Mille Miglia, the very words roll off the tongue and bring visions of sleek sports cars driven at fantastic speeds through small villages and along country roads, forcing their way past swarms of wasps, the countless Fiats that left the starting ramp hours before. Crowds seemingly oblivious of any danger watching the true heirs of the great city-to-city races that were run at the beginning of the 20th century.

When I talk about the Mille Miglia, I feel quite moved, for it played such a big part in my life. I knew it as a driver, a team director and a constructor ... and was always an admirer of its champions. In fact, the Mille Miglia not only provided enormous technical advances during its three decades, it really did breed champions.

Enzo Ferrari

It started out as a uniquely Italian affair, the idea originally of one man, the Conte Aymo Maggi who along with his friends, Giovanni Canestrini, Count Franco Mazzotti and Renzo Castagneto met to discuss their response to the Milanese “theft” of the Italian Grand Prix. The people of Brescia considered their town and surrounding area as the birthplace of Italian motorsport and were shocked when the 1922 Italian Grand Prix was moved to the new Autodromo Nazionale Monza and held under the auspicious of the Automobile Club of Milan.

The Italians have had a long love affair with motorsports yet at the turn of the century, Italy was still primarily an agrarian society. In 1926 there were only 170,000 automobiles in the entire country, a figure exceeded by Britain’s annual production. Their drivers were still driving on the left side of the road while in town and on the right side while in the country, a fact that might not surprise a tourist who has driven in Italy lately, still it must have caused some interesting moments at the city limits.

The Fascist government of Benito Mussolini was in power and dreams of creating a new Roman Empire were about. Races in the air, on land and in the water made the front pages of leading newspapers. Races were driven by the 23-year-old Aymo Maggi, scion of Brescia nobility and his equally well-endowed friend Franco Mazzotti. Together they would travel to Milan and hobnob with other young men in a hurry, the likes of Nuvolari, Borzacchini, Brilli Peri, Varzi, Danese and others.

On the evening of 2 December 1926 returning from a local hill climb event Aymo Maggi was determined more than ever to return the glory that had been lost to their larger neighbor. Over dinner at the famous Vecchio Café in Milan with his friends Franco Mazzotti and Flaminio Monti and Renzo Castagneto he laid out his plans. After dinner they met up with Giovanni Canestrini the famous motoring correspondent for Gazzetta dello Sport. Maggi, Mazzotti, Castegneto and Canestrini, the future four Musketeers of the Mille Miglia argued into the night over the lack of sporting Italian automobiles and what could be done about it. Believing strongly in the edict that racing improves the breed they focused on conducting a race. But not just any race, it had to be one that captured the imagination of the Italian people. Building a new circuit would appear to follow in the footsteps of their Milanese rivals. Instead, a road race was suggested, one that would start in Brescia and finish in Rome.

This was quickly shouted down for a race of this type would require Brescia to share the glory with Rome. It must be remembered that Italy only became a unified country in 1861. A Roman to the sons of Brescia was only slightly less “foreign” than an American in Paris. A return trip back to Brescia solved this problem. The race would be Brescia-Rome-Brescia or approximately 1600 kilometers, to this Mazzotti is said to have exclaimed, "That's a thousand miles" and the Mille Miglia was born. The friends also decided that a new automobile club based in Brescia should be the sponsor with Castagneto responsible for overall planning and administration of the event, a position he would hold for every one of the twenty-four Mille Miglias.