2015: Mercedes-Benz celebrates 60th anniversary of the Mille Miglia victory of 1955
Stirling Moss and Hans Herrmann in the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR
Some 60 years after Mercedes-Benz’s triumph at the Mille Miglia, three of the greatest heroes of the thousand-mile race in 1955 are returning to the route between Brescia and Rome: together with the legendary Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR (W 196 S) racing car, Mercedes-Benz racing drivers Stirling Moss and Hans Herrmann are remembering the 1955 race at this year’s Mille Miglia event, which is being held between 14 and 17 May 2015. Back then the young Brit Moss won this furious Italian road race with his co-driver Denis Jenkinson in the fastest ever time of 10 hours, 7 minutes and 48 seconds over a distance of around 1,600 kilometres. Hans Herrmann, on the other hand, was the hapless hero at Mille Miglia 60 years ago as he was in an excellent second place at the wheel of his 300 SLR, likewise with a chance of victory, when an unfortunate defect ended his race on the Passo di Futa. As a high-ranking regularity race for classic cars, the 33rd nostalgic Mille Miglia in May 2015 – the 60th event overall to bear this name – keeps alive the memory of the historic road race staged between 1927 and 1957. The appearance of the original 300 SLR racing cars with the Mercedes-Benz Brand Ambassadors Sir Stirling Moss, Hans Herrmann, and Ralf Schumacher at the wheel are exclusive highlights of this year’s event.
A poignant reunion in Brescia: at the Mille Miglia 2015, the conquering and hapless heroes of 1955 are returning to the scene of one of the greatest races of all time at the wheel of original Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR racing cars. For this year’s Mille Miglia event staged between 14 and 17 May 2015, Sir Stirling Moss is a guest at the wheel of the very same original car with starting number 722 in which he won the legendary Italian road race from Brescia to Rome and back in the best ever time 60 years ago. At his side is then team-mate Hans Herrmann – who six decades ago was likewise a hot contender for victory in the thousand-mile race. The talented driver from Stuttgart put in a stunning performance in 1955, but his race ended due to an unfortunate defect on the Passo di Futa while lying in second place. The third Mercedes-Benz Brand Ambassador to line up on the Mille Miglia route is former Mercedes-Benz DTM racing driver Ralf Schumacher, also in the 300 SLR. The authentic racing cars are making their unique guest appearances in Brescia, Sirmione, San Marino, Rome and Siena during the course of the historic regularity race.
Illustrious guest appearance of the 300 SLR racing cars
“I am so pleased that Sir Stirling Moss, Hans Herrmann and Ralf Schumacher are here with us and the original Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR racing cars to celebrate the legendary win of 1955”, proclaims Michael Bock, Head of Mercedes-Benz Classic and Customer Centre. “Mercedes-Benz, principal motor car sponsor of the Mille Miglia, is doing this as a mark of its respect for the unique history of this thousand-mile race – much of which has been written by Mercedes-Benz drivers and cars.”
Around 430 cars from some 70 different brands are taking part in the Mille Miglia this year – the 60th event to be held under this name since 1927 – including almost 40 Mercedes-Benz cars. This strong presence is not a matter of course because only vehicle models that took part in one of the 24 original road races between 1927 and 1957 are allowed to participate in the Mille Miglia. But thanks to its close and long-standing ties with the Italian road race, Mercedes-Benz has an impressive number of models on this exclusive list. The line-up for the Mille Miglia 2015 includes the supercharged SS and SSK touring sports cars from the late 1920s plus the 300 SL (W 198) and 220 “Ponton” (W 180) models unveiled in 1954.
Each of the vehicles is associated with its own special moments in the history of the Mille Miglia. The supercharged sports cars, for instance, are a reminder of Rudolf Caracciola’s victory in the Mercedes-Benz SSKL at the Mille Miglia 1931. At the time, this was the first overall win achieved by a non-Italian driver. The 300 SL “Gullwing” Coupé was a standard-production sports car derived from the 300 SL racing model (W 194) with which Mercedes-Benz returned to international motor sport in 1952, achieving second (Karl Kling) and fourth (Rudolf Caracciola) places overall at that year’s Mille Miglia. The standard-production sports car then enjoyed its finest hour in 1955 when John Cooper Fitch led a triple victory for the 300 SL in the category for standard-production sports cars with a displacement above 1.3 litres. Similarly the 180 D (W 120) diesel-powered Saloon achieved a triple victory in its category in 1955, adding the perfect finishing touch to the resounding overall victory achieved by Stirling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio in the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR. Despite the racing department’s withdrawal from motor sport, Mercedes-Benz supported the entry of several 300 SL standard-production sports cars in 1956, although the main emphasis was on preparing three 220 “Ponton” Saloon models for the Mille Miglia.
The Mille Miglia 2015 starts on 14 May (Thursday) in Brescia before initially heading eastwards to Sirmione on Lake Garda. It then continues southwards to stage destination Rimini via Verona, Ferrara and Ravenna. One of the first highlights on 15 May (Friday) is the drive through San Marino. From here, the route runs parallel to the coast via Sengallia, Loreto and Teramo, crossing the Apennines to the west before reaching Rome via Antrodoco and Rieti. On 16 May (Saturday), the route takes the participants from Rome to Parma via Viterbo, legendary passes such as the Radicofani, Siena, Pisa and Lucca. The fourth and last stage on 17 May (Sunday) is from Parma back to Brescia via Piacenza, Monza and Bergamo. People will be able to see the Mercedes-Benz Brand Ambassadors in their authentic 300 SLR models in Brescia, Sirmione, San Marino, Rome, and Siena during the course of the Mille Miglia.
Historic relevance and aesthetics of modern sportiness
This year too, the “Mercedes-Benz Tribute to Mille Miglia” is adding to the fascination of the regularity race: around 60 Mercedes-Benz models are lining up for this homage to the historic road race. They include models built between 1958 and 1981 plus post-1981 icons of modern sportiness, in particular the SL-Class Roadsters, the range-topping Mercedes-AMG models, and the SLR and SLS super sports cars. Not to mention, making its first appearance here, the SL Special Edition “Mille Miglia 417” – the new limited-edition model in the current SL model series
R 231, with which Mercedes-Benz is remembering the outstanding category win achieved by John Fitch and Kurt Gessl 60 years ago. The field takes to the Mille Miglia route around an hour before the official start. With this tribute, the Stuttgart-based brand is building a fascinating bridge between the history – and the stories – of the Mille Miglia on one hand and the aesthetics of modern sportiness on the other.
The Mercedes-Benz drivers at the Mille Miglia 2015
Born on 17 September 1929 in London, Great Britain
Following his outstanding victory in the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR at the Mille Miglia 1955, Stirling Moss wrote himself onto the list of all-time Mercedes-Benz racing greats. At this time the charismatic young racing driver was only 25 years old. Stirling had been dreaming of a career as a racing driver from an early age, and in 1948 bought a Cooper 500 racing car and took part in his first race in the British 500 cc formula (Formula 3). This was an early start to an international career.
In 1949 he was already driving for the British H.W.M. (Hersham and Walton Motors) works team in Formula 2, and in 1949 and 1950 he became British Formula 2 champion. In 1950, Moss also won the Tourist Trophy in a private Jaguar XK 120, beating the works cars entered by Jaguar. The next year he would head up the Jaguar team. But the 20-year-old racing driver was not only making his mark on the track. Moss was one of the first professional drivers at the time to take on a manager who would look after his engagements and fees. He was therefore there at the start when motor racing became more professionalised.
Moss entered Formula 1 in his own Maserati 250 F in 1954. Among his successes in that year was third place in the Belgian Grand Prix. In the Italian Grand Prix, he fought an exciting duel with Juan Manuel Fangio. At the end of 1954, after a series of test drives, Alfred Neubauer signed Stirling Moss as a driver for the Mercedes-Benz works team in the 1955 season. As anticipated, Moss won in the Silver Arrows: following his triumph in the British Grand Prix at Aintree, the magazine “Autosport” even appeared with the cover in the revered colours of white (the German racing colour – for Mercedes-Benz) and green (the British racing colour – for Stirling Moss as the first Englishman to have won this Grand Prix in his home country). The victory in Aintree was the highlight of the 1955 Formula 1 season for Moss. He also achieved second places in the Grand Prix races in Belgium and the Netherlands, and in the inaugural race in Argentina he shared fourth place with Herrmann and Kling. He became Formula 1 championship runner-up.
However in 1955, the British racing driver was truly in his element in sports car races, at the wheel of the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR racing car developed specially for this season. In this car Moss won the Mille Miglia in the best time ever achieved, won the Tourist Trophy in Dundrod (with John Cooper Fitch) and also won the Targa Florio in Sicily (with Peter Collins). Moss was therefore instrumental in securing the world sports car championship title for Mercedes-Benz.
When Mercedes-Benz withdrew from active motor sport at the end of 1955, Moss continued his career driving cars by Maserati, Vanwall, Cooper, Porsche, Aston Martin, Ferrari, Lotus and B.R.M. He consistently showed himself to be a world-class driver. Following an accident in Goodwood, Moss retired from active racing in 1962, at the age of 33. Stirling Moss, who was knighted by the Queen in 1999, also maintained close ties with motor racing after the end of his racing career. Moss became particularly involved as a Mercedes-Benz Brand Ambassador and eyewitness of one of the most dazzling eras in motor racing history at Mercedes-Benz Classic events.
Born on 23 February 1928 in Stuttgart, Germany
The 1955 season had the potential to be a great year for Hans Herrmann in the Mercedes-Benz racing department. He certainly had the necessary talent – during the debut of the new Mercedes-Benz W 196 in the 1954 French Grand Prix in Reims, the young newcomer set standards by achieving the fastest lap time. But in 1955 bad luck was the cockpit companion of the young man from Stuttgart. Herrmann was severely injured in an accident when practising for the Monte Carlo Grand Prix in Monaco, and was no longer able to race in that season.
After training as a cake baker he began his racing career in the 1952 Hessian Winter Rally, driving a privately entered Porsche 356. In that same year he achieved a class victory in the Deutschlandfahrt Rally. In 1953 and 1954, Herrmann drove a Porsche to achieve class victories in the Mille Miglia. He gained the attention of Mercedes-Benz racing manager Alfred Neubauer, who brought him into the new Formula 1 team as a young talent in 1954. Throughout his career Hans Herrmann proved himself to be an extraordinarily versatile racing driver in Formula 1 and 2 Grand Prix events, sports car races and rallies. Apart from Mercedes-Benz cars, he mainly drove Porsche racing and sports cars. He also competed in the cockpits of B.R.M., Cooper, Maserati, and Veritas racing cars.
Herrmann achieved his greatest successes in long-distance races, for example with overall victories in the Targa Florio (1960), the Daytona 24-hour race (1968) and the Le Mans 24-hour race (1970). His second place driving a Mercedes-Benz 220 SE (W 111) in the 1961 Argentine Road Grand Prix was also impressive. In 2012, Herrmann was honoured by the town of Collesano for participating in the Targa Florio eight times. The former works driver attended the award ceremony driving a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR. Hans Herrmann crowned his motor racing career with the Le Mans victory in 1970, and retired from active motorsport in the same year. As a Mercedes-Benz Classic Brand Ambassador he remains closely associated with the company and with motorsport to this day.
Born on 30 June 1975 in Hürth-Hermülheim, Germany
Racing driver Ralf Schumacher began his career in karting in the late 1970s. Following outstanding successes here, the younger brother of record-breaking Formula-1 World Champion Michael Schumacher entered Formula racing in 1992. Schumacher achieved notable success in Formula 3 and the Japanese Formula Nippon, for example, before joining the Jordan team in Formula 1 in 1997. By 2007, he had won six of his 180 races in Formula 1 for the Jordan, Williams and Toyota teams. His most successful seasons were in 2001 and 2002, finishing fourth in the overall classification on both occasions.
Between 2008 and 2012, Ralf Schumacher then raced for Mercedes-Benz in the German Touring Car Masters (DTM). Following the end of his active career, Schumacher maintained his close ties with Mercedes-Benz as a Brand Ambassador.
The Mercedes-Benz cars at the Mille Miglia 2015
Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR racing sports car (W 196 S, 1955)
It was with the 300 SLR (W 196 S) that Mercedes-Benz won the World Sportscar Championship in 1955. The vehicle is basically a type W 196 R Formula 1 racing car with a two-seater sports car body. The main technical difference is to be found in the engine: the racing sports car, not being bound by the Formula 1 regulations limiting the engine’s displacement, was powered by a three-litre version of the eight cylinder in-line engine and featured cylinder blocks made not from steel, but from light-alloy. Apart from this, the 300 SLR is not powered by special methanol-based racing fuel but by premium petrol. Its output of 222 kW (302 hp) and its durability and reliability made the 300 SLR far superior to its competitors of 1955 – a fact it went on to prove with its double victories at the Mille Miglia, in the Eifel race, the Swedish Grand Prix and the Targa Florio (Sicily). At the 1955 Mille Miglia, Stirling Moss and his co-driver Denis Jenkinson (starting number 722) came in first with the average speed, unequalled to this day, of 157.65 km/h. The track record of this sports car remains unique: the W 196 S won every single race the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR entered and finished.
Technical data – Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR racing sports car (W 196 S)
Period of use: 1955
Displacement: 2,982 cc
Output: 222 kW (302 hp)
Top speed: over 300 km/h
Mercedes-Benz 300 SL “Gullwing” (W 198, 1954-1957)
In February 1954, the 300 SL standard-production sports car (W 198) had its world premiere at the International Motor Sport Show in New York. The Coupé was nicknamed the “Gullwing” on account of its gullwing-like doors attached to the roof. The high-performance sports car was based on the legendary 300 SL racing car (W 194) from the 1952 season and was the first series-production passenger car to feature a four-stroke engine and petrol injection. With an engine output of 158 kW (215 hp) – a good 20 per cent more than that of the carburettor-equipped racing version of 1952 – the W 198 was in the top echelon of the production sports cars of its time, and ideal for sporting competition. To be ready for this, a number of different suspension set-ups and final drive ratios were optionally available to allow top speeds between around 225 km/h and 250 km/h. The 300 SL standard-production sports car achieved a legendary triple victory in its category at the Mille Miglia 1955. John Cooper Fitch finished fifth overall in his car with starting number 417, winning the category for standard-production sports cars with a displacement above 1.3 litres. A total of 1,400 of the 300 SL “Gullwing” models were built between 1954 and 1957, with no fewer than 867 of these being produced in the year of the Mille Miglia victory in 1955.
Technical data – Mercedes-Benz 300 SL “Gullwing” (W 198)
Production period: 1954-1957
Displacement: 2,996 cc
Output: 158 kW (215 hp)
Top speed: up to 250 km/h
Mercedes-Benz 220 “Ponton” (W 180, 1954-1956)
Spring of 1954 saw the launch of the 220 model, also designated 220 a (W 180) internally, the first Mercedes-Benz six-cylinder model with a unibody design. Its modern, roomy “Ponton” body, debuted by Mercedes-Benz half a year earlier in the form of the medium-sized Model 180, offered unheard of levels of spaciousness and comfort. In a first for series-production vehicles, the Model W 180 enjoyed safer handling characteristics thanks to a single-joint swing axle. Under the leadership of Karl Kling, the Sports department specially prepared three of these vehicles for use at the Mille Miglia 1956. These already featured the twin carburettor system that would be fitted to the succeeding model, the 220 S, taking engine output to around 85 kW (115 hp). To ensure sporty handling, shorter, harder springs and modified shock absorbers were fitted. In addition to this, drivers changed gear using a floor shift of the type found in the 190 SL (W 121), instead of the steering wheel gearshift provided as standard.
Technical data – Mercedes-Benz 220 “Ponton” (W 180, series-production version)
Production period: 1954-1956
Displacement: 2,195 cc
Output: 63 kW (85 hp)
Top speed: 150 km/h
Mercedes-Benz SSK (W 06, 1928)
The SSK (W 06) model is the most exclusive and alluring of the six-cylinder, supercharged sports cars belonging to the Mercedes-Benz S-Series. The model designation stands for “Super Sport Short” (German abbreviation: SSK), alluding to both the car’s particularly sporty character and its shortened wheelbase. In the summer of 1928, works racing driver Rudolf Caracciola won the Gabelbach, Schauinsland, and Mont Ventoux races in the brand-new SSK at the first attempt. In 1930 and 1931, he won the European Hill Climb Championship at the wheel of the SSK. The lighter and yet more powerful version from 1931, which was also known as the SSKL (German abbreviation for “Super Sport Short Light”), also scored some spectacular victories. One of the most outstanding of these was in the legendary thousand-mile “Mille Miglia” race: the arduous road race from Brescia to Rome and back was won by Rudolf Caracciola driving an SSKL in April 1931. He thus became the first non-Italian driver ever to win the race.
Technical data – Mercedes-Benz SSK (W 06, series-production version)
Production period: 1928-1930
Displacement: 7,065 cc
Output: 125 kW (170 hp), with supercharger 165 kW (225 hp)
Top speed: 192 km/h
Mercedes-Benz SS (W 06, 1930)
With a displacement of 7.1 litres, the Mercedes-Benz SS (Super Sport) six-cylinder in-line engine delivered up to 125 kW (170 hp) without supercharger, and up to 166 kW (225 hp) with the supercharger. Despite its powerful engine, the Mercedes-Benz SS was considered to be a Gran Turismo model. The Model SS had a baptism of fire as a racing car with up to 184 kW (250 hp) when it entered and won the Bühler Höhe Hill Climb. This was just the first of many racing triumphs. A total of 111 Mercedes-Benz SS models were built between 1928 and 1933.
Technical data – Mercedes-Benz SS (series-production version)
Production period: 1928-1933
Displacement: 7,065 cc
Output: 125 kW (170 hp), with supercharger 165 kW (225 hp) Top speed: 190 km/h