I’ve been taking photo’s of the 2017 and the 2018 Mille Miglia editions without publishing anything yet. As an intro to what I will publish the story of Stirling Moss with some mercedes participants.
In 1955 Moss won Italy’s thousand-mile Mille Miglia road race, an achievement Doug Nye described as the “most iconic single day’s drive in motor racing history.” Motor Trend headlined it as “The Most Epic Drive. Ever.”
Moss, then 25 years old, drove one of four factory-entered Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR sports-racing cars. Based on the W196 Grand Prix car They had spaceframe chassis and magnesium-alloy bodies, and their modified W196 engines ran on a mixture of petrol, benzene, and alcohol. The team’s main race rivals were the factory-entered Ferraris of Piero Taruffi, Eugenio Castellotti, Umberto Maglioli, and Paolo Marzotto.
Journalist Denis Jenkinson was Moss’s navigator. He had intended to go with John Fitch, whose idea it had been to take a navigator, but when Mercedes assigned a 300 SL to Fitch, the American agreed to Jenkinson riding with Moss in the faster SLR. Jenkinson had come up with the idea of pace notes in the form of a roller map of the route on which he had noted its hazards—an innovation that helped Moss compete against drivers with greater local knowledge. Jenkinson used hand signals to tell him about the road ahead. Radio communication had proved ineffective when they tried it, because when Moss was fully concentrated on his driving he was oblivious to Jenkinson’s voice.
Fangio, who regarded the race as too dangerous for passengers, drove his SLR alone, as did Karl Kling. Hans Herrmann drove the fourth car with mechanic Herman Eger as passenger.
The race was a timed event, and competitors started singly at one-minute intervals. Moss’s Mercedes left the starting ramp in Brescia at 7:22 a.m. (hence the car’s race number 722). Castellotti’s Ferrari left one minute later, and Taruffi’s at 7:27.
After about 90 miles, as Moss approached Padua at 175 mph (282 km/h) he saw in his mirror that Castellotti was closing fast. When Moss misjudged a corner and collided with some straw bales Castellotti went past and built an increasing lead. After 188 miles of racing the Italian had to stop in Ravenna to replace the Ferrari’s tyres, and fell behind again. Marzotto’s Ferrari started well but the tread separated from a tyre at over 170 mph (274 km/h) and he had to withdraw from the race because the spare turned out to be the wrong size.
The petrol tank filler came adrift as they neared the Adriatic coast and drenched them both. Jenkinson’s spectacles were blown off by the slipstream when he vomited over the side of the Mercedes; he carried a replacement pair. Arriving in Rome, he and Moss were told they were leading from Taruffi, Herrmann, Kling and Fangio, but from then on they had no way of knowing whether any of their rivals had gone ahead on elapsed time. Soon after Rome, Kling’s race ended when he went off the road avoiding spectators and crashed into a tree.
When Moss and Jenkinson finally arrived at the finish in Brescia they learned that Castellotti’s Ferrari had retired with transmission trouble and they had won. Fangio took second place, nearly 33 minutes slower, his Mercedes delayed by engine trouble and running on only seven cylinders by the end. Maglioli, in the sole surviving factory-entered Ferrari, took 45 minutes longer than Moss and finished 3rd.
Moss’s time of 10 hours, 7 minutes and 48 seconds, and his average speed of 98.53 mph (159 km/h) for the 1000 miles, set course records that still stand. The race was discontinued two years later.
Before the race, he had taken a “magic pill” given to him by Fangio, and he has commented that although he did not know what was in it, “Dexedrine and Benzedrine were commonly used in rallies. The object was simply to keep awake, like wartime bomber crews.” After the win, he spent the night and the following day driving his girlfriend to Cologne, stopping for breakfast in Munich and lunch in Stuttgart.