Mille Miglia, the historic car race with its top-class participants from the aristocratic, industrial, financial and high-society circles, celebrated its 80th birthday in 2007. This jubilee inspired film-maker Philip Selkirk to produce the first feature-length documentary about this legendary racing event.

The Mille Miglia, was a thousand-mile (1,600km) race through the heart of Italy. Almost every year from 1927 until 1957 the fastest sports cars in the world would compete to cover the gruelling course from Brescia via Ferrara and San Marino to Rome and back again via Siena and Florence.

For this feature-length documentary, Philip Selkirk and his 24-man-team filmed the “modern” Mille Miglia in 2006, which is a pageant driven round the same course by a selection of appropriately flamboyant cars built between 1927 and 1957. The models range from Alfa Romeo saloon cars, Morgans, early thoroughbreds with leather straps on their bonnet, an Isetta two-seater bubble-car, and a three-litre Bentley, once described by Ettori Bugatti as “the fastest lorry on Earth”. Incidentally, no Bentley ever reached the starting line in the historic Mille Miglia.

The film has interviews with some of the race’s heroes – such as Sir Stirling Moss (who won the fastest ever race in 1955), and Count Giannino Marzotto, who won twice as an amateur driver, original footage exists in black and white of the classic races. The Mille Miglia evolved out of a contest between famed egotists and Italian marques, into a clash between nations under the shadow of fascism. The last wartime race transplanted to the Libyan desert, was a duel between Alfa Romeo and BMW. Then, in the 1950s the Mille Miglia became a battle between the manufacturers of Mercedes, Porsche, BMW, Lancia, Maserati, Ferrari, Alfa Romeo along with the odd Jaguar and Aston Martin.

Stirling Moss raves about the Mercedes 300 SLR which, “talks to you and tells you when the back will break away or when you’re understeering”. It is a time when the car and driver existed as one, and subsequently, as the race got faster and more popular the likelihood of a major accident increased. For instance, it happened in 1957 when a Ferrari ploughed into the crowd at 300km an hour killing the two drivers and 10 spectators. The Mille Miglia was banned; but a modern version was revived in 1977.

If you love graceful bodywork and pedigree cars which are more than just a mode of transport, to witness the moment in the early morning when a priest in Brescia solemnly blesses each car with holy water, until the moment when the checkered flag crosses the finish line, this film is for you…

Selkirk is clearly obsessed with the beautiful lines and the intelligent design of the early high-performers. The viewer follows the procession, which lacks the drama of those races of 50 and more years ago, but is charged with nostalgia and is still a test of stamina. Bleary-eyed participants roll into Brescia after three gruelling days in cockpits that were not built for comfort.

“Mille Miglia – The Spirit of a Legend” is a production of Selkirk & Heimann Media GmbH.

Runtime: 92 min.
Release date: May 2007

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