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ALFA ROMEO 6C AND 8C (6C 1928-1930; 8C: 1932-1938, 1947). The early iterations of the Mille Miglia were largely dominated by Alfa Romeo. The Milan-based manufacturer started its streak with the 6C Spider Zagato based on the 1925 World Championship-winning car. It earned three successive wins, powered by a straight 6-cylinder. The Mercedes-Benz SSK broke this streak in 1930, prompting Alfa to enter the Grand Prix-winning 8C, heavily based on the previous 6C. The straight-8, seeing some modification each year, managed to hold the acclaim for eight years.
MERCEDES-BENZ SSK (1931). Widely regarded as the ancestor of the modern SLK, the SSK was based on the earlier Mercedes-Benz S, with the chassis shortened to make the car lighter and more agile. SSK stood for Super Sport Kurz, German for "Super Sport Short" and served as the foil to early Italian dominance of the Mille Miglia. It was the last car designed by Dr. Ferdinand Porsche before he left to found his own company. A supercharged 7-liter, straight-6 engine propelled it to 190 km/h, making it the fastest car of its day. Besides the Mille Miglia, it also won the British Tourist Trophy and German Grand Prix. Only 40 SSKs were built with only four originals left today.
BMW 328 (1940). Another upset to the Alfa Romeo claim was the BMW 328. In no way related to the modern 3-series, the 328 was powered by a 2.0-liter straight-6 and featured an aluminum body. The light and agile car saw numerous wins in other motorsports events like the RAC Tourist Trophy and the Alpine Rally, plus a class win in 24 Hours of Le Mans.
FERRARI 166 (1948-1949). The Ferrari 166 would herald the beginning of a six-year Ferrari dominance of the Mille Miglia, as well as establish the marque as a serious competitor in motor racing. The 166 was based on the V12 125 S race car and made in small numbers to qualify for the homologation rule. The 166 is the only vehicle to have won the Mille Miglia, Targa Florio, and 24 Hours of Le Mans. Ferrari prided itself most in the Mille Miglia victory, producing 166 MM special models in commemoration of the feat. The 166 would later serve as the template for a future Mille Miglia winner, the 195 S.
PORSCHE 550 SPYDER. Though it never won a single Mille Miglia, the Porsche 550 Spyder continues to be a favorite, owing to its racing pedigree and notoriety. The car was based on a 356 with a body low to the ground for better handling and aerodynamics. It was so low that former German Formula One racer Hans Herrmann drove it under closed railroad crossing gates during the 1954 Mille Miglia. Powered by a 1.5-liter boxer 4-cylinder, it earned the nickname "Giant Killer" for being able to keep up with larger, more powerful cars. Actor James Dean infamously crashed and died in one in 1955. Today, it is the most frequently replicated classic car.
This story first appeared in Vault Magazine Issue 17 2014.