In 1950, Guido Scagliarini took his brand new Abarth 205A – the first built – to Brescia, Italy, starting line of the Mille Miglia. The 1,100cc Vignale coupe retired before reaching Rome. When the Abarth’s current owner, Mark Gessler, returned s/n 205101 to the Mille Miglia 59 years later, he got only as far as Florence before the Abarth broke down.
This year, the Hagerty Collector Car Insurance team of McKeel Hagerty and Angus Forsyth made it all the way from Brescia to Rome and back, and the Abarth reached the finish line for the first time in 61 years. Hagerty is the company’s CEO and Forsyth the International Managing Director.
Hagerty/Forsyth finished 234th of 376 cars, but it certainly felt like a victory. Dave George provided support for the Scuderia Sports team during May’s 1,000-mile classic car rally, and said it best: “Finishing the Mille Miglia is essentially winning.” In this case, that’s certainly true.
As the pair learned, the Michelotti-designed and Vignale-bodied Abarth had built-in handicaps when it came to driving all night in slow traffic, with several stops. “On the first night of the race, we got to within 30 kilometers of the last checkpoint when the car came to a grinding halt,” said Forsyth. “The battery charging system could not keep up with the headlights being on for such a long period, and since the car also had an electronic fuel pump, we were stranded.”
George and the Scuderia Sports team came up with a simple solution – they put in another battery. “All of the Mille Miglia cars have electrical issues unless the electrical charging system is upgraded,” said George.
And the more relaxed gentlemanly aspect of the modern event also contributes to the problem. “Part of the issue is that there is less high-speed running – which helps charge the batteries – than when the cars ran in period,” said George. “So in a group of cars, it’s best to run with parking lamps only and let the battery recharge. Generators from the pre- and post-war period aren’t up to modern loads. Everyone has trouble, the first night.”
“It was frustrating,” Forsyth said. “We missed the final check-in by two minutes. It was 3 a.m. and we had been driving for nearly eight hours.”
Forsyth said the Abarth struggled at low speeds on steep inclines. “At one point we stalled on a hill and I had to have McKeel behind the car to stop it from rolling back, while I did my best to get up the remainder of the slope. Once it was going I couldn’t stop and retrieve McKeel, so he had to run to the top of the hill. He was none too pleased.”
A 1933 Aston Martin Le Mans won the 2011 Mille Miglia, followed by a 1927 Bugatti Type 37. Scuderia Sports, which is an historic racing team established by Gessler in 2009, had three vehicles in the top 10. A 1933 Alfa Romeo 6C 1500GS Zagato placed third, a 1933 Aston Martin Le Mans was fourth and a 1951 Nash-Healey took seventh.
“My favorite part of the Mille Miglia is seeing all of the cars we’ve prepared for the event finish,” George said. Now he can add the Abarth to that list.
Forsyth and Hagerty were participating in their second Mille Miglia. For Forsyth, the best part of the event “is blasting through Rome at night. The streets are cleared of cars and pedestrians, and we have a police motorcycle escort tearing through the streets of Rome at high speed, passing all the historic sites, like St Peter’s. It’s an unforgettable experience.”
The next Mille Miglia is scheduled for May 11-20, 2012, which will be confirmed in September. For more information, visit www.1000miglia.eu.