Putting together our sensational Goodwood Greats series has been an incredible process. Along the way we’ve been left alone inside a temporary photographic studio with some of the finest cars and bikes in the world. It is an enormous privilege and an even greater responsibility.
Whatever the subject vehicle, there are nerves when it is wheeled up and onto the giant turntable upon which most have been photographed. When the Mercedes-Benz museum staff kindly agreed to ‘lend’ the Moss/Jenkinson 300 SLR to us though, ‘nervous’ somehow fails miserably at describing how we felt. In 2009 Octane magazine famously decreed that ‘722’, as it is affectionately known by many, to be the most valuable motor car in existence.
Well at least it would be if it were ever to find its way onto the market, which it absolutely will not ever do. The car is quite rightly considered a key part of the very fabric that is Mercedes-Benz and it literally cannot be sold. Practically speaking then, it’s priceless. As vulgar as it may be to speculate on a monetary value for the car, in today’s market it would surely generate such acute fervour as to command a nine-figure price. Pounds, that is. The world’s first billion dollar car? Not yet perhaps, but one day it will be this one, theoretically.
So much has been written about the car that it seems a tad redundant to go over it in detail again here. But to help get some of you up to speed we’ll skim over the essential stuff.
Based upon the W196 that convincingly won the Formula One World Championship in both 1954 and 1955, the 300SLR was intended for sports car racing and made use of a three-litre derivative of the W196’s fuel-injected straight-eight. Power was at around the 310bhp mark and at Le Mans the SLRs were said to be good for 180mph.
Where ‘722’ cemented its place in motoring folklore was at the 1955 Mille Miglia. Co-Driver Jenkinson wrote an epic piece for Motorsport in June 1955 about the experience which we’d recommend very highly indeed. We’re sure that Jenks wouldn’t have begrudged us sharing a brief excerpt:
‘At no time before the race did we ever contemplate getting into the lead, for we fully expected Fangio to set the pace, with Kling determined to win at all costs, so we were out for a third place, and to beat all the Ferraris. Barely 10 miles after the start we saw a red speck in front of us and had soon nipped by on a left-hand curve. It was 720. Pinzero, number 721 being a non-starter. By my right hand was a small grab rail and a horn button; the steering was on the left of the cockpit, by the way, and this button not only blew the horn, but also flashed the lights, so that while I played a fanfare on this Moss placed the car for overtaking other competitors. My direction indications I was giving with my left hand, so what with turning the map roller and feeding Moss with sucking sweets there was never a dull moment. The car was really going well now, and on the straights to Verona we were getting 7,500 in top gear, a speed of 274 k.p.h., or as close to 170 m.p.h. as one could wish to travel …’
It really is essential reading regardless of your personal preference in motorsport. Of course, Moss won with a staggering average speed of 97.96mph. Fangio could do no better than second on that occasion. The greatest British driver at the time had dominated the most prestigious and downright dangerous event in one of the most dominant and utterly wonderful competition cars from any era. Truly the stuff that dreams are made of.
‘722’ is always the star attraction at any event it graces. We’re very fortunate that Mercedes-Benz is still so keen to show the car at many international happenings, and it has been an honour to welcome it to the Festival of Speed on a number of occasions, including last year when we plucked-up the courage to ask if we could deprive the FoS-goers of the car for a couple of hours and take the photographs you see here.
Greatest of the Goodwood Greats? Possibly, but we’re not finished yet …
Photography by Antony Fraser