DSJ from the archive

Everyone remembers Jenks’ epic Mille Miglia story from 1955. But when he rejoined Moss for 1957, his report was slightly shorter…

Our starting time was 5.37am and our number 537, the last car to start in the 1957 Mille Miglia. For the previous three mornings we had been out on a practice run from Brescia to Padova, leaving the start at the race time, so that when we went along to the Viale Rebuffione at 5.15am on Sunday and took our place in the queue leading to the starting ramp we were both feeling on top of the world. The “four-five” Maserati was all set, we had given it a thorough testing under all conditions and it was far more potent than the SLR with which we had set the race record in 1955, so that when team manager Ugolini told us that the weather was perfect to Pescara and looked like staying so, we felt confident that we could improve on our 157kph average. With Behra a non-starter we had two minutes to wait after Taruffi left, at 5.35am; then the flag fell, we trickled down the ramp, opened up in bottom gear and as all 400bhp took hold we fairly shot off up the road into the avenue formed by the milling throng of spectators.

We had barely left Brescia when I sensed that the big V8 was buzzing round at 7000rpm, and a glance across at the rev-counter showed this to be true, but then I swallowed hard as I saw that Moss was pulling out the overdrive gear, which was acting as a sixth speed, and we were up at 6700rpm in overdrive fifth gear. This two-speed gearbox between the engine and the rear-mounted regular five-speed box was a crafty ‘gimmick’ that Maserati had schemed up specially for the Mille Miglia, so that we were geared in the super-top ratio for 285kph, which we estimated to use on rare occasions, and here we were doing 272kph (approximately 168mph) just as we were leaving town, on a straight of barely 2km. We looked at each other and grinned, for this was acceleration that was a new experience and, with dry roads and the sun covered by light cloud, everything was on our side.

We had covered barely 12km when we slowed down from our 270kph cruising speed for a couple of sharp right-handers, and then we went into an 80mph left-hand bend, with an approach speed of about 130mph. I was conscious of the driver changing down and checking the car with the brakes, and then it seemed to accelerate and I saw that he was deliberately sliding the car into the inside of the corner as we approached. My first thought was that it had jumped out of gear. This thought was heightened when I saw him make a violent grab at the gear-lever while the car was sliding across the corner, and then he stopped working on the wheel and we slowed up. I thought, ‘Well, go on then, accelerate,’ but he didn’t and I looked sideways to see him pointing at the floor; looking down, I swallowed hard for there were only two pedals on the cross-shaft, an accelerator and a clutch pedal. The brake pedal was lying on the floor among the pipes and rods. I then realised why Moss had gone into the corner about 15mph too fast…

It was surely the shortest and sharpest Mille Miglia anyone has ever done; there was no question of going on for the pedal arm had broken off about 1in above the cross-shaft and the handbrake was about as useful as a sports car ‘regulation hood’. You can’t drive a 400bhp 25-cwt two-seater without brakes and hope to keep up with anyone, so we had nothing to do but retire on the spot. Before the race we had been joking about ways of retiring early and what it must feel like; now we knew. About the only way we shall beat our 1957 record retirement is to fall off the side of the starting ramp in 1958!

Had such a breakage occurred on a British car there would have been harsh words and rudery in the Press; as it was an Italian car there was some pretty lurid shouting and yelling, but most people, including ourselves, were almost speechless. The reason for such a stupid failure on a brand-new car was hard to justify and can only be blamed on a flaw in the metal tube that forms the brake-pedal arm. Even so it was completely and utterly inexcusable, for closer study showed that it had started to fail at least two days before the race. But though we were annoyed about the whole affair we had to commiserate with Maserati for they had put everything they had into this 4½-litre, and for the first time ever there had been a good certainty of a Maserati win in the Mille Miglia, a thing that has not yet happened, for that “four-five” is a fabulous performer.

And so were these first British World Champions at the end of their gipsy year. But for an instinctive racing writer, what an amazing first-hand apprenticeship it had been.

And this is how Jenks remembered it in his diary: “Sunday 12 May: Mille Miglia, feeling wonderful, weather perfect, car terrific. 12kms out and brake pedal broke off! Returned to Brescia all over. All day in Press Room with Pat, Jess & 2 Yanks with Hot Rod Chrysler”.