Stirling Moss Makes History with a Decisive Win for Mercedes Benz
Brescia, May 1st.
The fabulous Italian sports-car race, the Mille Miglia, took place over the weekend of April 30th-May 1st, but preparations for the event began many months before, not only amongst the big firms whose aim was an outright win, but also amongst all the various classes, for the XXII Mille Miglia contained 14 different classes, from diesel-engined cars and touring cars, through Gran Turismo groups to free-for-all sports categories, permitting thinly-disguised Grand Prix cars. Naturally, the main force for the outright winner comes from the Sports Class over 2,000 c.c., and Mercédès-Benz were testing their new 300SLR model in Italy as early as February, having already used the engine in their Formule Libre Grand Prix cars in the Argentine. The Ferrari factory had also used the Argentine races to try out their new six-cylinder 3,750-c.c. sports car and also had a resounding victory with it in the Tour of Sicily. Maserati raced their new 3-litre six-cylinder model, derived very directly from the Formula 1 car, in Sebring, Sicily and Dakar. These three firms were the main protagonists for the XXII Mille Miglia, and as the end of April approached activity around Italy became much more noticeable.
Italian drivers enter the Mille Miglia as a sort of tradition and they filled all the classes with every type of vehicle imaginable, and with an enormous German entry of diesel, 300SL, and the factory team of 300SLR Mercédès-Benz, Porsches, both standard and sports, together with a very large British entry, most of it of a sporting rather than serious nature, and numerous French cars in the smaller-engine capacity classes, a total of 652 entries was received. Not all of these presented themselves for the scrutineering and many of those that did had little intention of going very far round the course, but the tradition of the Mille Miglia is such that enthusiasts in and around Brescia are happy to enter and retire a few kilometres up the road, just to swell the numbers and enjoy the wonderful atmosphere of the start. Altogether 521 cars started in the race, leaving at one-minute intervals from the main road to the east out of Brescia, each car’s number being its actual starting time.
Scrutineering took place in the main square of Brescia during the three days before the race, and on Friday Mercédès-Benz took their four 300SLR models along, two at a time, on an enormous trailer. The first pair were those of Fangio and Kling, both of them driving alone, with the passenger seat covered over and a Perspex screen enveloping the driver on both sides, with a single headrest behind the driver. The second pair were those of Moss and Herrmann, they both taking passengers with them, the former with the Motor Sport Continental Correspondent, Jenkinson, and the latter with a Mercédès-Benz mechanic, Herman Eger. These cars had two long headrests forming part of the tail and looked particularly fierce sports cars, the other two looking more like Grand Prix cars. Mechanically all four were identical, using the same layout of mechanical detail as the W196 Grand Prix Mercédès-Benz, with the near-horizontal eight-cylinder fuel-injection, desmodromic valve engine, five-speed gearbox on the rear axle, torsion-bar and wishbone i.f.s., and torsion-bar swing-axle rear suspension: all brakes were mounted inboard, steering was left-hand, and two short stub pipes protruded from the side of the car just in front of the passenger seat. The 3-litre engines were developing 295 b.h.p. at 7,500 r.p.m., the fuel tank in the tail held 260 litres, and they were anticipating making only two stops, one at Pescara for a small quantity of fuel and the other at Rome for rear tyres and to fill the tank right up. The whole Mercédès-Benz approach to the Mille Miglia was one of thoroughness, all the cars carrying two spare wheels in the tail, one front and one rear, while quickly attachable aluminium aero-screens could be fitted in front of the permanent Perspex screen should it become smashed by a stone or a bird. The afternoon saw the square crowded with spectators from almost all countries, there being large contingents of English and American visitors, and almost until dark the four scrutineering bays dealt with competitors’ cars, making sure the standard cars were standard, especially the Gran Turismo categories, and wiring a circular fibre disc to the steering column of all cars. These discs had to be punched at the Rome and Bologna controls, in addition to the route card handed over at the start, which had to be stamped at the controls at Ravenna, Pescara, Aquila, Rome, Siena, Firenze, Bologna and Mantova.
On Saturday morning a swarm of 2-litre Maseratis arrived driven by works driver Musso down to comparative newcomers, and also in this class were five TR2 Triumphs, Scott-Russell, Steed and Brooke on English ones and a French one and a Swiss one. In the over-2,000-c.c, class only one 3-litre Maserati was presented, to be driven by the new young Italian driver Perdisa. There were many 3-litre four-cylinder Ferraris, privately owned, but it was not until nearly lunch-time that the works Ferraris drove in, amidst wild cheering and booming exhaust notes. Until now the programme had contained a long row Of Xs beside the Ferrari numbers, and speculation had been high as to who was to drive them. Maglioli, Sighinolfi, Carini, Paulo Marzotto and Taruffi were all on the new 3,750-c.c. six-cylinder models, with de Dion rear ends and five-speed gearboxes, while Castellotti was on loan from Lancia and had been given a 4.4-litre six-cylinder Ferrari.
Starting positions in the Mille Miglia are arranged by ballot and it was now clear as to the form the race would take. Mercédès-Benz drivers were Fangio 658, Kling 701 and Herrmann 704, and the X on 705 had been given to Maglioli; Carini was 714, on his own amongst a number of private owners. Moss was 722, and the numbers 723, 724, 725 were works Ferraris, as was 728. The Marenello firm arranged their drivers in the order Castellotti, Sighinolfi, Marzotte and Taruffi, so that the young Britisher had a formidable array behind him, added to which 726 was Bordoni with a 3-litre Gordini, and 727 was Perdisa. Also in this class was a lone Aston Martin DB3S, driven by Collins, 702, and Austin-Healeys driven by Abecassis, Flockhart, Macklin, Healey and an Italian named Verilli, but they could not hope to cause any bother to the might of Stuttgart and Maranello. The whole of the scrutineering was carried out under a hot sun shining from a cloudless sky and it seemed certain that race day would prove fine, and it was expected that records would be broken.
At 9 p.m. on Saturday night the diesel class of Mercédès-Benz and Fiat cars began to leave, and they were followed by a bunch of 250.c.c. Isettas, a row of 2 c.v. Citroëns, some of them very highly tuned, and even with lowered bodywork, for this was the Series Special Class in which modifications were allowed. Leaving at minute intervals, this group seemed to go on for ever, with Fiat 500, Fiat 600, Renault and Panhard entries. Following these went an enormous class reserved solely for absolutely standard 1,100 Fiat and Lancia Appia cars, and just after midnight the first of the 750-c.c. sports cars left. The volume of noise increased as Siata, Moretti, Stanguellini, Fiat, Giannini, Bandini and various “one-off” cars joined the fray to do battle with Panhard, D.B. and Renault sports models in a very serious Franco/Italian duel. The touring class up to 1,300 c.c. was a long row of “Millecento” Fiats, livened up a bit by some D.K.W.s. and Peugeots and a lonely Volkswagen. Special Fiats dominated the Gran Turismo class up to 1,100 c.c., and then came a most interesting group. This was the Gran Turismo up to 1,300 c.c., and more than 30 Alfa-Romeo Giulietta Sprints were making their first Mille Miglia appearance. Interspersed among the Italian cars were nine 1,300-c.c. Porsche Super models. This class was to be followed closely by all Italians and Germans, as well as many others. The over-1,300-c.c. touring class consisted mostly-of 1,900 Alfa-Romeo models, but not so many as in previous years, no doubt many drivers changing to the smaller Giulietta models.
At 3.52 a.m. on Sunday morning the really fast cars began to leave in the over-1.300-c.c. Gran Turismo group, and this contained Porsche 1,500 Super, Lancia Aurelia, Mercédès-Benz 300SL, Alfa-Romeo Sprint, Fiat 8V, a lone Jaguar 140 coupé, a 203 Salmson and two works Aston Martin DB2/4. The numerous Porsches were obviously badly handicapped by having to go in this class against much bigger cars, and hot favourites were the 300SL models, while the Aston Martins could not be ignored, being driven by Paul Frere and Wisdom. The Mercédès-Benz were in the hands of Fitch, Gendebien, Peters and Casella, and as all cars had to be strictly to catalogue the performances in this class held everyone’s attention.
It was still dark as an almost all-Italian class of 1,100-c.c. sports cars set off, comprised of numerous Fiat Specials, Osca and Stanguellini entries, and they were followed by the 1,500-c.c. sports class. This category should have seen the first appearance of the new 1,500-c.c. Maserati, but none was ready in time. However, four Porsche 550 Spiders opposed three Oscas, three Siatas, two special Giuliettas, a Peugeot, an Ermini and a lone Gordini, the last driven by the two Belgian girls, Thirion and Washer. At eight minutes past 6 a.m. the row of TR2 Triumphs began to leave, followed by a multitude of 2-litre Maseratis and three Mondial Ferraris, Taramazzo and Leto di Priolo driving factory cars and Cornacchia a very similar model.
By now it was broad daylight and the real giants of the race were lined up behind the starting ramp awaiting their time to be off on the 1,000 miles of normal Italian roads, passing through villages, towns and cities, along dead-straight coastal roads and crossing mountain passes, every imaginable type of road being covered by the route, which must surely constitute the toughest racing circuit in the world on which to drive a near-Grand Prix car. The noise of the Mercédès-Benz and Ferrari cars was accentuated by the silence of the Austin-Healeys, and as Taruffi drove down the starting ramp at 7.28 a.m. the cheering and waving reached a climax, and the 1955 Mille Miglia was completely under way. By now, of course, many of the cars were well on their way round the 1,000 miles, and, equally, many had retired or crashed, for the accident rate in this race is high, though injuries surprisingly small.
As was expected, Castellotti set the pace, his 4.4-litre proving too fast for the Mercédès-Benz, and at Ravenna he was leading Moss by nearly 2 min., and behind came Taruffi, Herrmann, Kling, Maglioli; Perdisa and Fangio, the Argentinian not really feeling in the true Mille Miglia spirit. Marzotto had retired just after Verona when a tyre burst at over 160 imp.h, the ensuing dice frightening him sufficiently for him not to want to risk another. Castellotti was going all out to try and break up the German cars, but he too had tyre trouble and then between Ravenna and Pescara the Ferrari engine could not stand the pace and blew up. By now Moss had taken the lead, but after they had all clocked in at Pescara Taruffi had got in front by 15 sec., and Moss was followed by Herrmann, Kling, Fangio and Maglioli, the rest being far behind. Everyone was driving to the limit of their cars and the average at Ravenna had been 192.414 k.p.h., while, after passing through the hills behind Ancona and the numerous villages down the Adriatic coast, Taruffi had averaged 189.909 k.p.h., all records being surpassed by a margin undreamed of by even the most optimistic follower. At Pescara Mercédès-Benz and Ferrari had refuelling stations and. while Moss stopped for only 28 sec., Taruffi was stationary for more than 60 sec. and set off again, now no longer in the lead, amid hoots and whistles from the crowd.
Moss still led at the Aquila control, but Taruffi was ever present in second place, followed by Herrmann, Kling and Fangio. With Castellotti and Marzotto out of the race and Maglioli still suffering from a damaged arm incurred during practice, the Ferrari hopes looked forlorn, especially as Carini and Sighinolfi just could not cope with the pace. The lone Maserati of Perdisa was running in seventh place but too far behind to count. At Rome, after crossing the mountains through Antrodoco and down to Rieti, Moss had gained an advantage of nearly 2 min., but still Taruffi clung on, driving desperately, but his task looked hopeless as he was followed by Herrmann, Kling and Fangio, and all four Mercédès-Benz cars seemed set to finish the course.
On the first bend after the Rome hairpin Kling slid off the road and smashed his car against the trees, wrecking it completely, but fortunately with no very severe damage to himself, and not long after this Taruffi ran into trouble, and he arrived at the main Ferrari depot at Vitterbo with an oil pump having failed. The Mercédès-Benz team had refuelled and changed rear tyres at Rome and intended to go through non-stop to Brescia, but the pace was telling, for Moss had averaged 173.021 k.p.h. to Rome, and after Tariffi’s trouble Fangio had one of the injection pipes split and ran on seven cylinders most of the way to Firenze, the next Mercédès-Benz depot. This allowed Perdisa to make up lost ground, and though Mercédès-Benz were 1-2-3 at Firenze the Maserati was not far behind the third German car. The only Ferrari left in the running was Maglioli, but, in addition to suffering with his damaged arm, his car’s shock-absorbers had given out and then a petrol pipe broke, so that he dropped a long way back. Moss was really out to win now and he never let up at all, his average at Firenze being 157.064 k.p.h., and he set out over the Futa and Raticosa passes with renewed vigour, there being no one to approach his performance.
At the top of the Futa Herrmann had trouble with his fuel tank filler and had to retire as it was impossible to corner without being soaked in petrol, and also on this section Perdisa’s Maserati broke down with engine trouble, so that Moss was now out on his own, leading the race at Bologna by nearly 28 min. from Fangio, but still the British team in the German car did not let up and over the final stretch from Cremona to Brescia Moss averaged 198.496 k.p.h., an enormous speed when it is remembered that this included stopping at Mantova to have the route card stamped. His overall average for the race was 157.650 k.p.h., beating the old record of Giannino Marzotto by over 15 k.p.h., and he covered the 1,000 miles in 10 hr. 07 min. 48 sec. After the Firenze control Fangio’s Mercédès-Benz went properly again, but he could not catch the flying Moss and he finished second, while behind him struggled Maglioli. The rest of the over-2,000-c.c. sports cars that finished were so slow that 2-litre and Gran Turismo cars filled the next seven places.
Of the various class battles the 1,300 Porsches completely trounced all the Alfa-Romeo Giuliettas, the Mercédès-Benz 300SL cars dominated their class from start to finish, Maserati won the 2-litre sports class, and Seidel and Glockler brought their 550 Porsche home first in the 1,500-c.c. class, but only after Cabianca7s Osca broke down in the mountains after Firenze.
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Mille Miglia Musings
Moss drove as hard as possible for the whole 1,600 kilometres and was not aware Taruffi had retired until he reached Brescia
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Gendebien had the bad luck to puncture a tyre just before arriving at Brescia, while leading his class; this delay let Fitch into the lead. The Belgian driver arrived at the Mile Miglia just having recovered from an illness and only saw his SL two days before the race.
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The Aston Martin DB3S of Peter Collins was fitted with disc brakes, and these necessitated peculiar wire-spoked wheels with very offset rims, in order to clear the brake pads and keep the centre line of the tyre in the right place. Some Lancia Aurelias were also fitted with this type of wire wheel.
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The lone VW in the touring class looped the loop soon after the start, but the American driver Newcombe was unhurt. Equally, Millecento Fiats, Giuliettas, Aurelias and Ferraris all wrote themselves off. To crash in the Mille Miglia is no disgrace.
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The two Aston Martin DB2/4 models were the factory ones used in the Monte Carlo Rally. Neither of them finished the Mille Miglia, though they got a bit farther than the DB3S.
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J. B. (H.W.M.) Heath had a comfortable ride round on his own in a Jaguar 140 coupé, his first Mille Miglia, and he finished 40th.
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The efforts of Abecassis in the Austin-Healey were very good, finishing ahead of many 2-litre Maseratis. Lance Macklin also completed the course, but Flockhart finished up in a ditch and Healey stopped for breakfast after all the fast cars had overtaken him, for the roads then became ppen.
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The Belgian girl Gilberte Thirion completed the course in a works 1,500-c.c. Gordini, finishing 57th, but she lost a lot of time due to running out of petrol.
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The Porsche driver Trips was leading his class when the throttle linkage broke. He wired the butterfly fully open and drove on the ignition switch for the last quarter of the race, and this dropped him to second place in his class.
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Bayol broke the rear suspension of his D.B. Panhard and the wheels leant against the body, but being f.w.d. he was able to make the car drag itself hack to the finish.
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The astounding 250-c.c. Iso-Isettas, the things that are the same measurements no matter from which angle they are viewed, with four little wheelbarrow wheels, averaged 50 m.p.h. to Rome.
There were at least eight 300SL Mercédès-Benz in Brescia during race week, and more Porsches than one cares to imagine.