How to Crash the World’s Most Dangerous Rental Car
For us, the Mille Miglia starts in a smoke-filled room and ends in a twisted heap of Morgan +8.
“This is a very dangerous car.”
Mr. Rapido told me that. He is the chain-smoking Danny DeVito lookalike who owns Rapido Car Rental, and he's a man you wouldn’t cross even if you hadn’t seen the "Get your shine box" scene in Goodfellas. He was reluctantly offering to rent us a car that he claimed was his personal car, a car he only drove on sunny days around Brescia—the Philadelphia of Italy—a car he loved so much that its rental rate was listed online for $1,000/day.
“Very, very dangerous,” he lit another cigarette, “especially if you touch the gas.”
No one needs to tell me a 1999 Morgan +8 was a dangerous car. They were dangerous when they were brand new, rolling off the assembly line. Anyone knows that a Morgan is a wood-framed casket on wheels, with 20’s styling, 90’s performance and English-build quality. I was sitting in Rapido’s smoke-filled office because I own a 2014 Morgan 3-wheeler, which comes factory-equipped with a driving experience that makes a Dodge Viper feel like a Prius, and I had a plan.
Rent a supercharged Morgan +8 for the Mille Miglia, the most dangerous legal road race in the world?
“Fuck yes,” I said under my breath, answering my own question.
Forget what the buff books tell you. Call it a rally, call it a tour with timed “regularity” stages—it’s all nonsense. Everyone I’ve met, whether an official entrant, “assistenza” team or pirate tagalong, everyone is in Brescia to race.
We needed a car now.
As in right now, because the race was starting in less than 18 hours. We needed a car that was new-ish, but that looked old, so we could slap Miglia Press stickers on it and sneak into the checkpoints right behind the multi-million dollar, pre-1957 official Miglia race cars. Routing around the checkpoints with the other press and support cars? That was for the hundreds of other suckers trying to crash the Miglia on a budget.
When I say we, I mean I and my teammates: two bloggers who must remain anonymous for reasons I'll explain later, but I'll call Mr. Horn and Mr. Glass, and my old friend, The Tall Man, who was neither a blogger nor a journalist, and yet is slippery enough to have secured a press pass with just a few carefully chosen words of broken Italian.
We wanted the full Miglia experience for as close to free as possible, and Rapido was one of the few car rental companies specializing in vintage Miglia cars. But I wasn’t interested in a vintage Miglia car. I was interested in the John Varvatos of cars. I wanted a Morgan, and Rapido was the only place that had one for rent.
“As I say,” Rapido continued, “it is very dangerous car. I don’t know if I should rent you the car. It has a very high horsepower. If you touch the gas....”
Glass cut him off. “Are you sure we should get the Morgan?” he said. “Do we really need all that power?”
“I’m fine with it,” said Horn. “I used to own a 993.”
“Are you sure we shouldn’t get an old Alfa?” Glass persisted.
“A fucking Alfa?” I said. “They’re even worse than Morgans.”
“I won’t fit in an Alfa,” said The Tall Man.
“We’ll take the Morgan,” said Horn, our team leader, since he has pulled this off three straight years. In an Alfa.
“The Morgan sounds good to me,” said The Tall Man, who had joined our team for the price of a plane ticket and one-fourth of a car rental that would cost about $5,000, fully insured with a $2,500 collision deductible. An official entry? Approximately $16,000, plus the cost of securing, maintaining, insuring and prepping a multi-million dollar classic car. A press pass? Free. The Tall Man had all the qualities I needed in a co-driver: a Cadillac CTS-V wagon back home, along with a wife and son. He was still alive and had something to live for.
“Are you sure this is safe to drive?” he asked. “No,” I said, approvingly.
Also, he had cash.
The plan? Whatever car we rented, we also had a Jaguar XF Diesel press car as backup. Two at a time we’d swap between the Jaguar and whatever we rented.
One thing was certain. I wasn’t going to be a passenger in the Morgan unless The Tall Man was driving. Horn and Glass? Nice guys, but I wasn’t going to bet my life on their talent. Not in a Morgan.
“I hear the Morgan sounds amazing,” said Horn, who, based on my Morgan ownership stories, actually thinks Morgans were junk.
“Yes,” said Rapido, “it makes a big sound.”
“Fucking amazing,” I said. “At any speed.”
“Are you sure you take the Morgan?” Rapido lit yet another cigarette. The air in the room looked like dawn at Loch Ness. “It has a very big motor. It has 4.6 liters and a supercharger. Almost a-four a-hundredhorsepower. It is very light. Maybe you should take an Alfa.”
“We rented an Alfa last year,” said Horn, “and it was a piece of shit.”
“You rented an Alfa?” Rapido seemed taken aback. “From where?”
“Your competitor,” said Horn, “Slow Drive. The guys on Lake Garda.”
“Si si si,” Rapido frowned. “It was no good? Of course not. Not a surprise. They are not serious. Our cars have no problems. Even our Alfas.”
“I love Alfas,” said Glass.
“So do I,” said Horn, “but they’re still pieces of shit. Ours broke down the first day, then we got a Lancia and that broke down, and then we got another Alfa, and we practically had to push across the finish line.”
“The finish line?” Rapido frowned, lighting another cigarette. “The finish line of what?”
This is when I knew something bad was going to happen. Film history is filled with epic tales of friends, usually Americans, far from home, arrogant and confident, looking for fun and finding suffering and death.
“This is it,” I whispered to The Tall Man, “It’s Deliverance on wheels.”
The Tall Man shook his head. “More like Hostel on wheels.”
“We’re taking the Morgan,” said Horn, who claims he had already arranged for payment. “What do we need to sign?”
“Hey, Alex,” said Glass, “are you sure this thing is going to be reliable?”
“Nothing is certain,” I said, “in life or English cars.”
“Or Italian cars,” said The Tall Man.
“What is this finish line?” said Rapido, returning to the only issue that mattered.
“We’re going on the Mille Miglia,” said Horn.
“The Miglia?” said Rapido. “No, no, no. This is too dangerous, You cannot. This car is very dangerous. Take an Alfa. It has less power.”
“It has no power when it’s broken,” said The Tall Man.
“Guys,” I said, “a Morgan is dangerous driving 20 mph to the gas station. I daily drive one in Manhattan.”
“So it’s reliable?” said Glass.
“It only breaks down once a month,” I said.
“Mr. Rapido,” said Horn. “I have here an e-mail from your associate, Mr. Carugati, dated last month. It says quite clearly that you will rent us the Morgan for $5,000 with full insurance.”
“Carugati is gone,” said Rapido.
“As in dead?” I gasped.
“Carugati is fired,” said Rapido.
“But,” said Horn, “I have this e-mail...”
“I call for my son,” said Rapido. “His English is better than mine.”
Into this sauna of tobacco smoke and stacked papers walked Ilario, a bespectacled, motorcycle-riding Shaggy, straight off the failed Italian Scooby Doo reboot.
“Guys, guys, guys,” he laughed, “we work it all out.”
“Where is Carugati?” Horn demanded. “We’re short on time. We’ve got to sticker the car. Can you give me a document showing that we have full insurance?”
“Si,” said Ilario, “there is insurance. Here’s a contract saying you are fully responsible for the car, but we arrange full insurance tomorrow before the Mille Miglia starts, and I will e-mail you a copy of the insurance documents.”
“That’s crazy,“ I said.
“It’s not even in English,” said Horn. “We can’t sign that.”
“The car is worth 58,000 Euros,” said Rapido. “You must sign if you want the car.”
“What?” The Tall Man coughed. “That's $70,000!”
“It’s okay,” said Ilario. “We respect Carugati’s email. I give you the insurance documents tomorrow morning before the Miglia starts.”
This is insane. A disaster waiting to happen. I have visions of getting my fingers torn out by Rapido's henchmen. Just then, Horn speaks up.
“Come on,” he says, goading us in reassuring tones. “It’ll be fine. We pick up the car now, tomorrow we get the full insurance documents, and then we go on the Miglia.”
“Dude,” I shook my head. “You have no idea what you’re talking about. You don’t even understand what he’s talking about.”
I was ready to say no to the whole thing. I wasn’t letting Horn sign for the car—not at a value of $70k—and I certainly wasn’t co-signing and sharing responsibility for the car, not even for the sixteen hours until the Mille Miglia started.
And then Ilario said something that sealed our fate.
“Guys, guys, guys,” he smiled, “let’s go look at the car.”
And there it was, sitting in the back of Rapido’s massive garage. A seemingly perfect black-on-black 1999 supercharged Morgan +8, sitting in the dark, ready to drive. It was cosmetically perfect, which is as perfect as any Morgan could ever be.
A Morgan. Our Morgan. My Morgan—if only for a few days. On the Mille Miglia.
“Horn!” I called out, lovesick. “Just sign and let’s get out of here.”
“Alex,” said The Tall Man, “I thought you said not to sign. Do we even know if the car is properly maintained?”
“It’s a Morgan. Is it good? Is it bad? Is it safe? It doesn’t matter. It’s the greatest car ever made until it breaks. When it runs, you won’t care. We’re here. We need the car now. The Miglia starts in seventeen hours? Let’s just drive slow until tomorrow. Pay with your credit card. That should be fine.”
The Tall Man shook his head. “Now you’re not making any sense.”
“Get in,” Ilario said to us, invoking the Vintage Sports Car Dealer Mind Trick.
That was all it took. One by one each of us got in, blipped the throttle, listened to the roar of 4.6 liters of supercharged Rover power, and smiled. The little we know about contracts, insurance, the law, credit cards, common sense and traveling in foreign countries went out the window.
“Are you sure this is safe to drive?” said Glass.
“No,” I said, approvingly.
And just like that, we each signed something in Italian while Ilario smiled and his father lit another cigarette. I was too busy adjusting the driver’s seat to care. Horn signed for the rental—or maybe it was The Tall Man. it certainly wasn’t me. Did they have my passport? Had they seen my driver’s license?
“Alex,” said Horn, “can you please stop jerking off on the Morgan so we can do an inspection before we leave?’
“Sorry, no, I mean, yes, of course, but shouldn’t we pull the car out into the sunlight?”
“We do it here,” said Ilario.
“We do it here,” we all responded in unison.
It never fails.
“Is there,” Glass asked after the “inspection” was over, my jaw literally dropping open, “anything we should be worried about with the Morgan?”
“Ah yes,” said Ilario, waving his hands in the air as if they were gauges on a vintage car in motion. “The gauges. They are, how do you say...they are funny. They are always moving like this.” Ilario waved both index fingers as if he was conducting. “If the coolant temperature goes to 100, you can drive. If it goes over 110, the gauge is broken.”
“That seems fine,” said Glass.
“I mean, it is a Morgan,” I said.
“So how do we know if it’s overheating?” asked The Tall Man.
“Hmmmmm,” said Ilario. “I think it will be ok. Also, the oil temperature, sometimes it goes crazy. She likes to move. It’s really nothing. Probably just the gauge.”
“Famous last words,” I said.
“Famous last words,” said Ilario, “I like that.”
The Tall man turned to me. “What was it your dad liked to say?”
“Are you worried?” said The Tall Man.
“Listen to me, Tall Man. I’m terrified because I know everything you hear about the Gumball is true, that the real Miglia is a Gumball for much richer dudes who might be able to literally walk away from vehicular manslaughter. People are here in multi-million dollar cars, given a free pass by the local police, driving like fucking maniacs for four days running red lights, and here we are, in some old Morgan maintained by these fucking guys, whose only proof of insurance is an email from a guy who might be dead and the word of some kid who looks unsettlingly like Rocco Siffredi. We’re breaking every rule of common sense. I don’t know how much money you’ve paid, how much I owe, or how we're going to get out of the country if something bad happens."
I stop and take a breath. "We’re up against big forces if anything goes south, and I don’t care, because I love this car, and I’ve dreamed of the Miglia my whole life, and I may never be able to afford a real Miglia car, and if we crash this one, I mean, what if Rapido comes after us? What if he’s...you know...connected? What if we kill someone? And none of this matters because I want to go anyway.”
“Well,” said The Tall Man, “then we better not crash. And if we do, you’re going to get us out of it right? You’re good at that, right?”
I nodded sheepishly. “If BS is currency.”
“Tell me the truth. How dangerous is this Morgan?’
“A new Morgan would be a very dangerous rental car.”
“And this one?”
“It’s the most dangerous rental car of all time.”
The Tall Man nodded. “Alex Roy, it was this or taking my family to Hawaii. We’re here, so let’s do it.”
“Let’s do it.”
And so we set off in the World’s Most Dangerous Rental Car, which is also the World’s Best English Car, and I was right, because within 24 hours it had lived down to its reputation, and I still didn’t care. The driver's side windshield wiper falling off? Didn't care. The oil and coolant gauge failures? Didn’t care. Both removable window frames breaking while in their “protective” cases? Didn’t care. The folding roof leaking rain onto our heads? Didn’t care. Odd creaking from the wooden frame? Called Ilario, left voicemail. Didn’t care. It's a Morgan, and every Morgan is the greatest driving experience of all time.
Ilario forgetting to send us the insurance documents before Miglia started? Didn’t care. Jealously watching Horn and The Tall Man in the Morgan from the Jaguar? I cared.
Watching the Morgan inexplicably spin out and crash into a wall? I cared.
How does one crash the world’s most dangerous rental car?
Find out what happens after the crash in part 4 of the Mille Miglia Diaries—coming soon.