“I can’t think of any other car in the world that would have given me the opportunity to achieve the speeds we did. I’m certain it’s my greatest win.” The words of Sir Stirling Moss, referring to both the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR and the 22nd running of the Mille Miglia in 1955. Few would argue with him.
Aboard the Mercedes 300 SLR and alongside revered British scribe Denis Jenkinson, Sir Stirling completed the 1600km run in just over 10 hours and 7 minutes at a dizzying average speed of 157kph(ish) to become the first – and only – Englishman to win the event. Indeed, it’s a record that stands to this day, the last official Mille Miglia 1600km race taking place in 1957 and only returning in 1982 as a road rally. Though a combination of driver skill, massive cajones and a rotary navigation system known affectionately as the ‘toilet roll’ played their part in the duo’s success, it’s impossible to downplay the significance of the 300 SLR on the run from Brescia to Rome and back again.
Engineered by silver arrows stalwart Rudolf Uhlenhaut, the 300 SLR was amongst the most advanced racing machines of its day, built upon a tubular steel frame supporting an aluminium body. Lightweight but still high-strength (and running 16in wheels), the 300 ‘Sport Light Racing’ – Sport Leicht-Rennen – boasted a derivative of the eight-cylinder unit being used to devastating effect in Mercedes’ W 196 R challenger, albeit hiked from 2.5-litres to 3-litre, now up to 310hp and mated to a new five-speed transmission. Key also to this newfound of speed was the innovative air brake fitted to the rear that could be raised by hydraulic pump, helpful when blind turns occupied most of the run. Used for the first time on the Mille Miglia in 1952, the road-going SLR would follow just two years later.
So impressive was Moss’ victory that he beat Mercedes teammate – and five-time F1 World Champion – Juan-Manuel Fangio into second place by over half an hour, albeit aided by the great Argentine completing the run without a navigator. Setting off at 7.22am (hence that famous number), the Brit just gunned it and never looked back.
“I had no idea of the enormity of what it meant to myself because it’s really—it’s quite the thing to have on your CV.”
In this new instalment from Petrolicious, Sir Stirling is reunited with ‘722’ on those same roads in a unique 360-degree film, allowing you experience the ride from almost any angle.