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TG is off to the Mille Miglia in a BMW 328

Jason Barlow is up against 445 rivals. Victory is the minimum requirement...

  • At 14.30pm today, the first of the 446 cars entered in the 2016 Mille Miglia will cross the start line in Brescia’s Viale Venezia. Car number one is a 1923 Bentley 3.0-litre, a machine that you wrestle more than you drive, forearms bulging and temples throbbing. Now imagine doing that for 1000 miles. In the rain…

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  • There’s no doubt that a strong streak of masochism courses through the Mille Miglia, and the lunatics who queue up annually to participate. But it’s also unquestionably the greatest road rally in the world, an event that requires improvisational driving skills equivalent to the musical dexterity of a jazz musician (although Miles Davis never had to contend with an Italian farmer wandering into his path in a Panda 4x4). It’s also a rolling museum of priceless automotive artefacts – in excess of £1bn worth, by my rough calculations – given the mother-and-father of all exercise workouts. Insanity, if you stop to think about it.

  • This is the third year in a row that has been invited to drive, and following monumental adventures in a 1955 Jaguar XK140 and ’56 D-type, this year we’re co-driving a one-off 1940 BMW 328 MM Roadster. It’s quite valuable. Probably around £8m worth of valuable, in fact, which is a lot of money for what is a seriously minimalist motor car. Like so many vehicles from that era, it was fashioned by a carrozzeria, in this case Milanese outfit Touring, who clothed the 328’s tubular space frame in aluminium panels – not just light but also the progenitor of streamlined aerodynamics.

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  • The clever construction methodology – together with the car’s compact footprint – mean that it weighs just 700kg. It also means that this is one of the few cars in which you can touch the road as you drive along. Palm down, if you want. What I’m getting at here is that it’s small, and very cosy in the cockpit. (My co-driver is BMW GB’s CEO, Graeme Grieve, whose impressively mellow character is about to be seriously tested.)

  • Powered by a 2.0-litre straight six, the 328 MM roadster had electrifying pace for its time, helping its driver and co-driver Willy Briem and Uli Richter to a fifth-place finish in the 1940 Mille Miglia. A 328 Touring Coupe won outright that year, with the legendary Huschke von Hanstein at the wheel (who would go on to mastermind Porsche’s motorsport exploits). Aside from a pair of Mercedes victories – in 1931, when Rudolf Caracciola won in the mighty SSK, and ’55, when some bloke called Stirling Moss completed the 1000 miles in 10 hours seven minutes in the 300 SLR – BMW’s 1940 win is the only other one to interrupt an Italian hegemony.

  • This is another big part of the Mille Miglia’s potent narrative; Alfa Romeo and Ferrari both forged their reputations in the heat of battle on this loop of Italy. The Mille Miglia began in 1927, and a year later Alfa scored the first of 11 wins: cars like the 6C 1750 Gran Sport that Tazio Nuvolari raced to victory in 1930 or the 2900 B that won eight years later are now among the most sought-after in the world. Ferrari first won in 1948, just a year after the company was founded. Taruffi scored another Ferrari win in the last running of the original Mille Miglia in 1957, a victory overshadowed by the tragedy that engulfed Ferrari when Alfonso de Portago lost control of his car, killing himself and nine spectators.

  • The reactivated Mille Miglia is run over three and a half days. Between this afternoon and Sunday, and 445 other participants will scythe down Italy’s Adriatic coastline from Brescia to Ferrara, Rimini to Rome, then back north through Tuscany and Florence, Bologna, Modena and Parma, then to Monza, and back to Brescia. The driving is punctuated by around 80 time trials, in which success or failure is separated by infuriatingly slender margins.

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  • It’s worth checking out the entry list for driver highlights – Jacky Ickx, Susie Wolff, Marc Newson and Mercedes’ heavy hitter Thomas Weber are all in there – while there are simply too many automotive jewels to list them all. Including a princely little BMW. intends to add to its impressive provenance…

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