Reportage: The classic car scene is changing: the green Mille Miglia

Bernd Schneider sits in his silver Mercedes 300 SL with the starting number 320 and calmly prepares for the next special stage.

Reportage: The classic car scene is changing: the green Mille Miglia

Bernd Schneider sits in his silver Mercedes 300 SL with the starting number 320 and calmly prepares for the next special stage. Eight tasks in a row, which are not about speed, but about covering a distance measured to the hundredth of a second. Mille Miglia – the high mass of the international classical music scene has a world reputation. The participants don't just come from Europe, but car fans from China, Mexico, Paraguay and the USA also come to Italy every year in late spring. For many years, the new edition of the old-timer race from Brescia to Rome and back has been a regular ride with fun and cult factor. Only those cars that took part in the original Mille Miglia from 1927 to 1957 are allowed at the new edition of the former racing event - such as the gullwing with racing driver Bernd Schneider at the wheel. But the more than 400 participants in their legendary classics from the Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 to the Porsche 356 or a Mercedes SSK are getting more and more competition at their own event. Gone are the days when oldtimer-crazy classic fans thundered through northern Italy at full throttle on public roads for three days.

Even in Italy, sustainability has now arrived in the car scene. The recycled bags of the participants made of recycled patchwork or eco-cups are the smallest step. Because in 2023, the Mille Miglia has long had its own eco class - the Mille Miglia Green. Here, Bentley Blower, Sunbeam Super Sports or BMW 328 do not babble and bang at the start, but electric cars of the most modern design whirr in front of waving Mille Miglia flags. When Mercedes does something, it does so professionally. The Swabians not only have the W 198 Gullwing from 1955 and the SS of the W 06 series from 1930 in their racing luggage, but also what is probably the most exclusive horse in the stable, which currently has a star on its hood: the Mercedes EQXX - vintage 2022. Originally only intended as a rolling feasibility study for the upcoming Mercedes CLA, the electric vehicle has meanwhile set countless records. And because they ran so well and the silver EQXX meanwhile has around 18,000 test kilometers on the clock despite its prototype status, the dedicated Mercedes development team went haywire and sent it on the Mille Miglia – admittedly the green one.

The special stages are the same, but the stages are admittedly a bit shorter, even if the electric silver arrow manages more than 1,000 kilometers without a charging stop. It's a pity, because the charging station in particular could have given the thousands of visitors along the route an understanding of electromobility. In this respect, Italy is still considered a developing country in Europe - fast chargers are in short supply below the Venice - Milan rail line - not least because of this there are also the new electric models in addition to the grandiose classics of past decades. They run more smoothly than most of the rattling gems - but they are not nearly as acclaimed. From time to time, the Mille audience at the side of the road gives a thumbs-down when the participants zoom by in Mercedes EQS, VW ID Buzz or Tesla Model Y. There's no question: the audience wants the spluttering and spluttering classics, well-known racing drivers behind the wheel and pre-war pilots who, at the wheel of Bugatti T37, Lancia Torpedo or Aston Martin Le Mans, can see the hardships of this time more than 2,000 kilometers. The spectators in Desanzano, Rome or Milan only stare at the futuristic Mercedes EQXX. Electromobility still has an acceptance problem, not only in Italy – and what a problem. This year's Mille Miglia again has more than 400 participants - the waiting lists are as long as the Spanish Steps in the heart of Rome and then more than 100 Ferraris thunder ahead of the Mille Miglia field. Things are very different on the Mille Miglia Green, because there are just 15 vehicles on the road here. When it comes to professionalism, Mercedes has no competition. Some use the green Mille as a playful marketing campaign, others as a professional outing and hired a professional rally team to ensure the result at the finish line in Brescia is right.

The teams in the electric vehicles, which are also whirring more than fast, cannot help with the grandiose history of the classics from the day before yesterday; they sit well air-conditioned and are not exposed to the constant rain off Rome in an open woland. But without ecology, the classic car scene has no chance in the long term. Many Italian inner cities have long had green city zones with entry restrictions. When the fuel gauge of the silver Mercedes 300 SL with the starting number shows just under a quarter, Bernd Schneider turns off to an inconspicuous gas station in the Italian Po Valley. A special transporter with e-fuel is waiting here a few meters from the petrol pumps. The silver gullwing consumes an impressive 92 liters of eco-fuel and drives off into the night after the short stopover. This is how the classics get their green coat of paint. And one thing is certain - it is unlikely to stay that way in the coming years.