The name Stirling Moss is one familiar to us all – but how many know the story of one his most famous wins?
Read on to find out, and then watch the fascinating video presented by Barry Salmon, Brooklands Museum member and Mercedes advanced driving instructor. (scroll to the bottom of this article for the link)
The year is 1955 and Moss is driving would become the iconic Mercedes Benz 300 SLR in the infamous Italian Mille Miglia road race. Partnered with motor racing journalist Denis Jenkinson as his navigator, Moss would make history by finishing the 1000 miles around Italy in the record time of just over 10 hours.
The video, including Salmon’s engaging commentary spliced with vintage footage, brilliantly tells how Moss came to be driving the Mercedes and the brains behind the car’s inception.
Salmon takes us back to just after WWII and two key figures: Mercedes Grand Prix team manager Alfred Neubauer and engineer Rudi Uhlenhaut.
He explains how Uhlenhaut and Neubauer’s expertise and racing passion helped the Mercedes marque rise from the ashes of the bombed-out factories in Stuttgart. Uhlenhaut took a Mercedes 300 saloon car and fitted it with a spaceframe chassis – a latticework that was strong, rigid, but more importantly, extremely light.
That car competed in the Mille Miglia in 1952 and while it didn’t win, it did put it on the world stage.
Salmon talks us through how car racing was, at the time, going through a series of immense changes and the Mercedes team working to adapt its cars, culminating in Uhlenhaut developing a car capable of winning the new World Sportscar Championship – a 196, two-seater SLR.
Also in the early 1950s, a young driver called Stirling Moss was making a name for himself. After a strong season at the wheel of a Maserati 250, Moss was invited to drive for Mercedes. And that’s how he came to be at the wheel of the Mercedes Benz 300 SLR on May 1, 1955 for the early morning start of the Mille Miglia.
Salmon’s takes us through the detail of how and why Moss secured that victory, also explaining the fascinating role of Denis Jenkinson. Apparently the two made multiple reconnoitre trips around the race route – writing-off a couple of cars along the way, noting every detail of every turn. Jenkinson devised an ingenious navigation aid – committing every mile to a hand-written role of paper that then communicated to Moss during the race via a series of hand-signals.
Moss’s win with Mercedes catapulted his career in motorsport and he went on to achieve huge success. Interestingly, Mercedes pulled out of motor racing completely later that year, perhaps as a result of a 300 SLR being involved in a multi-car crash in the 1955 Le Mans road race in France and contributing to the deaths of more than 80 people. It didn’t resume racing again until 1985.
Moss retired from racing in 1962, aside from some special appearances. He was knighted Sir Stirling Moss in 2000 and continued to be involved with the sport until his retirement in 2018. He passed away in 2020, aged 90.Do watch Barry Salmon’s video The Story of the Mercedes Benz SLR ‘722’. There’s so much more detail in it we couldn’t possibly cover in this article. And if you get time, be sure to visit the Brookland’s Museum. Unfortunately the Mercedes 300 SLR is no longer there, but you’ll find a wealth of detail about motor-racing history, including more on British racing legend Sir Stirling Moss.