Sir Stirling Moss, one of Britain's greatest ever racing drivers, has died at the age of 90. While he was best known for his storied grand prix career, Sir Stirling was a consumate all-rounder. One of his greatest victories came in the 1955 Mille Miglia endurance race.
On a blazing Sunday afternoon in 1955, Sir Stirling Moss scored perhaps the greatest victory in his long motorsport career.
After 993 miles at an average speed of 98mph, Moss and navigator Denis Jenkinson won the 22nd Mille Miglia in a Mercedes-Benz 300SLR.
While Moss had arguably the fastest car in the field, his success was still an incredible performance. In the 23 times the event ran in full, only two non-Italian drivers won (German Rudolf Caracciola triumphed in 1931) – and Moss did so at record speed.
Heading into the 1955 event Moss had a poor record on the Mille Miglia, posting three retirements in previous years while driving for Jaguar. But with the backing of Mercedes he undertook extensive pre-event testing on numerous sections of the route. That meant that he had a detailed set of pacenotes, and Motorsport magazine journalist Jenkinson developed a special roller device that enabled him to scroll through them quickly.
Due to the loud engine roar of their Mercedes 300SLR, Jenkinson developed a series of hand gestures that he used to communicate those notes to Moss, who was able to attack corners with much more commitment as a result.
Their astonishing performance was covered over three pages in the following week’s issue of Autocar, with our correspondent following Moss and Jenkinson over the gruelling two-day event.
Describing the winning 10-hour timeframe in which Moss finished the race, the report states: “Imagine having an early breakfast and leaving London by car at about 7.15am, reaching Aberdeen by lunchtime, and getting back to London in time for a latish tea – with only two stops.
“That, on roads that are admittedly better than British roads, parallels the achievement of Stirling Moss."
At times, Moss’s 300SLR was reaching speeds of up to 170mph on the straights. The straight-eight, 3.0-litre 300SLRs driven by the Mercedes-Benz factory team – which also included Moss’s rival, Juan Manuel Fangio – differed only slightly from their grand prix racing counterparts.
As the total field of 648 cars lined up in Brescia for the start – although only 533 would actually begin the race - our correspondent noted: “Hot sunshine beat down on to the Piazza Vittoria for several days before the race and as each day went by, the big crowds that assembled early in the morning swelled until, by late afternoon, the whole square was packed with excited Italians.
“Although the first car was flagged away at 9pm, it was morning before, at one-minute intervals, the big cars set off to overhaul them.”
As the racing pack sped out into the Italian countryside, taking in sleepy rural towns as well as tourist centres such as Bologna, Florence and Rome, almost every visitor’s ear was drawn to the race. Our report noted: “Throughout the race every Italian-owned television set and radio is tuned to the event, and the latest news of the leading cars is exchanged in the street between stangers, excitedly passed on to customers by restaurant waiters, and vigorously debated in almost every public place.”
With greater pace than the bigger-engined Ferrari of Piero Taruffi (who also had the advantage of running last on the road and knowing the pace his rivals were setting), Moss and Jenkinson arrived in Rome in the lead of the race. But it still wasn't straightforward: a slight brake issue prompted a spin, he hit a straw bale and, after taking one crest flat-out, nearly crashed into a petrol station.