WHAT KILLED ALFONSO DE PORTAGO AND THE MILLE MIGLIA?

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The Mille Miglia was an extremely popular open-road endurance race, helping to make the reputations of Porsche, Mercedes Benz, Maserati, Ferrari and BMW to name but a few. But everything came to an end after a fatal crash in 1957 - what caused the horrific accident and why were Ferrari sued?

What killed Alfonso de Portago and the Mille Miglia?

What killed Alfonso de Portago and the Mille Miglia?

It may seem like the longest name in human history, but Alfonso Antonio Vicente Eduardo Angel Blas Francisco de Borja Cabeza de Vaca y Leighton, known as Alfonso de Portago - or probably Al to his mates, was the Marquis of Portago and a spirited racing driver.  

Born in London and educated in France, Alfonso was articulate in four languages and also the heir to one of the most respected titles in Spain. As if that wasn’t alluring enough to the female sex, he also happened to be rather dashing and, coincidentally, a millionaire. 

He was no stranger to performing the extraordinary; winning a $500 bet when aged 17 by flying his plane beneath a bridge following a dare. He was also a bobsleigh runner; forming Spain’s first bobsleigh team for the 1956 Winter Olympic Games. Naturally, life as a racing driver seemed tempting to a man of his stature and he started his driving career in 1953, with a debut as a co-driver during the Carrera Panamericana.  

He participated in five World Championship Formula One races, placing his best result during a shared drive at the 1956 British Grand Prix, with a total of four championship points. It had almost never happened however, with Portago thrown from his Ferrari during a Silverstone sprint in 1955 while competing at 140km/h. He could have been killed, yet all he suffered was a broken leg. 

Sadly, he wouldn’t walk away from his next major accident - after stopping alongside a fence to kiss his girlfriend during the 1957 Mille Miglia, he ran back to his Ferrari and sped off to his ultimate destiny.

While traveling at 150mph with his co-driver on a straight section between Cerlongo and Guidizzolo, a tyre blew and spiralled their Ferrari into the crowd lining the road - claiming the lives of 10 people; 5 of them being children.  

The Ferrari landed on top of the two drivers, reportedly disfiguring them to the point they could barely be identified. Portago’s body was apparently found in two mangled sections. 

Under an investigation it was revealed that Portago was so desperate to win the event, he had waited too long to replace the worn tyre, however the manufacturer received blame and was sued - as was the Ferrari team.

The Mille Miglia was then abandoned, a further crash involving a Trumph TR3 finally nailing the rally for good.

"I won’t die in an accident." Portago once commented, "I’ll die of old age or be executed in some gross miscarriage of justice". 

Others claimed, due to his racing style, that he wouldn’t live beyond 30. Meeting his fate aged 28, they were sadly right.  

The footage below commentates on the 1957 Mille Miglia, with footage shown of the Ferrari wreckage being recovered. But we warn you, it's not easy watching: 

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