The 24th annual California Mille starts April 28 for a four-day, thousand-mile classic car tour of scenic countryside and challenging back roads across the middle of California.
“It’s kind of a cross-section of California landscapes, really a mix of the Coast, the Sierra Nevadas, Napa Valley wine country, Sacramento river delta and Central Valley,” co-director David Swig said of the drive route. “So it will be quite a diversity of roads and landscapes. We change the routes every year to give people something fresh and new roads to drive on.”
For the second year, the California Mille is headed by David and Howard Swig, sons of the late Martin Swig, the irrepressible old-car enthusiast who founded the California version of Italy’s famed Mille Miglia road rally. Martin Swig died in July 2012. His sons vowed to keep the premium event going unchanged.
As ever, the grand sweep of 80 vintage sports, race and touring cars is the star attraction of the road rally. On Sunday, the day before the rally departs, the public is invited to enjoy a free show of the rally cars from noon to 6 p.m. in front of the Fairmount Hotel on San Francisco’s historic Nob Hill. More than 10,000 people are expected to see the rare field of entries.
“This year’s Mille may be the most signi?cant compendium of classic cars we’ve ever had,” David Swig said. “Along with some 13 Alfa Romeos, 11 Porsches, 6 Jaguars and half a dozen Ferraris – largely vintage ‘50s and ‘60s – we have a ’52 Tojeiro Roadster, a ’28 Bentley, ’57 Kurtis Kraft 500KK and a ’38 Lancia Aprilia.”
David Swig said that for his own rally car, he picked two distinctively different possibilities: a brawny all-American vintage race car or a nimble Italian sports coupe with unique California Mille history.
“I’m going to drive whatever car is ready to go, but at this point it looks like we’re going to drive a ’51 Chrysler Saratoga, which is a car similar to the car that John Fitch drove in the 1951 La Carrera Panamericana race,” he said. “It looks like the car that John Fitch drove. It has Halibrand magnesium wheels and a 331 Hemi, which is pumped up a little bit. All period stuff in the style that they would have run back in the early ’50s. Still drum brakes and all that.
“If that for whatever reason is not ready to go, I’m going to drive a car that my father drove on the first California Mille, which is a little Alfa Romeo Sprint Veloce. But I’m really hoping to take the Chrysler because we already have quite a few Alfas and Porsches and small sports cars. Sometimes it’s nice to take something that’s a bit out of the ordinary.”
David Swig, 29, and his brother Howard, 26, along with Dan Radowicz and Ron Wren, have taken on the task of keeping alive the spirit of the California Mille after the death of Martin Swig, who was well-known in classic car circles for his unflagging enthusiasm and gregarious demeanor.
“Basically, my brother and I grew up fully immersed in the car world from all different aspects,” David Swig said. “It was and continues to be a full-immersion experience. He certainly passed on his passion to me and Howard.”
Martin Swig started up the California Mille after taking part in 1982 in the Mille Miglia of Italy, a road-rally re-enactment of what was formerly a full-on thousand-mile road race, which was run 24 times from 1927 through 1958 under the same name (Mille Miglia is Italian for “thousand mile”). The 24th year of the California Mille is therefore considered a notable milestone.