The Mille Miglia is perhaps the most significant classic-car rally in the world. The atmosphere is second to none, the four-day event is highly competitive and physically challenging, the exposure is memorable. But it takes more than driving and navigation skills and a fat wallet to participate. Most of the eligible cars (1927-1957 vintage) are extremely pricey, and newcomers to the qualification roulette need to field an exceptionally rare vehicle to entice the organizers, who are disposed toward Mille Miglia veterans and the repeat performers from the cash-rich motor industry. This year, 1355 candidates were vying for a place in the field of 375 entrants. The chosen will be charged a fee of [euro]7260 (about $9600), which includes a top-drawer lodging, wining, and dining package.
Too difficult, too elitist, too expensive? Here are three alternative European events that may be better suited to your budget, your driving ambitions, and your idea of a good time. To compete, all it takes is an eligible vehicle, a driver and a navigator, a driver's license, a sports license, a medical certificate, and a pair of mechanical stopwatches. The sports license can be obtained on location, and the medical can be issued by your doctor. At the 2011 Kitzbueheler Alpenrallye, the oldest car was a 1925 Rolls-Royce Phantom I and the youngest was a 1981 Ferrari 308GTS. Anything in between goes, from a low-mileage early Volkswagen Beetle to a $5 million Bugatti Type 57. The organizers of the Ennstal-Classic are a little more restrictive. They will consider cars "of historical significance and value...[not] built after the 31st December 1972. They should possess an official approval and homologation for road service. Cars have to apply to the period specification." The Gran Premio Nuvolari admits cars built between 1919 and 1969 that are accompanied by a FIVA passport, FIA Heritage papers, or a brand-register document, which is another way of saying that almost all old cars from that time period qualify, as long as they're in good shape and not totally mainstream. Since there are more applicants than available slots, an automotive rarity will always be given preference over a run-of-the-mill model.
Vintage rallies are as adrenaline-pumping and deadly serious as you want them to be. If penalty points don't hurt your self-confidence, it is perfectly fine to amble along in top gear, enjoy the beautiful landscape, and stop for coffee here or there. The key, however, is to not miss a checkpoint where the papers that qualify you to start the next stage get stamped. Those who are determined to take home a trophy or two should perfect the communication between driver and navigator so that the car's front wheels hit the photoelectric barrier or the touch-sensitive tube exactly at the designated time. Normally, all you need to know can be found in the route book, which often is as thick as a lexicon. On certain special stages, however, a bit of mental arithmetic is essential to calculate the time it takes to cover a given distance at a posted average speed. All the literature is bilingual, so there's no excuse for missing a turn, arriving too late at a checkpoint, or failing to maintain that average speed.
Kitzbueheler AlpenrallyeMay 30-June 2, 2012 | Kitzbuehel, Austria | www.alpenrallye.at
[euro]2330 per car/team (including lodging)
The Kitzbuehel event is perfect for beginners. This is a laid-back rally, an easy 500-kilometer (311-mile) drive spread out over three days that is more of an inspired sightseeing tour than a hard-core motorsports event. The two categories offered to all participants are Sport and Classic. Sport puts a GPS transponder into your car for random en-route checks; throws in a few fast sections and the odd extra loop; and mostly comprises powerful cars like Porsches, Ferraris, and Maseratis, which take off before the rest of the field. Classic is perfect for older and slower vehicles and for those who prefer a more leisurely pace. Both groups share largely the same route, but with more than 200 cars taking part in the event, a high start number invariably means a late lunch and an even later dinner. Having said that, there are so many sightseeing breaks and snack stops that going to bed with an empty stomach is not a major concern.
Theoretically, the Kitzbueheler Alpenrallye could travel through some of Austria's most beautiful Alpine regions. In reality, however, the route actually avoids some of the best bits. Since Kitzbuehel is a major tourist trap, traffic to and from the area varies from bad to worse, which makes channeling a convoy of old cars through notorious bottlenecks and along major transit links an often-arduous task. A three-day drive through Tyrol, Salzburg, and Styria would open up completely new opportunities, but since the participants come back to Kitzbuehel each night for dinner and lodging, they end up inching along the same perimeter roads over and over.
The Kitzbuehel rally tends to attract a large number of vintage Bentleys, Bugattis, Porsches, and Lamborghinis. With most participants originating from Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, there's a strong emphasis on European classics from the 1950s, '60s, and '70s. Because of VW's corporate involvement, you see some rare VWs in action, such as a Kamei-tuned Beetle, a Karmann-Ghia 1500 cabriolet, a twenty-three-window Microbus, a Karmann TC145, and an SP2 coupe and a Puma GTS, both of which were built in Brazil. Our number 144 is a tomato-red 1973 Audi 100 Coupe S entered by the factory for Georg Kacher and Thomas Frank. A front-wheel-drive four-banger may not be the stuff dreams are made of, but the big Audi proves so roomy, comfy, and easy to drive that I'm actually looking for one that is good enough to start a small car collection.