For those who have not heard, although we believe that there are very few of them, The Mille Miglia is one of the most famous open-road car races, motorsport endurance race established in 1927 by the young Counts Francesco Mazzotti and Aymo Maggi, which took place in Italy twenty-four times from 1927 to 1957 (thirteen before the war, eleven from 1947).
Saab crews often took part in this race, as was the case in the last race held from October 22 to 25, 2020. The last race “Mille Miglia” was attended by the Saab team, driver STEFFEN WIRTH from Germany with co-driver (his daughter) LUKA MICHELLE WIRTH from the USA, in a 1957 SAAB 93A vehicle.
It was the team leader Steffen who sent us a detailed report from this rally, so we have the opportunity to share with you this great driving experience, which may be an inspiration for someone to participate in one of the next races.
1000 Miglia 2020
22. – 25. October 2020
by STEFFEN WIRTH
Rome, 7:30 in the morning, it’s raining cats and dogs. We’re about to set off in the direction of Parma. A Porsche 356 driver in front of us has starting problems. His team is immediately on hand to help. The driver asks through the open side window of my Saab where our support car is. My daughter and I laugh and answer almost simultaneously, “Which support car?”
750 cc, three gears, 820 kilograms unladen weight, the Saab 93A is one of two 2-stroke cars taking part in the Mille Miglia this year. And the Italians love the unmistakable sound of the Swede. “bella macchina” is what the spectators keep calling out to us from the roadside throughout the route, waving enthusiastically.
This recognition feels incredibly good. The days and weeks before the start was marked by unexpected obstacles. The engine is installed and removed three times because various spare parts such as the pressure plate and clutch disks do not fit together and make some noises, a newly installed capacitor in the ignition distributor is defective, and just a few days before departure for Italy we notice a defective track joint during the last check.
But we are on time at the start and at this point we don’t suspect that we won’t have to take a single look under the hood during the entire Mille Miglia!
Finally, it’s here, the day when it starts. Start number 406, our start time is 4:17 pm. Thirty seconds to go, it’s almost time. “Dad, pull up your mask,” says my daughter Luka. We drive onto the ramp and pick up the cards to stamp the partial passages and off we go. My heart is pounding – the time has finally come!
I am thrilled with the ease with which my daughter reads the roadbook and finds all the turnoffs, we will only get lost once on the whole route – compliments to my daughter as a navigator.
It gets dark early on this afternoon in October and I am glad that the Saab 93 from 1957 already has a 12-volt system, so that the headlights give us enough light away from the towns. Shortly after 9 p.m. we head for the dinner stop – not knowing yet that dinner is waiting for us in a spectacular location. At the Ferrara Opera House, we sit in the stalls directly in front of the orchestra pit and eat dinner, our eyes wandering over the balconies of the boxes and the gold-decorated walls – what an incredible experience to sit here!
Immediately after that we continue, because we reach the stage destination of the first day only shortly after midnight. Off to the hotel, still a short preparation and review of the documents for tomorrow, because the alarm clock rings at 7 o’clock. Fortunately, we have a late start time with our start number 406.
Today we go to Rome, ahead of us are about 15 hours of driving with breaks. Passing beautiful towns like San Marino, Pergola, we arrive without delay at the lunch stop and make our way to Rome strengthened. There are still 373 kilometers to go, it is already getting dark again and we are on the road for what feels like countless kilometers through a valley whose curves want to take no end. Shortly before entering the mountains, we refuel for safety’s sake – a good decision, because as it turns out, this will be the last gas station for many kilometers.
The route drags on, finally the first lights of Rome can be seen. On the outskirts of the city, a police escort welcomes us and leads us across the city to the hotel with blue lights and sirens. An impressive day lies behind us, incredible and beautiful, despite all the effort for man and machine. Before falling asleep, I think of Sterling Moss, who in 1955 drove the entire distance in no less than 10 hours, 7 minutes and 48 seconds – with an average speed of 157.65 km/h!
The third day begins with rain and thunderstorms that accompany us until we reach our destination, Parma. Because of the low temperatures, I pull the small blind on the radiator up a bit so that the engine stays at temperature and there is no possible carburetor icing.
Again, a good 15 hours’ drive are on the program. The first stretch takes us along a highway and very well-maintained country roads to get some mileage in. I’m really looking forward to the Tuscan towns of Siena and Luca, which are of picturesque beauty and which my daughter will experience for the first time. Arriving in Siena, impressive moments await us despite the light rain: The lined-up vehicles of the participants in front of medieval scenery look simply fantastic.
We continue towards Lucca, unfortunately there is no passage through the beautiful old town due to the current Corona situation. We circumnavigate the city once to then drive around the city a second time on the historic city wall. And during the ride with a fantastic view of the city, there are also a few scoring tests for us.
We continue in the direction of Viareggio, which is located directly on the sea and make a small stop there for about 20 minutes, because we arrived a little too early at the time control. From there we start the approach to the Passo della Cisa, which is 1041 meters above sea level. At first, this doesn’t sound like a long climb and many meters of altitude, but that’s deceiving. The SS 62 winds its way up the first kilometers after the village of Santo Stefano di Magra through seemingly endless curves and switchbacks, the last section is driven mainly in second gear, the small engine develops enough torque to cope. It’s dark and foggy again for a long time, in some places the visibility is less than 25 meters. This pass is a real challenge and it just doesn’t seem to want to end.
When we finally reach the top of the pass, two special stages await us. One with several time loops and a through-speed test that starts uphill and then goes downhill – in darkness and fog. In my mind, I’m already tipping my hat to the winning team of this year’s Mille Miglia, because this stage alone is insane.
We are one of the last teams to arrive at our hotel in Parma and are happy to find a space for the Saab in the long-filled parking lot. We are incredibly tired, but I’m also already kind of sad that tomorrow everything will already be over again.
Day 4, the last 293 kilometers begin. We start in position 187, after the change of the clocks to wintertime gave us an extra hour of sleep that night. The weather is much better, there is even some sunshine, which makes the ride to Brescia a wonderful experience. On the roadside, in the cafes, from everywhere people wave to us and we enjoy these hours very much. A last lunch in a small hall with excellent food. Compliments to the entire organization for the excellent preparation and execution of such an event at such a difficult time.
The last 92 kilometers to the finish are coming up. Everything goes according to plan until the point where we get lost for the first time! My co-driver is missing some additional information that I received on the first day and had not passed on to her. After some confusion and a small loop, we are lucky enough to be able to get behind an Italian team in an Austin Healey 100/6, which we continue to follow all the way to Brescia. Together we cross the finish line at 17:32.
With all the joy of being at the finish line, I think of Hubert Hanser, Bengt-Erik Ström and the many other people who helped to make this dream come true, some of them with tireless efforts.
The Saab, my daughter and I reached our destination and crossed the finish line in position 152. A very proud result for a father-daughter team that had the pleasure of taking part in this wonderful rally for the first time and experiencing a real adventure. The car mastered the distance of 1,000 miles without the slightest problem. What did Hubert say to me just before the start? “I have brought every Saab through the finish line yet”. He was right.