It is April 29, 1956 when Eugenio Castellotti brings his Ferrari 290MM in to have his route card stamped at Ravenna along the Adriatic coast during the Mille Miglia, the 1000 mile open road race which went from Brescia in the North down the Adriatic coast before turning inland to Rome and then heading northward again via Siena, Florence, Bologna, Modena, Piacenza, Cremona and Montova, before returning to Brescia and the finish. The 1956 Mille Miglia was a terrible race with heavy rain throughout Italy which led to many crashes and a number of fatalities.
Castellotti’s car number, 548, signified his starting time that morning from Brescia. This was perhaps his most famous race which he won at a stunning average speed of 137.4 kph (85.9 mph). Castellotti finished over 12 minutes ahead of his second-place teammate Peter Collins (who had Louis Klemantaski as his navigator) in a Ferrari 860 Monza. The race was a total Ferrari walkover with cars from the Scuderia taking the first four places with the private Ferrari 250GT of Olivier Gendebien and his cousin Jacques Washer finishing fifth.
After Alberto Ascari, Eugenio Castellotti was perhaps the most talented of the postwar generation of Italian drivers. Castellotti also became the symbol of a handsome and dashing Italian. After Ascari’s death, he carried the country’s love of motor racing on his shoulders and was destined to lead the Ferrari team in 1957. In mid-March that year Enzo Ferrari demanded his presence at the Modena Aerautodromo because, it is said, Jean Behra had recently broken the lap record in testing with a Maserati 250F and Ferrari wanted that honor returned to the cars from Maranello, and by his Italian team leader. Castellotti went out in the latest Ferrari F1 car, but made a small error and struck a curbing which launched his car into a series of violent rollovers, throwing the driver out and ending up in a small grandstand, which was fortunately unoccupied. The young driver was killed instantly, which was deeply shocking to his country.
Some years later, Phil Hill would tell a story about the Castellotti crash, perhaps apocryphal, to illustrate the character of Enzo Ferrari. Ferrari responding to a telephone call telling him of the accident at Modena: “Castellotti? Morto? Non possibile … E la vettura?”
Photo by Yves Debraine ©The Klemantaski Collection