Two idiots is a recounting of my experiences following the 2017 Mille Miglia in a rented BMW M4. I decided to revisit the experience while preparing to go back in 2019.
Driving in a foreign country can be pretty stressful, particularly if you have limited experience. Every country has it’s own rules of the road, traffic signs to interpret, aggressive local drivers and varying levels of traffic police engagement regarding moving violations.
In 2017 these stresses were compounded by the knowledge that I’d be driving for a thousand miles while surrounded by some of the most beautiful (and expensive) cars in the world, under the eye of most of Italy’s police force, and with a good percentage of the population lining the roadside watching me. What could go wrong? I gave my brother and I 50/50 odds of having an incredible experience or arrested after driving into a ditch within a few miles outside of Brescia.
To take the edge off I decided to start the trip in Florence. I’d spent a few days in the city in 2014 and with limited experience traveling abroad it felt like a comfortable environment to shake off the jet lag and get acclimated once again to the Italian experience.
Since my brother wasn’t arriving until the next day I headed out into the city right after check-in. Florence is packed with important culture, amazing architecture, incredible food and some of the best wine on the planet. It is a place where you can plan every moment or just wander without a plan and find hundreds of things worth seeing, tasting or drinking. Like many of the ancient cities in Italy the city center is off limits to automotive traffic while being overrun by flocks of scooters.
A few hours shaking off the jet lag and passing one wine shot after another I pulled up a stool at Le Volpi e l’Uva, just off the famous Ponte Vecchio. Over the course of a few bottles of wine for the night and started planning out my next few days of free activities.
First up would be a Fiat 500 self-drive tour through the hills above the city. My brother wouldn’t be landing until the afternoon and this would keep me out of the wine bars until he was in town. It also felt like a good appetizer to the main course as the M4 wouldn’t be delivered for a few more days. I also mapped out a stop by the Strada della Fore on the way to Brescia, which will be featured in an upcoming article.
When booking the Fiat tour they provide pictures of their fleet. When perusing the offerings I immediately jumped on the one with the fat tires, sport rims and Arbath badging. A quick request in my reservation for this car and another bottle of wine and it was off to bed until the next morning.
The next morning my taxi dropped me off a few km outside of the city at an estate where a pastel collection of Fiats were tastefully arranged in a field. Greeting the other tour members we chatted for a bit and got a rundown on the cars. The only other solo rider hinted at the possibility of being my passenger but thankfully the guide saved me and offered to let him ride in the lead car. I remembered to tip him a little extra at the end for helping preserve the peace of this experience for me.
My little blue Fiat was charming as hell.
After a quick drive around the estate to get used to the cars we set out into the countryside in a convoy and I was lucky enough to bring up the rear. The guide uses hand signals, passed car to car in the caravan through the open roofs, to indicate what gear you should be in on the different inclines. Anyone with a mild familiarity with a manual can safely ignore this guidance. Luckily I was bringing up the rear and had no hapless drivers struggling with a stick shift behind me that I had to babysit so I could mostly ignore that task and focus on the car.
I’m of average height, and I had the car to myself, so I was comfortably snug and had enough headroom... though my moderately sized backpack took up the entire passenger seating area. My C63 at home has flappy paddles that I’ve used on maybe two occasions and it’d been years since I drove a proper manual. No need for concern though as the old Fiat was a peppy and responsive even if the engine output was equivalent to a riding mower. Gear changes were simple, if not technically smooth, and I got a feel for the looseness of the stick.
Driving an old Fiat in Italy felt like a hokey thing to do, and it was, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a near perfect driving experience. With incredible weather, the faint smell of petrol in car and the low powered vibrations of the engine gamely pushing me up hills the 3 hour tour was blissfully relaxing.
Stopping off for coffee in Impruneta, the Fiat’s arrayed in a colorful line, I discussed the pros and cons of each car with our chain-smoking guide. How the green paint on “Olivia” was impossible to maintain or how the white “Topsy” was usually reserved for weddings.
After the short break we headed back towards the estate where a sweet spread of meat and cheese awaited us alongside some local wine bottles. Unfortunately I’d have to skip most of that as I realized I had missed multiple phone calls during the past few hours. It turned out the M4 was delivered a day early and the driver was waiting for me to pick it up at the hotel.
After downing two glasses of fantastic red that the guide insisted I try (he didn’t have to twist my arm too hard) I hopped in a cab and headed back to Florence and my ride for the Mille Miglia.
Any nerves I had about what we were getting ourselves into over the next week had faded away behind the wheel of that little blue Fiat. After taking delivery of my new ride I settled in for a drink and waited for my brother to land so we could test it out. After all, I knew a few roads above the city that would be perfect for relaxing drive.
Check out @runtheredarrow for more pictures from the 2017 Mille Miglia.