Great Cars, Great Scenery, Great Time

Picture this: some of the most gorgeous scenery in the world viewed from the driver's seat of one of the greatest cars the world has ever known. That will be the difficult assignment for approximately 125 automotive enthusiasts from around the world who will participate in the 2003 Chrysler California Mille, a North American version of the famed Italian Mille Miglia. The four-day, one thousand-mile tour, which takes place from April 27 through May 1, 2003, will weave a special route through historic far-northern California.

Created in 1991, the Chrysler California Mille is a sister event to the revived Mille Miglia, which is held each year in the spring. While the original Mille Miglia, which was contested each year from 1927 to 1957 with the exception of the war years, was a grueling long-distance race, the revived Mille Miglia and its American cousin are now touring events with an emphasis on racing pedigree and performance. In Italy, the route starts in Brescia, continues south through Rome and returns to Brescia. In California, the tour starts in San Francisco, continues through Mendocino and Redding before concluding in Sausalito. The route includes stops in a variety of small, time-capsule northern California towns including Willows, Ferndale, Hayfork, and Honeydew.

Among a host of historic competition cars, this year's tour will feature distinctive Chrysler models including the first Chrysler, a 1924 Chrysler Roadster, similar to the car that won the Mount Wilson (California) Hill Climb in 1924 and finished seventh at Le Mans in 1925. In addition, a 1931 Chrysler CD-8 Le Mans, Chrysler's first eight-cylinder car that ran at Le Mans and finished third at the 24 Hours of Spa, Belgium, in 1931 (behind a Mercedes-Benz SSK and an Alfa Romeo 8C 2300) will be on the tour. Finally, the program features a 1951 Chrysler Saratoga club coupe, the first Hemi powered V-8, which won the 1951 NASCAR race in Detroit and is similar to the car that John Fitch drove in the 1951 La Carrera Panamericana, the legendary Mexican endurance road race. In that race, another Chrysler Saratoga finished third, hot on the heels of the two winning Ferraris. The event will also feature a wide variety of non-Chrysler vintage autos including Mercedes-Benz, Alfa-Romeo, and Jaguar models.

The Chrysler California Mille begins Sunday, April 27 when the streets of Nob Hill in San Francisco become an outdoor auto show. More than 125 vehicles will be on display including about a dozen pre-1914 cars that will conduct an early morning Hill Climb up Nob Hill. To qualify for the Chrysler California Mille, participants must have a pre-1958 vehicle appropriate to the spirit of the Mille Miglia. The event attracts participants from throughout the world. Participants typically come from South America, Australia, Japan, and Europe. The entry fee is $4,200 for five days of mouth-watering food, fine wine, and elegant hotels, not to mention some of the best driving this side of Italy.

Driving Today contributor Tom Ripley is a longtime fan of the Mille Miglia after witnessing his first event during an extended stint in Italy in the mid-Fifties. He now writes about the auto world and the human condition from his home in Villeperce, France.