Here are Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson near the top of the Futa Pass in their Mercedes 300SLR on their way to winning the 1955 Mille Miglia with a time and speed that would never be attained by anyone else. Their winning time for the race was 10 hours, 7 minutes and 48 seconds which translated into an average speed of 98.5 mph. Juan Manuel Fangio, the World Champion and a true open road expert, who finished second in another 300SLR was almost 32 minutes behind. That average speed is all the more impressive when one considers that the course ran over narrow Italian roads, through numerous cities and towns, as well as over several mountain passes.
Mercedes-Benz had made their usual intense and detailed preparation for this very difficult and dangerous race. Moss and Jenkinson did several laps of the course, using a Mercedes 220A sedan, a 300SL and a 300SLR. Moss and Jenkinson had decided on a new approach because they felt, probably correctly, that they could not beat the top Italian drivers unless they employed a level of technology that the others did not have. Therefore, from these practice runs Jenkinson produced a roll of “pace notes” which were inserted into an aluminum container behind a protective window with knobs to turn the roll during the race. These very detailed notes allowed him to warn Moss of both dangerous corners or “humps” in the road and those which could be taken flat out, thereby saving large amounts of time. This preparation, over several months, included two accidents, one with the 300SL and the other with an SLR, fortunately without damage to either Moss or Jenkinson.
At the start, Eugenio Castellotti’s Ferrari 121LM, starting at 7:23 AM, was only a minute behind Moss. The Italian overtook the Mercedes in Padova but they found him again at the Ravenna control having his rear tires changed. Castellotti would retire with engine problems not long thereafter. At Pescara, still on the Adriatic coast, Piero Taruffi’s Ferrari 118LM was slightly ahead on elapsed time, having started six minutes behind Moss. At Rome Moss and Jenkinson were slightly in the lead over Taruffi, having averaged 107 mph so far. However, they were coming to Taruffi’s home turf as he lived at Viterbo not far north of Rome, but his car was to fail shortly afterwards.
The high average speed that Moss was maintaining would be slowed by the traverses of the Radicofani, Futa and Raticosa passes and then rise again over the long straight runs between Bologna and Brescia. They had tried to set an average of 100 mph and came very close. It was nevertheless one of the most impressive racing performances of all time.
Photo by Yves Debraine ©The Klemantaski Collection