1957 Mille Miglia and Alfonso de Portago…

Posted: September 4, 2021 in Sports Racers
Tags: , , , , ,

Marquis Alfonso de Portago and Edmund Nelson accelerate their Ferrari 335S away from the Rome control, heading north on the homeward leg during the 1957 Mille Miglia on May 12.

At that stage the ill-fated crew were placed fourth. They later crashed only 35km short of the Brescia finish, killing eleven – five of whom were kids – after tyre failure.

I wrote about this race and car some years ago here; Peter Collins: Mille Miglia 1957: Ferrari 335S… | primotipo…

This piece is a pictorial delving into the the Klemantaski/Getty Images archive, remembering an event which changed the face of motor racing, ended the lives of two combatants, nine innocents and the Mille Miglia.

The table of nobles; De Portago along side Wolfgang von Trips during a ‘training camp’ or perhaps more accurately a pre-event briefing and planning session in the weeks before the Mille, held on 11-12 May 1957.

Wonderful Doug Nye piece on De Portago in MotorSport; Ferrari’s fastest playboy: Alfonso de Portago – Motor Sport Magazine

Peter Collins leaves Maranello for a quick blast up the Abetone Road to check that all is good with his 335S- note the bonnet is still to be painted.

The team cars below in the famous factory courtyard are the four 4-cam cars for Piero Taruffi – the winner – Von Trips, De Portago and Collins, with the Collins/Klemantaski machine at left. A blur of activity.

The series of photographs below are at Brescia, the start and finish of the classic event. The shots show the sheer pageantry and grandeur of the event tinged with no shortage of pathos given the events that day which took De Portago, Collins twelve months later aboard a Ferrari Dino 246 during the 1958 German GP at the Nurburgring, at at Monza in 1961 when Von Trips perished in the early laps of the Italian GP aboard a Ferrari 156 along with another group of spectators.

De Portago and Von Trips swapping notes before the off while Taruffi seems a little more focused on the needs of the adoring locals.

Enzo Ferrari with Peter Collins (above) before the start, and De Portago below.

De Portago and Collins shortly before Alfonso’s departure from Brescia, car the ill-fated 335S chassis 0676. Louise Collins is mid-shot.

It was the first time De Portago raced the 4-litre car – the most powerful car he had ever driven. He drove it with skill and seemed set to finish well in this most difficult of races in the world’s fastest sportscar.

De Portago and Nelson departing the Ravenna control – in Emilia-Romagna – a couple of hours into the race.

Piero Taruffi won in a 315S from Von Trips second in another 315S, while the Collins/Klemantaski 335S DNF with driveshaft failure in the fifth hour. The De Portago/Nelson accident happened after five hours, seventeen minutes at 3.30pm near the village of Cavriana 35km from Brescia.

De Portago’s final pitstop was in Montova where he refused a tyre-change to save time, at that stage the crew were fourth, third by some accounts. “This may have caused his car’s tyres to be more susceptible to failure when the Ferrari ran over cat’s eyes at high speed.” The left-front failed at a little over 150mph.

Not too many photos exist of Edmund Gurner Nelson, De Portago’s navigator, friend, confidant, fixer, Bob-sled coach and whatever else, in the car.

Here they are leaving the Ravenna control, the shot gives a sense of immediacy and pressure, note Ed’s sports-blazer casual attire.


All photographs Klemantaski Collection/Getty Images, motorsportmemorial.org


This moody shot was taken by Louis Klemantaski at high speed during the event alongside Peter Collins in his 335S. 150mph plus is all fine and dandy – even with an enthusiastic Italian crowd encroaching on the road – until something goes wrong. Apologies for the statement of the bleeding obvious…

We should all be thankful the Targa Florio survived in its traditional form for as long as it did given the ’57 Mille.


  1. McCarthy, Andrew says:

    Nice one Mark

    Kind regards,

    Andrew McCarthy
    Senior Client Adviser
    Bell Potter Securities
    Ph: 03 9235 1634
    Fax: 03 9235 1635
    Mob: 0412 127 845
    Email amccarthy@bellpotter.com.au

  2. A most interesting read Mark & great photos to match . Such a dangerous event from a 2021 perspective with no spectator safety ensuring that tragic outcome was eventually going to happen . Thanks for your continuing articles on the Sport we all enjoy . Regards , Brian .

    • David E M Thompson says:

      They now use the course for the Italian Rally Championship. I’m not certain, but the spectator safety may be no better than it was in 1957, judging from photos I see of other international rallies.

      • David E M Thompson says:

        I’m sorry. I conflated the Targa Florio with the Mille Miglia. But I doubt the Targa Florio was significantly less dangerous, and it lasted twenty years longer, until 1977.

    • markbisset says:

      Cheers Brian,
      Glad you enjoyed it. Hope you are managing ok, be great to catch up at a race meeting soon!

      • grahamedney says:


        These are from Automobile Year 1957-58. It’s amazing how different versions of events emerge over time. Klementaski’s contemporary version, reproduced in “Mon Ami Mate”, aligns with this one.

        I really enjoy Primotipo and look forward to reading every post. Cheers, many thanks for your efforts and best regards,


      • markbisset says:

        Cheers Graham,
        My own collection of Automobile Years are at my mothers place, I will grab the correct issue when I am next there. The other possibility is that the time shown (in the results) is the time of the day of the retirement, 5.03 pm, rather than elapsed time, five hours three minutes) not sure!

      • grahamedney says:

        Mark, Maybe an answer; I’ve just noticed that the time you quoted is precisely the same as that which AY quotes in their table as Collins’ time to “Roma”.



  3. Graham Edney says:

    Great article but may I nitpick? Collins and Klemantaski lasted a lot more than five hours and in fact retired (with differential failure according to Klemantaski’s report) at Parma ony 130 miles from home. It was said that they were on track to beat Moss’s 1955 time.

  4. David E M Thompson says:

    I’m sorry. I conflated the Targa Florio with the Mille Miglia. But I doubt the Targa Florio was significantly less dangerous, and it lasted twenty years longer, until 1977.

  5. bill hollingsworth says:

    On the subject of safety I thought I read somewhere that less Italians were killed on the roads the day the race was held because there was less traffic.

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