By Adil Jal Darukhanawala
Photos by S.R.L, Riad Arianne, and Adil Jal Darukhanawala
There is a certain newness to doing things these days, in spaces where much of what had transpired elsewhere gets transplanted and many a time in the positive manner. Recently we had the Geneva Motor Show turn up in Doha Qatar and that took some getting attuned to but there wasn’t an iota of doubt in my mind when it came to the 1000 Miglia Xperience UAE which got a resounding thumbs up from not just yours truly but also very many other enthusiasts who came down to the UAE for the second running of this Italian-inspired one thousand miles drive around the seven Emirates that make up the UAE.
Last year we had the first of this franchised event take place in the UAE and it garnered quite a superb entry list from all over the world including a sizeable contingent from the Indian classic car fraternity. In fact, one Indian team also went on to score class honours then and I did think that using this successful sortie we would have had as many if not more Indian cars and crews making the short sea hop from Mumbai to Dubai. As things however materialized we had two entries by Indian teams, both from the well-heeled upper crust types! The first purveyor of this craft came in the form of Yohan Poonawalla with his exquisitely restored 1962 Rolls-Royce Phantom V formerly owned by the Emir of Qatar; a royal barge more suited to stately drives than the pedal-to-the-metal treatment which is often the purview of such classic events. And this big black stately limousine purred away in elegant manner across the route and into the Musandam sector in neighbouring Oman belying its heft and height!
At the other end of the Indian entrant spectrum was industrialist and pedal-to-the-metal specialist Gautam Singhania who came armed with a McLaren 720S no less and found it too slow and unresponsive on the opening day and immediately asked for another McLaren from his UAE fleet, a 540C which he drove for the next two days in the event before jetting back to base. If this sounds rather strange and convoluted for a classic car event, then yes you are right but only because the UAE edition of the Mille Miglia was conceptualised to embrace not just the cars from the original Mille Miglia’s period of existence — 1927 to 1957 but also to adopt modern classics and thoroughbreds so as to have a wide swathe of motoring enthusiasts to take part in the event. Further, as you can already make out given the choice of tackle used by Poonawalla and Singhania, anything went if it was perfectly turned out and could deliver a modicum of performance in the spirit of the great eponymous Italian road race.
Thankfully, modern classics made up only about a third of the 105 teams entered and what was truly amazing was the wide spread of cars which one had only seen in magazines and at concours d’elegance events being driven with a verve and intensity which to most Indian minds would be anathema to comprehend! The event in the UAE mirrored the same format as the retrospective run by the Mille Miglia organisation in the Italy since 1977 as a regularity rally with runs on open public roads using roadbooks to navigate to passage controls which needed to be adhered to with tricky time trials every day, timed to the second to determine the winner. The concept might have been the same but unlike the flat out harum-scarum in Italy where once the cars move off the ramp in Brescia and dash to Rome before turning around and making it back up north in a mad frenzy, the 1000 Miglia Xperience UAE was a genteel run with impeccable roads, great competition in the time trial sections and unparalleled hospitality over the course of the 5-day event.
Blessed with great weather, the run from the start at the Meydan Racecourse in Dubai to Ras Al Khaimah via a foray into the Musandam mountain region of Oman. The run was magnificent to behold as the old pre-1939 cars were a sight to behold and just went gung-ho, a feat that they exhibited in gusto on the other days as well. If that wasn’t all, this year for the first time in a Mille Miglia event in the Middle East, the organisers tried to highlight the sustainability aspect of vintage and classic cars by getting three cars in as many classes to run solely on synthetic fuels with net to no changes on their carburation or induction systems! As such I always say that the internal combustion engine isn’t dead nor is petrol or diesel as a propellant on its last legs because the P1 fuel not only was environmentally clean, but it worked superbly on the 1939 Bugatti Type 57 Stelvio of Michel Perridon and Benjamin Cuyt, the 1970 Mercedes-Benz 600 Pullman of Gargash and Al Matrooshi plus the fabulous flat-12 boxer engined 1991 Ferrari Testarossa of Gaurav Dhar and Nathalie Spree.
The second day of the event was by far one of the most memorable with a stunning run into the mountains in the Jebel Jais region. Not just the stunning vistas were mesmerizing, but the roads were mighty involving, and it was a sight to behold as cars nearly a century old were making banzai ascents to the top of the highest mountains in the UAE and looking none the worse for the effort! The Alfa Romeos and Bugattis took delight in making us aware of motoring at breakneck speeds in their prime in the 1930s where no quarter was asked nor given and the same held true for the post war sports cars as well.
The phalanx of Porsches — 356 Speedsters and Carreras and 911s of various hues and capacities rubbed shoulders with many examples of the Prancing Horse (a quintet of 246 GTS Dinos, a sublime 330GTC, a fine 275 GTB4 no less and a brace of Testarossas plus a handful of modern-day Ferraris). There were a couple of fine BMWs, a 328 from BMW Classic and a stunningly turned out and highly original 507 and they were up against no less than seven 300SL Gullwings and a solitary 300SL roadster plus a handful of 190SLs plus many other examples of the three-pointed star.
Among the Mercedes-Benz cars which struck a chord with me, apart from the above mentioned Gullwings of course, were two other cars. The first of these was the 1971 Mercedes-Benz 280S of Robert Kostic and Amro Al-Hak Ibrahim who had made this as a fun project mimicking the AMG 4.5-litre SEL ‘Red Pig’. Of course, they had christened it the Silver Sou but while speaking to Robert I came to know that he had acquired the same engine of the Red Pig as it had raced at Spa, and he was rebuilding it for possible transplant into this 280S! Wow! And the second car to impress me, purely for altruistic reasons was the 1985 450 SE which was given to me to drive and cover the event! Freshly restored for the Gargash Group, this was the most comfortable car in the event dare I say it, to drive in sheer splendor, with power steering, automatic transmission, air conditioning, impeccable manner and the comfiest seats in the house, the 450 SE blew me away! If that wasn’t all, I had as my co-driver cum navigator (we swapped roles during each of the days) the very talented Samy Tabei, a well-known commentator cum automotive enthusiast in the UAE and this panned out perfectly well to enjoy our time together sampling delights the UAE has to offer of a motoring kind. Only on the last day did we get transferred from the 450 SE to a 450 SLC and while this was the holy grail of Mercedes coupes of the time, the imprint on the mind by the 450 SE was way stronger and impactful than the SLC could ever match, at least on this event.
The third day of driving saw a run into another section of the roads in the Hajjar mountains, very twisty and tighter than what we experienced a day before. From there we ran back to Dubai, posing for a photo op at the city’s iconic Gate Building and fab reception at the Flat 12 Café thronging with passionate hordes trying to get a glimpse of not just the cars but of the many personalities handling them over the course of the event. We had F1 drivers like Jochen Mass (also a Le Mans winner), Thierry Boustsen (three wins for Williams-Renault) and Stefan Johansson, saloon car and Le Mans ace Dieter Questor, the great Lamborghini test driver Valentino Balboni who had so many stories to tell (surprisingly driving a 1991 Ferrari Testarossa on this event), supermodel Jodie Kidd who drove the event solo at the wheel of a 1968 Mercedes-Benz 280 Pagoda, classic car specialist Simon Kidston and the irrepressible Corrado Lopresto at the wheel of his fabulous Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 GS Aprile. The halt that night was at the iconic Queen Elizabeth II floating hotel on the Dubai waterfront making the dinner there memorable.
The final day saw the cars take the start from the QEII and we headed into the desert for a lunch halt amidst the dunes and a Land Rover safari thrown in. From here it was on to the Yas Marina race circuit for a lap which many thought would be just the right way to finish on a flat-out note. However, there was the proverbial sting in the tail with a time trial right on the short straight after the pits exit. And it is here that the serious competitors for the regularity section were in their element. Yes, not only were the cars driven hard and fast with the fabled UAE police in full attendance with a Dodge Charger and an AMG GLS shepherding us on all days, but the event was also run in the right spirit and that was the true measure of enjoyment.
For the record, the event was won, for the second year in a row, by the pairing of Italians Salim Al Rifa and Giordano Mozzi in their 1955 Porsche 356 Speedster who also won the Classic Icons class. In second spot overall came the fabulously well driven and superbly turned out 1930 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Gran Turismo of Umberto and Alice Galloni who also bagged top honours in the 1000 Miglia Class while third overall was the pretty little 1957 Lancia Aurelia B20 GT of Albert Wetz and Francois Drazdik. Rene Mathies won the Contemporary Icons class in his 1998 Porsche 993 Targa RS while Corrado Lopresto was deservingly awarded the Hero of the Rally award.
It was an event where so many distinctly different emotions emerged in rapid succession, sometimes making it an overkill to absorbing many of the fine moments only to be confronted with newer and even more diverse spells of enjoyment and therein lay the simple appeal of this event: enjoyment of cars as intended in the sublimely supreme manner. Now that should take some beating, I say! Can’t wait to be back for 2024, armed with many other Indian enthusiasts driving their prized steeds and giving it the pedal-to-the-metal treatment they deserve, to stay alive and relevant!