The sun rises over the mighty Hajar mountains as beams shed light on the immaculately lined-up cars, where each one looks more precious than the next. All are ready for the second day at the 1000 Miglia Prologue Experience, UAE.
Classic car rallies aren’t new in the UAE. However, none have quite the pedigree of the 1000 Miglia. The original in Italy is simply known as ‘Corsa più bella del mondo’ or ‘The Most Beautiful Race in the World’.
The origins of the 1000 Miglia date back to the 1920s. The idea of creating a rally of their own came to three natives from Brescia, when their hometown was left out of the Italian Grand Prix. Rather than trying to imitate a conventional race, Franco Mazzotti, Aymo Maggi, and Renzo Castagneto came up with a road race concept and with the help of Giovanni Canestrini, all the pieces fell into place.
The inaugural edition took place in 1927 with 1000 miles covered, starting in Brescia, to Rome, and back again. The race continued annually until 1957 with a break in between due to WW2. After a further 20-year hiatus, it was revived in 1977 as a ‘Regularity Rally’ named “Mille Miglia Storica”. Today it is reserved to a limit of 450 teams and a proviso to enter states that only cars that existed and participated between 1927 and 1957 are permitted to take part.
Octanium Experiences has successfully created the UAE edition of the world-famous regularity race. Forty-three teams across five Emirates, and over 700 km through some of the most iconic routes. I was one of the lucky ones to experience the inaugural 1000 Miglia Prologue Experience, UAE.
It all started in Fujairah, with a wonderful dinner on the beach. For the participants, it was a well-deserved supper and the end of day one. For us, the few very fortunate journos, things were just getting started ahead of day two. At dinner, I roamed from table to table and mingled with some of the most influential classic car collectors in the world. Even had a chat with a motor racing legend, Jochen Mass. Later that evening I met the man I’d be co-piloting for, Martin Halder, who also happens to be the CEO of Octanium Experiences. Very enthusiastically he told me all about the 1967 Jaguar E-Type we’d be driving in.
This feat of engineering packs a naturally aspirated 4.2 liter inline 6-cylinder engine, and a 4-speed manual gearbox. The rear-wheel-drive car produces 261 bhp and 385.0 Nm of torque. Its top speed is an impressive 243 km/h. And guess what, the Jaguar E-Type was described as the most beautiful car ever made, by no other than Enzo Ferrari.
At the crack of dawn, the driveway of our hotel could be mistaken for an exclusive classic car show. Martin was intently checking the vitals of the E-Type while sipping his coffee. As were most of the other drivers. I took this as an opportunity to admire the competition. To name a few, 1969 Porsche 911E, 1968 Mercedes-Benz 280SL, 1954 Austin Healey, 1958 Corvette, 1968 Porsche 911 Targa, 1982 Porsche 911, and of course our 1957 Jaguar E-Type.
The list goes on and on with more Ferraris, Alfa Romeos, Rolls Royce, Bugatti, and more. Walking around, I got immersed in the spirit, and love of classic cars and felt part of this very exclusive club. The cars at the event are a mixture of private owners, and thanks largely to the Gargash family and Tomini Classics who’ve brought in multiple cars.
The Road Book
It’s not all fun and games when on the job as a motoring journalist, as you need to earn your keep. My job as the co-pilot for Martin meant I would need to master the Roadbook and instruct him on the route.
Being a regularity race, the co-pilot is crucial to the race, where he or she must present the driver with precise and timely information. The Roadbook gives details on everything from directions, and bumps, to time-sensitive cruising speeds. It’s prepared in the final format a mere 24 hours before the race to reflect absolute accuracy.
That morning Martin even played to my ego and said, ‘Alp, we say the brain sits on the right side of the car’. No pressure then. For full disclosure, I must have guided Martin in the wrong direction on four occasions. One of which was not my fault, the other three, I need to own up to.
There are some drivers that take the regularity race extremely seriously, and the sorts of mistakes I made would mean catastrophic results for them. Lucky Martin was from the school of thought that said ‘Let’s enjoy the drive and have some fun’. After all, it might look a little suspicious if the organizer ends up on the podium.
We set off on the wonderfully scenic route from Fujairah to Ras Al Khaimah, up the mighty Jebel Jais. Every so often, we pass by the race marshals to get the relevant stamps. The weather gave us the perfect opportunity to enjoy the cabriolet E-type and for me to find out more about Octanium Experiences.
Martin went on to tell me that the team at Octanium Experiences has set upon this venture to really build a base and give structure to classic car owners and enthusiasts in the region. The idea was conceived with the fact that we enjoy almost 8 months of perfect weather in the UAE. He says classic car owners want to come and take full advantage of the wonderful roads and the fantastic weather, however the ecosystem for classic cars is almost non-existent.
This is where Octanium Experiences comes in. They want to create a year around eco-system, for classic car owners and enthusiasts. Where members can enjoy the best mechanics, maintenance, and even storage facilities for their vehicles in a sort of posh car mall. They also have more race-related events in the pipeline, everything from hill climb to more traditional ones.
The checkered flag is only the beginning
As we approached the self-titled, most beautiful building in the world, the Museum of the Future, the cars line up for the winners’ parade. Driving through the arches with crowds cheering us on is a testament to the popularity of motorsport in the region.
Moving onto the trophy ceremony at the rooftop, first place goes to the team driving the 1969 Porsche 911E. Second place to the team riding a 1968 Mercedes-Benz 280SL, while the bronze medal was awarded to the 1968 Porsche 911 Targa team.
For the category of cars built from 1927 to 1957, it was the 1954 Austin Healey BN1 100/4 – an impressive win considering it was the oldest vehicle participating in the rally. Next up was the Contemporary Icons class. these are for post-1971 cars and the winner was the 1982 Porsche 911.
In the end, the shiny bonnets may have been swapped for dusty ones, but the smiles on each participant’s face prove the 1000 Miglia Prologue Experience, UAE is destined for greatness.