This journey began on a beautiful Bay Area morning. We departed the historic Fairmont Hotel and passed Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill in San Francisco. Approximately 70 vintage sports cars, stretching from stop light to stop light, filled the street with glorious echoing sounds. It wasn’t long—and maybe not long enough with those sweet echoes—and we ripped across the Golden Gate Bridge. And at that moment I knew we were embarking on a special trip.
The 29th running of the California Mille Miglia, a thousand mile rally through northern California, once again has covered some of the best roads our country has to offer. Unlike the famous Italian Mille Miglia, the Cal Mille is not a race, but an opportunity for owners to drive at their own pace on a carefully preplanned route.
Our job? Wake up. Check the car. Have breakfast. Drive to lunch. Drive on to next destination. Have cocktails and dinner. Go to bed…, rinse and repeat for four days in a row.
Sounds like a good time, right? I think perhaps it’s what Martin Swig had in mind when he organized the first drive 29 years ago. His legacy lives on through the hard work and dedication of Esta, David, Howard, and the entire Cal Mille team. Naturally Martin intended the rally to celebrate the great cars, but more importantly this has become a gathering about being around old friends and making new ones. It’s providing a chance for owners to drive their cars in a wonderful safe environment. And again this year was an example of the cars bringing us together for a memorable journey.
Day 1 ended with a few reluctant miles on interstate 5 heading into Redding, not quite 220 miles as the crow flies. But the Mille had a better route and prior to the 5 we were just cruising through the plush rolling countryside of California’s vast Central Valley. Following a ’54 Alfa Romeo 1900SS Zagato Coupe around long sweeping curves…. Pushing the cars to the best of our abilities in tandem…. Enjoying every sound the Alfa offered as it accelerated through each curve and down each straight away….
We arrived at the hotel with ear-to-ear grins, we gave each other a fist bump, and we all thought “hell yeah!”
One of my most memorable drives of the Mille was our morning leaving Redding headed for Mt. Shasta. By most maps, it’s about 65 miles except you couldn’t help but notice damages left behind from the Carr Fire before it was contained late August of last year. Learning the wild fire covered two counties, consumed nearly 230,000 acres, destroyed more than 1,600 structures, and represented a loss of $1.65 Billion was humbling. Learning later that it started because a flat tire and wheel scraped on the asphalt and threw sparks was almost terrifying.
Californian on the trip told how “Neat it is to see the resilient buds and color coming back within the char along Highway 299.” From that sobering experience, it wasn’t long before we were on an epic climb into one of California’s most special natural areas. Speed was not a concern in the switchback curves as I drove, content to enjoy what Mother Nature had to offer throughout the Trinity Alps and defining landmark Mt. Shasta at 14,179 feet.
Back in Redding, ready to celebrate the long day, we gathered at the Turtle Bay Museum for cocktails and dinner. Within walking distance of our hotel, we found a great place to watch the sun set over the Sun Dial Bridge and share stories of the day. The consensus over lobster tails was that the drive to Mt. Shasta was one of the best drives any of us has ever been on.
Well over 300 miles from Redding to Healdsburg was our longest run. A quick lunch/pit stop at the Benbow Historic Inn at Garberville in the heart of Redwood Country was well timed, and then we enjoyed what seemed like a race down U.S. Highway 101 south into Healdsburg in Sonoma County’s wine country. I think most drivers were really ready to stretch the gears on an open road after a couple of days of driving (and perhaps sliding…but who’s telling) through the confines of the mountains and redwoods. This long but fun day culminated at Barndiva Restaurant in Healdsburg, a gentrified vibe and another neat place to congregate. This place specializes in what they call “modern country cuisine” and has a memorable motto: “Wherever you are, eat the view.” Not bad advice.
At this point we had driven more than 900 miles, so we all really appreciated the late start on our last day. Our last driver’s meeting held in the Healdsburg plaza with our cars parked around the square; it was a site to behold. Before our departure at 9:30 a few of us scrambled to purchase something at one of the local boutiques or return things we had bought the afternoon before. Needless to say, we had an easy driving day to the coast and back and no one was in a hurry. The day provided many opportunities for great ocean pictures before returning to the City for our final awards dinner and celebration.
Those of you who have spent time in northern California know how diverse the topography is through the state. In no particular order you’re in the valley and wine country, then through rolling hills, up into the mountains and down, through the huge redwood forests, and then a savoring panoramic view of the coast. The scenery and for the most part good driving roads, lend the entire region the necessary credentials as the perfect place to hold such a rally. Blessed with great weather, a killer route, and a great group of cars and drivers, I’d call the 29th California Mille Miglia a huge success. I’m sure Martin was smiling down on all participants and their cars.
To pull off a rally of this magnitude obviously requires a lot of planning and organization, I commend the Mille team for their efforts. Certainly it consumed months leading up to the event. Then executing it for 5 days, making sure everyone knew where to go, had a place to sleep, food to eat, roadside assistance (umm, err, I may have run out of gas? LOL), and really ensuring everyone had a good time. Their route book—one of the best I’ve seen—made our role as participants so easy. Congrats to the Mille team for making it all happen without hiccups.
Teaming up with Chopard as the chauffeur for the official timekeeper of the rally was an opportunity that really stoked us. Thank you also to Jean-Baptiste Maillard of Chopard and his team for putting up with my erroneous driving; they were all great sports and a fun group to share the adventure with.
As I was the lucky one chosen to drive the 1957 Speedster nicknamed “Blue Belle” that became known as the “Chopard Car,” I am grateful for and humbled by the experience. A huge thank you to the Ingram Collection for letting us sticker-up, prep
, and take the Speedster on such a journey. Me out there having all the fun! Knowing full well I am a small piece of Road Scholars and representing our team. I have a lot of gratitude for all that we do and everything that had to fall into place in order for me to complete such an epic journey. Blue Belle performed beautifully as expected; it’s a testament to our service department and their job well done.
We—the participants—cannot thank the Swig family enough for such a wonderful tradition. The California Mille Miglia is a journey you must experience for yourself.