Moss finished runner-up on no less than four occasions between 1955 and 1958, but to focus on that is to overlook his mastery of sportscar racing and in particular his utter dominance of the 1955 Mille Miglia in the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR with co-driver Denis ‘Jenks’ Jenkinson. Here the pair of them are reunited with their winning car at the Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard in 1995.
The 300 SLR was a thinly disguised sports racing version of the Mercedes W196 Grand Prix car, winner of the 1954 and 1955 championships. Its space frame chassis was clothed in a lightweight magnesium alloy called electron and powered by a 3.0-litre version of the GP car’s straight-eight engine. Running on a potent mixture of petrol, benzene and alcohol, its desmodronic valves allowed it to rev beyond 7,400rom, at which point it was developing more than 310bhp.
Moss told Motor Trend: “It was not an easy car to drive. The steering was heavy at low speed, and the brakes were heavy. It wasn't a wimp's car. Its great strength was that it was a driver's car, so well-balanced and responsive to the throttle and the brakes.”
Run between Brescia and Rome and back again on public roads, the Mille Miglia was one of the toughest challenges of its day and had only been won by non-Italians on two occasions. To level up the home field advantage, Moss and Jenks reconnoitred the route several times at near-race speeds, writing off two cars in the process. The result was one of the first uses of pace notes, written on continuous roll of paper which Jenks spooled through and communicated to Moss through a combination of 15 different hand signals, mainly warning him when to back off from the 300 SLR’s 170mph plus top speed.
The effort paid off, car 722 (the pair left the Brescia start line at 7.22am on May 1st) took the chequered flag 992 miles later after 10 hours, 7 minutes and 48 seconds of flat out racing, more than half an hour ahead of second placed Juan Manuel Fangio and having averaged 98mph.