down its flanks from the bonnet vents...
Oh dear, priceless just got expensive. I spend some time trying to develop the perfect way to pitch the sentence. "I'm really sorry but my co-pilot seems to have broken your car", But in the end plump for: "We're not stopping for lunch, can we meet you at the next petrol station the car is bleeding?" This is not the appropriate engineering terminology.
Alessandro arrives and inspects what I fear may be terminal. After much wiping with a rag and staring into the hot engine bay he pronounces the leak as ‘normal'. Er?
"Do you want to top it up a bit"
"No, it's fine, maybe later"
And with that the 6c is brimmed with fuel, the lead replacement potion (the 6c does not have, unsurprisingly unleaded cyclinder heads) is measured exactingly by Alessandro, and poured into the tank with a theatre and style that only an Italian can manage, and we're off again and on our way to Rome dispatched with another winning smile.
After an engine-affirming blast down the Autostrada, the roads open and we flow along toward Assisi in the wake of a Mark 7 Jaguar. Another stunning medieval town (Umbertide this time), another regularity stage dealt with and its clear that the new tactic is working. Things are looking up. The weather has taken a turn for the better, and as we blast through Assisi we are waved on by a cluster of Monks (Note to self: if you want to be a monk, make sure you opt for Assisi: nice monastery and perfect vantage point for the Mille).
At the next fuel stop it's time for a driver change, so co-pilot is back in the box seat for the next regularity stage and the all-important map reading into Rome. As dusk falls the Forca d'Arrone stage brings a return to form from Co-Pilot, but the warm glow of the evening sun as we wend our way out of the mountains washes away the tension.
We barrel into Rome amongst a line of cars with the combined value of the Greek debt, lead by a bike cop on full reheat who takes us to the city limits and then heads off with a wave to collect the next lucky participants (where else in the world with the local police be allowed to spend three days playing follow-the-leader and ignoring any and all speed limits and traffic signs? You have to love Italy...)
Our scheduled arrival time into Rome is 10:35 and we need to hit it to ensure we avoid a penalty, so navigation has now become key.
"Right Co-pilot, where am I headed?"
"Mate, where do I get off?"
"Ok, well none of this is on the map, none of it, so - honestly? - I don't know" "None of it is on the map?"
"None of it? Surely some of it is?"
"Well that one isn't, so you don't want that one, or that one. Ooh, that one looks good... no, that's not on there either. Erm."
"Oh good lord, don't tell me about the ones I don't need, tell me about the ones WE DO!"
"Well there's no need to be like that"
"Like that. Short with me"...
"Of course I'm being short with you. I'm trying to drive a priceless Alfa into Rome to an unknown destination without causing the world's most expensive pile up by suddenly turning at the last minute because my Co-pilot can't read a map, ofcourseI'mbeingshort"
"Well there's no need for it, and we're here anyway, here, here, TURN HERE!"
It's fair to say that the arrival into Rome was something of a high point on the stress-level-ometer, and we sit in the assembly area ignoring each other.
We regroup and are led around Rome in the most privileged tour group of the year, police outriders proudly leading us around the highlights of their city. From the Vatican to the Colisseum with everything in between, and into the parking for the night. Privileged doesn't quite cover it. Bed beckons but only for a few hours (four, to be precise) and I start plotting a diplomatic way of replacing Co-pilot with Paola...508 miles done, 492 to go, and we're ranked no.150. We've made progress but there's a long way to go.