The idea of driving the Lotus 340r to Brescia in Northern Italy in May 2010 to see the famous Mille Miglia road race grew from a vague aspiration into a personal challenge around Christmas 2009.
This was combined with a plan to remove the bodyshell for repainting and therefore taking advantage of the improved access to replace various components including the radiator, clutch, battery, water pump, changing all hoses and completing a cambelt service. The mechanical work was entrusted to Lotus specialists Maidstone Sports Cars, with Haynes of Maidstone handling the colour change. The finished car was ready just in time for a 400-mile shakedown trip to the Club Lotus Fair at Great Malvern where we were able to meet up with some other 340r’s for a rare get together. Nothing fell off or boiled over, so off to Italy we set for 17 uninterrupted days in the fabulous but somewhat impractical stripped out Lotus, armed with mountaineering clothes and lightweight waterproof camping bags for luggage. And a large Lotus umbrella.
We travelled with Brian Thorley’s Classic Car Tours International trip, which meant keeping to interesting local roads and frequent diversions to visit some great car-related locations. These included the Schlumpf Museum and those of Ferrari and Lamborghini, as well as a number of alpine passes. Sadly, the weather was poor for a number of days as we negotiated Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, France and Switzerland, and I was grateful to be on Advan Neovas, which provided a lot more grip in wet conditions than the standard fit but track-biased Yokohama AO38’s previously fitted. Being unable to comply with the instruction to fit our roof to utilise the Kandersteg to Goppenstein motor rail link, we were amused to be advised that the 340r ‘was a motorcycle’ and were directed straight to the front of the queue of waiting cars…
The Simplon Pass provided a driving highlight, where we used the old road for as much of the climb as possible, and were rewarded with finding the Swiss army on manoeuvres at the summit. Our, by now travel stained, little car somewhat announced arrival at the very smart Hotel San Rocco by Lake Orta with an unhealthy scrape down most of the extremely steep driveway. But they were kind enough to find some undercover parking – an important consideration when thunderstorms are forecast overnight. A couple of days of visiting all the Italian Lakes introduced us to the sport of tailgating, much practised and quickly accepted as normal on the Autostrada, even in heavy rain. Finally, after an exciting but complex afternoon chasing a 5.5 litre AMG Mercedes SL for 120 rain-drenched miles, up and down the 1883 metre Tonale Pass and the 1692 metre Passo Campo, we arrived in Desenzano on Lake Garda which was to be our base for the Mille Miglia. A short train journey took us to Brescia, where the preparations for the MM were underway. Access to the cars was surprisingly easy, given the stratospheric values some of the more exotic ones command. Even the well-known drivers seemed relaxed and happy to talk, with David Coulthard, Mika Hakkinen, Jackie and Paul Stewart, Jamiroquai’s Jay Kay and others seen wandering around the scrutineering area.
Led by 130 Ferraris of all ages, the Mille Miglia cars set off from Brescia in the evening interspersed with a host of ‘hangers-on’ – some spectacular (Mercedes SLR McLaren press cars), others less so (local Fiat 500’s and pick-ups). A striking feature of the event was the wide range of people of all ages enthusiastically cheering and flag-waving as the cars travelled through small towns. Whole families appeared to have been waiting for hours to ensure a good vantage point, and the atmosphere was excitable but very friendly. A highlight for many was the sight of a ‘bike cop standing to attention and saluting as he roared past sounding his klaxon. Only in Italy!
48 hours later, having covered the classic distance to Rome and back, the Mille Miglia cars returned to northern Italy where we attended the final checkpoint at Manerbio. The sight of seven Mercedes 300SL ‘Gullwings’ jostling for position in the gothic square, whilst the officials directed various lesser cars into more favourable positions was priceless. Over 370 eligible cars from 1930’s Bugatti Type 35s and others to an impressive 1950’s Maserati 250SWB took part in the Mille Miglia, though no Lotus XI entries this year. The honours went to a BMW 328 Mille Miglia Coupe, followed by a faithful 1933 Alfa Romeo 6C 1500 Gran Sport, both of which had competed in the event in period.
Upon leaving Desenzano, we piloted the 340r southwards, via Germany and the Austrian Tyrol to stop over for a few days in Breda, The Netherlands, before finally returning home to Kent. The mileage covered in 17 days reached 2480, adding more than 10% to the car’s total since build, 10 years ago! The reliability of the Lotus reflects well on the integrity of the original design and build standards and our respect for it’s abilities in all types of road conditions has grown still further. 340r as pan-European touring car – of course!
With thanks to Peter Wright for sharing his epic adventure with us.