On this day in history, 60 years ago to the day, the 24th, and what would prove to be the last, edition of the Mille Miglia took place. The course totalling 992.332 miles around Italy, or 1,597.004 km, was made up entirely of public roads, took place from the 11th – 12th  May 1957. The circular route, starting in Brescia, went south, down the east coast of Italy to Pescara, west across to Rome, and then north back up to the finish in Brescia via Siena, Florence and Parma.

The 1957 Mille Miglia was also the 3rd round of that year’s World Sportscar Championship season. Despite this, only Maserati and Ferrari entered works teams. Maserati fielded four cars in total, two 450S’s, powered by a 4.5 litre V8 engine, for Stirling and Jean Behra, a brand new 350S, powered by a 12 cylinder 3.5 litre engine, for Hans Hermann, and a six cylinder 300S for the Italian, Giorgio Scarlatti.

Ferrari entered four sports cars, driven by Piero Taruffi, Peter Collins, Wolfgang von Trips and Alfonso de Portago, the wealthy son of a Spanish potentate, who was a polo player as well as an Olympic bobsledder, the later navigated by his close friend, Englishman Edmund Nelson.  They also entered Olivier Gendebien, driving a 250 GT Long Wheel Base Berlinetta, race number #417, pictured below, in the Grand Touring over 2 litre class.  Britain was represented by a single semi-works #518 Jaguar D-Type, entered by the Scottish team Ecurie Ecosse, and driven by Ron Flockhart.

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As in previous years, entrants in the Mille Miglia were a racing against the clock as opposed to racing against each other.  Cars started at one minute intervals, with each cars number relating to their allocated start time.  For example, Stirling’s Maserati had the number #537, meaning that he and his navigator Denis Jenkinson, better known as ‘Jenks’, left Brescia at 5:37am. The first cars had started late in the evening on the previous day.  Some drivers opted to race with navigators, others, including a number of local Italian drivers who had knowledge of the route being used, felt confident enough that they could complete the Mille Miglia without one.

A total of 391 cars were entered for the event, across 25 classes, which were based on engine sizes, ranging from 750cc to over 2 litres, with classes for Grand Touring Cars, Touring Cars and Sport Cars. Of those entered, only 310 cars started the event.  The diversity of cars taking part in the 1957 Mille Miglia was huge, as were the abilities of their drivers. Stirling and Jenks, racing the #537 Maserati 450S in the Sports Cars over 2 litre class, would be competing against the likes of the #257 Citroën DS19, in the Touring Cars Special 2 litre class, driven and navigated by Frenchmen Claude Bourillot and Pierre About.

Stirling had been optimistic ahead of the race, in his own words, “the Maserati 450S was a stunningly quick car and I thought this time, there was a possibility of matching my 1955 winning performance”.  Certainly their early morning practice drives on the two days leading up to race day bore out his optimism.

On race morning, Stirling and Jenks were up at 4.30am to take their starting slot of 5.37am. Three and a half minutes later and some 12kms up the road, their Mille Miglia came to an abrupt end when their brake pedal snapped at speed.  There were some anxious moments while Stirling tried to slow down the car by going down through the gears, from 130mph. Happily they both escaped unharmed and trickled back to Brescia, much to their and mechanics disappointment. Maserati, even before the Mille Miglia had even started, had already lost Behra, who crashed out his 450S during a practice run.  As for Herrmann, he never made it as far as the first checkpoint at Ravenna, his #533 Maserati 350S retiring with a holed sump.

The race itself then suffered two tragedies.  On the road between Cerlongo and Guidizzolo, the front tyre of de Portago’s #531 Ferrari 335 Sport exploded.  He lost control of the car, hit a telephone pole and jumped over a ditch, hitting spectators in the process.  The Ferrari then bounced back into the road, hitting more spectators, as it slid across the road, and ended up, wheels down, in a ditch on the other side of the road. Besides de Portago, and his navigator Ed Nelson, ten spectators – among them five children – lost their lives.  A further 20 people were injured. Later in the race, Dutchman Joseph Göttgens crashed his #309 Triumph TR3 near Florence and would later succumb to his injuries in a Florence hospital.

The race was won by Ferrari driver, Piero Taruffi, in the #535 Ferrari 315 S, without the aid of a navigator.  He completed the 992 mile distance in 10 hours, 27 minutes and 47 seconds, at an average speed of 94.841 mph or 152.632 km/h.

When Taruffi arrived back in Brescia, he had more than a three minute lead over von Trips, driving the sister Ferrari 315 S. Gendebien came home in third place, winning his class, and completing a sorrowful top three clean sweep for Ferrari.  Scarlatti placed fourth for Maserati, followed 15 minutes later by the # 349 Porsche 550 RS, driven by Umberto Maglioli.  Flockhart’s D-Type failed to finish as a consequence of a loose fuel tank. However, Bourillot and About’s Citroën DS19 did finish and placed 98th, coming 2nd in their class, over four hours behind the winner.  Of the 310 cars that started, only 172 were classified as finishers in the 1957 Mille Miglia.

Three days after the race, the Italian government, in light of the tragic deaths the race had suffered, bought the Mille Miglia to an end and banned all motor racing on the public roads of Italy. Taruffi thus became the last winner of this famous event.

In 1977 the Mille Miglia was reborn as a regularity race for classic and vintage cars. As a fitting tribute to her father, Prisca Taruffi drove the 1957 Mille Miglia race winning Ferrari 315 S in the 2007 edition of the event.