Mille Miglia 1986

In May, another historical gathering will take place to commemorate the great Italian road race. It will be an opportunity for enthusiasts to mingle with beautiful machinery and to see the cars being driven over the same route, but it will not be a road race. To keep it in perspective, we publish below extracts from D.S.J’s account of his winning drive with Stirling Moss in the 1955 Mille Miglia.

Cruising at maximum speed. we seemed to spend most of the time between Verona and Vicenza passing Austin-Healeys that could not have been doing much more than 115 mph, and, with flashing lights, horn blowing and a wave of the hand, we went by as though they were touring. Approaching Padova Moss pointed behind and I looked round to see a Ferrai gaining on us rapidly, and with a grimace of disgust at one another we realised it was Castellotti. The Mercedes-Benz was giving all it had, and Moss was driving hard but taking no risks, letting the car slide just so far on the corners and no more. Entering the main street of Padova at 150 mph we braked for the right-angle bend at the end, and suddenly I realised that Moss was beginning to work furiously on the steering wheel, for we were arriving at the corner much too fast and it seemed doubtful whether we could stop in time. I sat fascinated, watching Moss working away to keep control, and I was so intrigued to follow his every action and live every inch of the way with him, that I completely forgot to be scared. With the wheels almost on locking-point he kept the car straight to the last possible fraction of a second, making no attempt to get round the corner, for that would have meant a complete spin and then anything could happen. Just when it seemed we must go head-on into the straw bales Moss got the speed low enough to risk letting go the brakes and try taking the corner and as the front of the car slid over the dry road we went bump! into the bales with our left-hand front corner, bounced off into the middle of the road and as the car was then pointing in the right direction. Moss selected bottom gear and opened out again.

All this time Castellottii was right behind us, and as we bounced off the bales he nipped by us, grinning over his shoulder. As we set off after him, I gave Moss a little handclap of appreciation for showing me just how a really great driver acts in a difficult situation.

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Along the new road by the side of the River Po we overtook Lance Macklin in his Austin-Healey and he gave us a cheery wave, and then we went through Ferrara, under the railway bridge, over the traffic lights and down the main streets and out onto the road to Ravenna. All the way along there were signs of people having the most almighty incidents, black marks from locked wheels making the weirdest patterns on the road, and many times on corners we had signalled as dangerous or dodgy we came across cars in the touring categories lying battered and bent by the roadside, sure indication that our grading of the corner was not far wrong. To Ravenna the road winds a great deal and now I could admire the Moss artistry as he put in some very steady “nine-tenths” motoring, especially on open bends round which he could see and on those that he knew and the way he would control the car with throttle and steering wheel long after all tour tyres had reached the breakaway point was a sheer joy, and most difficult to do Justice to with a mere Pen and Paper. Approaching the Ravenna control I took the route-card board from its holder held it up for Moss to see, to indicate that we had to stop here to receive the official stamp and then as we braked towards the ‘CONTROLLO’ banner across the road and the black and white chequered line on the road itself, amid waving flags and numerous officials. I held my right arm well out of the car to indicate to them which side we wanted the official with the rubber stamp to be. Holding the board on the side of the cockpit we crossed the control line, bang went the rubber stamp, and we were off without actually coming to rest. Just beyond the control were a row of pits and there was 723, Castellotti’s Ferrari, having some tyre changes, which was not surprising in view of the way he had been driving.

With a scream of “Castellotti”, Moss accelerated hard round the next corner and we twisted our way through the streets of Ravenna, nearly collecting an archway in the process, and then out on the fast winding road to Forli. Our time to Ravenna had been well above the old record but Castellotti had got there before us and we had no idea how Taruffi and the others behind us were doing. Now Moss continued the pace with renewed vigour and we went through Forli, waving to the garage that salvaged the SL we crashed in practice, down the last winding road to Rimini, with another wave to the Alfa Romeo service station that looked after the SLR that broke its engine. I couldn’t help thinking that we had certainly left our mark round the course during practice. Ever since leaving the start we had had the rising sun shining in our eyes and, now. with the continual effects of sideways “G” on my body, my poor stomach was beginning to suffer and, together with the heat from the gearbox by my left buttock, the engine fumes, and the nauseating brake-lining smells from the inboard-mounted brakes it cried “enough’ and what little breakfast I had eaten went overboard, together with my spectacles, for I made the fatal mistake of turning my head sideways at 150 mph with my goggles lowered. Fortunately, I had a spare pair, and there was no time to worry about a protesting stomach for we were approaching Pesaro, where there was a sharp right corner.

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….Just after Acquapendente I made my first and only mistake in navigating, that it was not serious is why you are reading these words now, having just given warning of a very dodgy right-hand bend I received a shower of petrol down my neck and looking round to see what had happened we arrived at another similar corner, and I missed the signal. Fortunately Moss had recognised the corner, for he knew many parts at the course extremely well, and after seeing that the petrol was coming from the filler due to surge, I looked back to see an irate Moss face saying very rude things at me and shaking his fist, all the while cornering at a fantastic speed. How serious the fuel surge was I did not know, and as the exhaust pipes were on the side of the car I decided it would be all right and said nothing to Moss, as he appeared not to have received any of the spray. For the next 10 or 15 miles I received this gentle spray of cold fuel, cooling in the enormous heat of the cockpit, but a little worrying in case it got worse. Up the Radicofani Pass we stormed and the way the car leapt and slithered about would have really frightened me had I not already had a lot of experience of its capabilities and of the skill of Stirling Moss: as it was I sat there and revelled in the glorious feeling of really fast motoring. Over the top of the pass we swept past a saloon car competitor, into a downhill right-hand bend followed by a sharp left-hander. Now, previous to this Moss had been pointing to the front of the car and indicating that a brake was beginning to grab on occasions, and this was one of them. Without any warning the car spun and there was just time to think what a desolated part of Italy in which to crash, when I realised that we had almost stopped in our own length and were sliding gently into the ditch to land with a crunch that dented the tail. “This is all right” I thought, “we can probably push it out of this one,” and I was about to start getting out when Moss selected bottom gear and we drove out — lucky indeed! Before we could point the car in the right direction we had to make two reverses and as we accelerated away down the mountainside I fiddled about putting the safety catch back on the reverse position of the gear’ gate, while we poked our tongues out at each other in mutual derision.

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On the winding road from Siena to Florence physical strain began to tell on me, for with no steering wheel to give me a feel of what the car was going to do, my body was being continually subjected to terrific centrifugal forces as the car changed direction. The heat, fumes and noise were becoming almost unbearable, but I gave myself renewed energy by looking at Stirling Moss who was sitting beside me, completely relaxed working away at the steering as if we had only just left Brescia, instead of having been driving for nearly 700 miles under a blazing sun. Had I not known the route I would have happily got out there and then, having enjoyed every mile, but ahead lay some interesting roads over which we had practised hard, and the anticipation of watching Moss really try over Mese stretches, with the roads closed to other traffic, made me forget all about the physical discomforts. I was reminded a little of the conditions when we approached one corner and some women got up and fled with looks of terror on their faces, for the battered Mercedes-Benz, dirty and oil stained and making as much noise as a Grand Prix car, with two sweaty, dirty, oil-stained figures behind the windscreen must have looked terrifying to peaceful peasants, as it entered the corner in a full four-wheel slide. The approaches of Florence were almost back-breaking as we bounced and leapt over the badly maintained roads, and across the tramlines, and my heart went out to the driver of an orange Porsche who was hugging the crown of the steeply cambered road. He must have been shaken as we shot past with the left-hand wheels right down in the gutter. Down a steep hill in second gear we went, into third at peak revs, and I thought “it’s a brave man who can unleash nearly 300 bhp down a hill this steep and then change into a higher gear”.

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…The hard part was now over, but Moss did not relax, for it had now occurred to him that it was possible to get back to Brescia in the round 10 hours, which would make the race average 100 mph. Up the long fast straights through Modena, Reggio Emilia and Parma we went, not wasting a second anywhere, cruising at a continuous 170 mph cutting off only where I indicated corners, or bumpy hill-brows. Looking up I suddenly realised that we were overtaking an aeroplane, and then I knew I was living in the realms of fantasy, and when we caught and passed a second one my brain began to boggle at the sustained speed. They were flying at about 300 ft filming our progress and it must have looked most impressive, especially as we dropped back by going round the Fidenza by-pass, only to catch up again on the main road. This really was pure speed, the car was going perfectly and reaching 7,600 rpm in fifth gear in places, which was as honest a 170 mph plus, as I’d care to argue about. Going into Piacenza where the road doubles back towards Mantova we passed a 2cv Citroen bowling along merrily, having left Brescia the night before, and then we saw a 2-litre Meseta, ahead which shook us perceptibly, for we thought we had passed them all long ago. It was number 621, Francesco Giardini, and appreciating justt how fast he must have driven to reach this point before us, we gave him a salutary wave as we roared past, leaving Piacenza behind us. More important was the fact that we were leaving the sun behind us, for nice though it was to have dry roads to race on, the blazing sun had made visibility for both of us very tiring. Through Cremona we went without relaxing and now we were on the last leg of the course, there being a special prize and the Nuvolari Cup tor the fastest speed from Cremona to Brescia. Although the road lay straight for most of the way, there were more than six villages to traverse, as well as the final route card stamp to get in the town of Mantova. In one village, less than 50 miles from the finish, we had an enormous slide on some melted tar and for a moment I thought we would hit a concrete wall, but with that absurdly calm manner of his, Moss tweaked the wheel this way and that, and caught the car just in time, and with his foot hard down we went on our way as if nothing had happened. The final mites into Brescia were sheer joy, the engine was singing round on full power, and after we had passed our final direction indication I put my rollermap away and thought “lf it blows to pieces now, we can carry it the rest of the way.” The last corner into the finishing area was taken in a long slide with the power and noise full on and we crossed the finishing line at well over 100 mph, still not knowing that we had made motor-racing history, but happy and contented at having completed the whole race and done our best.

The full story of Moss and Jenkinson’s victory is being reprinted and will shortly be available from the MOTOR SPORT offices.