Alfa Romeo 1936 Mille Miglia poster

After a year of sabre rattling between Italy and Ethiopia, Mussolini’s army invaded Ethiopia in October 1934, prompting the League of Nations to impose sanctions against Italy. As a consequence, the country found itself suffering severe shortages in many areas, including fuel.

But the Italian motor racing authorities were determined not to let a small matter like international condemnation and lack of fuel stand in the way of running an important event like the Mille Miglia. To calm any public opposition, they devised special categories for cars running on wood, charcoal and a mixture of coal and petrol, called ‘carbonella’. Only one of these cars, a Fiat 508 Balilla Gas, would complete the race, and that crossed the finishing line eighteen hours after the race winner, being obliged to weave through regular traffic by that time. As a result of a great deal of nationalist fervour and International boycott, only one non-Italian car, an Aston Martin, entered the race. This plucky Brit lined up against twenty-three Alfa Romeos, twenty-five Fiats, four Maseratis and a Lancia.

The three works cars entered by Scuderia Ferrari comprised of the new 8C 2900A Roadsters, which were purpose built by Alfa Romeo to race and win at Mille Miglia, and were driven by Count Antonio Brivio with mechanic Carlo Ongaro in car number 75, Carlo Maria Pintacuda with Stefani in 79, and Giuseppe Farina with Meazza in 82.

These three cars battled for supremacy throughout the thousand-mile route, with the lead changing hands frequently, although Pintacuda was later slowed by a malfunctioning carburettor and subsequently delayed by thirty minutes for repairs. Farina now took the lead with only seventy seconds separating these three magnificent cars after six hundred gruelling miles.

Brivio finally caught and overtook Farina just outside of Perugia, and clung onto the lead for the remaining four hundred miles to narrowly win by just thirty seconds. Pintacuda managed to recover, despite his delay, to finish in third position, just thirty minutes behind Farina.

The following year Alfa repeated their success in taking the first three places at Mille Miglia, an achievement that prompted the company to produce a road-going version, the 8C 2900B. This new model made the claim of being the fastest production vehicle in the world with a top speed of 110 mph and many of them were raced.

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