Alongside friend and Alfa specialist Dave Vegher, I drove my 1958 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider Veloce, in the 2019 California Mille. It was the first time I have done the California Mille and the second rally I’ve done in my Spider Veloce. Over the past eight months, I’ve totaled over 2,000 miles behind the wheel of my little Alfa, including last year’s Colorado Grand.
Before the inaugural Colorado Grand concluded in 1990, Martin Swig and a group of his friends, including Ivan Zaremba, Gil Nickel and Lou Sellvei, began brainstorming the California Mille over dinner one night. This after Swig and co-driver John Lamm of Road & Trackwere the lone Americans participating in the 1982 Mille Miglia behind the wheel of Swig’s 1955 Alfa Romeo 1900 Zagato. Moved to bring such a rally opportunity to his home state, the California Mille was founded in 1991, as an annual event in the theme of the Mille Miglia, which had sparked Swig’s inspiration.
An open-road endurance race with drivers embarking on the Brescia-Rome round trip from 1927 to 1957, the Mille Miglia began once again as a rally in 1982, allowing cars produced between the years the original was held in Italy to participate. The California Mille held each spring, like the original Mille Miglia, starts on the final Sunday in April.
The California Mille tradition continues with Swig’s sons, Howard and David at the helm. As Martin and friend Ken Shaff did for years, Howard and David drive every mile of the California Mille and then some. From the vast selection of Northern California roads, they eliminate those less than ideal and find some of the best roads fit for a variety of cars, establishing the best experience. Their final selections comprise the route recorded in the book we all follow.
Those selections had us appreciate the diversity and outstanding beauty of Northern California, the rural, unpopulated regions with rolling hills, rivers and Redwood trees. After our San Francisco start, the California Mille stopped only in small towns, never once stopping in another city.
As it has for the majority of its 29-year history, this year we started at The Fairmont Hotel – a Nob Hill tradition. We left San Francisco, via a brief stint on Highway 101, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, before meandering through Napa Valley. We followed scenic backcountry roads north, spending the first night in Redding.
We visited the Trinity Dam and Trinity Alps on the second day. We enjoyed the vista from the summit of Scott Mountain (5401-ft. elevation) and the view of Mount Shasta – the fifth highest mountain in California.
On the third day, Dave and I started west on the small Highway A16 from Redding toward Highway 36 – a legendary California Highway and, as we learned, one of Martin Swig’s favorite driving roads. It was easy to see why Howard and David selected it. We made our way to the coast, via Hwy 101, driving amongst the California Redwoods on the Redwood Highway. It was a great opportunity to drive through some of the most iconic scenery of Northern California. We ended the day in Healdsburg, checking in for two nights.
The final day of the California Mille had us drive southwest from Healdsburg to Highway 1 along the Sonoma Coast with a stop at Bodega Bay. Dave and I did not see any of “The Birds” Alfred Hitchock left behind after the 1963 movie, but we did enjoy the gorgeous views. We paused to take a few pictures with the Alfa before going on to a fantastic lunch at Rancho Nicasio. Among the great meals throughout the California Mille, the lunch at Rancho Nicasio stood out.
We stopped in beautiful towns with great restaurants selected by Howard and David’s mom, Esta. She made fantastic selections for the drivers to refuel, choosing great menus. Among her many roles, Esta helps keep the event focused on what it is all about.
The California Mille remains focused on “Important cars, little roads and wonderful friends,” keeping the number of cars to under 70 and granting access to vehicles following the theme of the Mille Miglia (cars between 1927-1957). Among the unique entrants this year, we shared the road with a 1954 Fiat Topolino, a 1955 Aston Martin DB2/4 Vantage Drop Head Coupe and a 1957 Ferrari 250 TdF.
As car enthusiasts, we enjoy driving our sports cars on the open road alongside others. We make new friends and reunite with old ones. We look out for each other. The California Mille offered adequate support vehicles and mechanics. Drivers knew to continue if a participant gave a friendly “thumbs up” or to stop if they saw a “thumbs down” often accompanied by scowl of frustration (a rare occurrence). Dave and I drove every mile enjoying the view while keeping an eye out for our fellow California Mille cars.
We had such fun driving this great Alfa Romeo on the back roads of California – never once putting the top up! We love these cars because we love to drive them. The California Mille offers us, with this unique passion, the occasion to get together and do what we enjoy!
Passion is what makes this event a success. The passion and dedication of the Swig Family continuing Martin’s dream. The passion is contagious as enthusiasts aspire to participate in the California Mille creating the motive to own an eligible car, joining this annual tradition as I was fortunate to do this year. I highly recommend driving in the California Mille. It was a fantastic event with great cars and fantastic people. Mark your calendars for the April 26-30 event that will be the California Mille’s 30thAnniversary.
While everyone enjoys the California Mille and their sports cars, they are also helping the Amici Americani della Mille Miglia pay it forward. Organized as a non-profit founded by Martin in 1987. Its original purpose was to bring car enthusiasts together during the California Mille. It now donates any surplus from the event to charity. Amici has routinely supported the San Francisco Chronicle’s Season of Sharing raising over $70,000.