Movie Reviews

Ferrari's 1957 Mille Miglia Crash & Alfonso de Portago's Death Explained

WARNING: SPOILERS ahead for Ferrari.


Summary

  • Witness the tragic 1957 Mille Miglia crash and the life of Enzo Ferrari in Michael Mann’s powerful biopic, Ferrari.
  • Adam Driver shines as Enzo Ferrari, facing the aftermath of the devastating race that changed the world of racing forever.
  • The film accurately depicts the fatal crash with intense realism, shedding light on a dark chapter in Ferrari’s history.


Michael Mann’s 2023 biopic Ferrari centers on the tragic 1957 Mille Miglia crash and the death of Ferrari racer Alfonso de Portago. As Mann’s twelfth directorial effort, Ferrari chronicles the career highs and lows of the real-life Enzo Ferrari during the middle of the 20th century. Ferrari was once the face of the luxury car and racing brand of the same name, which became a dominant force in the world of competitive racing, particularly at the celebrated 24 Hours of Le Mans race during the 1960s. Overall, Ferarri received mostly positive reviews, earning a 72% on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s currently available to stream exclusively on Hulu.


Adam Driver gives a powerful performance as the titular protagonist alongside an unstoppable display from Penélope Cruz as Enzo’s wife, Laura Ferrari. The ending of Ferrari recreates the fatal crash at the 1957 Mille Miglia, which was an incredibly challenging 1,000-mile race across Italy. Mann expressed that there were many different accounts of what exactly happened during the tragic accident, which makes sense considering nearly all the documented information is based on witness testimony before extensive camera coverage was technologically possible. Mann was able to display the most accurate depiction of the incident at the end of the film.


Alfonso De Portago’s 1957 Mille Miglia Crash Was Caused By A Tire Blowout

The tragic incident killed both Ferrari drivers in the car and 9 spectators


As depicted in Michael Mann’s Ferrari, the 1957 Mille Miglia went down in history for being one of the most tragic racing events ever held. Toward the end of the nearly 1,000-mile race, one of the tires of Alfonso De Portago’s car completely blew out, causing the speeding Ferrari to crash and kill its drivers, including co-driver Edmund Nelson, along with nine spectators, for a total of eleven casualties. A crash of that magnitude was unprecedented for Ferrari as a racecar manufacturer and luxury car brand. The most horrific part of the crash was the five of the spectators were children.


The impact of the 1957 Mille Miglia crash that killed eleven changed the world of racing forever. It marked the end of the longstanding race, which was held on 24 occasions between the years of 1924 and 1957. According to History, “The Italian public was outraged and demanded justice for the families of the dead. They found a convenient villain in Enzo Ferrari, the controversial genius behind Scuderia Ferrari, the Ferrari racing team.Enzo Ferrari was put on trial for manslaughter as a result, just one year after the death of his son and expected heir of the Ferrari empire, Alfredo “Dino” Ferrari, who died of muscular dystrophy at the age of 24.

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The “Kiss Of Death” Photograph Before Alfonso De Portago’s Death Explained

This was the last photograph ever taken of Alfonso De Portago

Kiss of death in Ferrari


The so-called “Kiss of Death” photograph was taken moments before the start of the final leg of the 1957 Mille Miglia and would become the last photograph taken of Alfonso De Portago. The celebrity racecar driver was known as a risktaker, a fierce competitor, and also a widely-known romantic. According to Traquo, Alfonso, or “Fon” as many called him, was “well known as a playboy and daredevil. His exploits with women were pretty well known, as were his escapades in bobsleighs, aeroplanes, horse racing, and, of course, fast cars.

The woman kissing Fon in the “Kiss of Death” photograph was actress Lina Christian, a woman who he was having an affair with. Fon has gotten married at the age of twenty but but working towards getting a divorce so he could marry a woman considered to be his mistress. Christian was neither of these women, but would become the last person to kiss him before his untimely death at the age of 28. Although Christian obvously had nothing to do with his death, the name of the photograph became known as the “Kiss of Death” considering what would happen to Fon shortly after it was taken.


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How Many People Were Killed Or Injured By The Mille Miglia Crash In Real Life

Nine spectators and two Ferrari drivers lost their lives

Adam Driver as Enzo Ferrari on set in Modena as he films Ferrari

A total of eleven people died in the fatal crash in the 1957 Mille Miglia which would force it to become a banned event to this day. Since the first Mille Miglia was held in 1924, a total of 56 people reportedly lost their lives who were either a part of or watching the race. A similar tragedy happened at the 1938 Mille Miglia during which a car flew off the track and killed 10 spectators, seven of them children. The race was canceled the following year but returned in 1940. Neither of these are considered the most devastating racecar tragedies, however.


The 24-hour Le Mans race in France in 1955 was the deadliest racecar crash in the history of the sport. A high-speed Mercedes-Benz crashed into another car and exploded, killing 82 spectators. The 24-hour Le Mans race still occurs to this day. According to History, “De Portago didn’t have a chance to right the speeding vehicle, which slammed into the left curb and flipped wildly into the air. Ironically, it was the spectators standing farthest from the road—a safer distance, presumably—who were killed or seriously injured by the airborne Ferrari.” The youngest spectator who died was only 6 years old.

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Was Enzo Ferrari Really To Blame For The Mille Miglia Crash & Alfonso De Portago’s Death?

​​​​​Auto engineers found cat’s eye reflectors to blame for the blown tire

Interestingly, Enzo Ferrari’s life and career had been plagued by death after he lost his son Dino at the age of 24 in 1956. The driver who was supposed to be racing for Ferrari at the 1957 Mille Miglia, Eugenio Castellotti, also died that year in a training accident. Castellotti was the champion of the 1956 Mille Miglia, in which four separate Ferrari drivers placed in the top four. Adding the death of Alfonso De Portago to the equation is mindboggling considering the short amount of time. However, this has always been the grim reality of the dangerous sport.


The trial of Enzo Ferrari took over three years and was filled with passion. He was eventually acquitted when a group of auto engineers concluded that the fatal crash was due to “cat’s eye” reflectors on the actual racetrack as opposed to Ferrari’s technical error or personal negligence. De Protago’s crash and the resultant 11 total deaths were officially considered to be caused by one of these reflectors in the roadway, which must have been worn down enough to slice the tire. The blame ultimately did not fall in the hands of Enzo Ferrari, but the immense amount of guilt certainly did.

Source: History, Traquo

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