APR 16th 2015
Legends at FoS ‑ Mercedes 300 SLR
Consider the numbers for a second: negotiating 1000 miles of Italian A- and B-roads in a shade over 10 hours, at an average speed of very nearly 100mph.
Beyond any sensible cranial calculation for ordinary folk, of course.
But that’s exactly what that most unordinary of racing drivers, Sir Stirling Moss, did back in 1955, when he won the legendary Mille Miglia road race, the third round of that year’s six-race World Sportscar Championship in which crews charged from Brescia to Rome and back again – on public roads that weren’t closed to everyday traffic.
For Moss and motorsport journalist Denis Jenkinson, acting as co-driver, to pull off this surreal result – rated by many to be among motorsport’s greatest victories by anybody anywhere – they needed a machine fit for purpose. And they got it, in the shape of the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR.
Moss himself considers the 3-litre, twin-cam, fuel-injected straight-eight-cylinder racer that produced over 300bhp and topped almost 190mph to be the finest sportscar he ever drove. And, as endorsements go, that’s as fitting as you need.
If you’ve read the stories and seen the period images, particularly of Moss and Jenks at work in SLR #722 (their 7.22am start time), but not seen one of these extraordinary machines – of which only eight were built – in the flesh, the 2015 Festival of Speed will be the perfect place to put that right.
All but one of the eight SLRs will attend the event, which celebrates the 60th anniversary of the British duo’s famous Mille Miglia win. The very car in which they rewrote the records in perpetuity in 1955, chassis 0004/55, will be among them, along with closed-cockpit versions and road-legal racers. It’ll be a priceless moment, on several levels, with the almost mythological sight of Moss – doubtless in trademark Herbert Johnson repro helmet once more – reunited with his car too good to miss.
Sportscar-racing aficionados will know, and budding anoraks among you might like to know, that Moss gave the SLR two other noteworthy endurance wins in 1955, helping Mercedes to lift its first World Sportscar Championship crown. He took victory in the Tourist Trophy on Dundrod’s daunting circuit in Ireland, partnered by American John Fitch, and captured glory in Sicily’s Targa Florio road race with fellow Brit and Grand Prix racer Peter Collins.
It was a staggering season for Moss and Mercedes, who together added victory in the British Grand Prix at Aintree in the W196 F1 car, on which its sportscar cousin was based.
It seems highly appropriate that the 2015 Festival of Speed’s theme is ‘Flat out and Fearless: Racing on the Edge’, for it perfectly encapsulates what happened six decades earlier and in particular on May 1, 1955 on otherwise peaceful Italian roads.
Photography and video courtesy Daimler AG