It was a victory Stirling Moss himself described as his “greatest win”, and is a record that still stands to this day; over 1000 miles on unfamiliar public roads, with spectators spilling onto the course and the possibility of death looming over every twist and bend, Moss managed to complete the Mille Miglia in just 10 hours and 7 minutes at the wheel of one of history’s most fantastic race cars, in what was perhaps the greatest display of driving of all time.
Equipped with the legendary 310 bhp 300SLR, journalist Denis Jenkinson as navigator, and two spare wheels in the boot, Moss, at 25 years of age, rolled up to the starting line. The Mille Miglia is a time trial where contestants set off individually at one-minute intervals. At 7:22 in the morning, Moss put his foot flat and the silver missile adorned with those same numbers in red launched off the line. The race ahead was a daunting one for Moss: many of the other drivers had far superior knowledge of the track, and on a 1000 mile race this was a huge disadvantage. Luckily, Jenkinson had a trick up his sleeve to offset the advantage the local drivers had in the form of a roller map that had a record of all the potential hazards.
Things were going smoothly for Moss and Jenkinson, until at about 90 miles into the race, they approached a city somewhere in the north of Italy called Padua which, as Stirling would soon find out, is Italian for ‘Fucks up your car’. Moss noticed that Eugenio Castellotti was approaching fast in a Ferrari, and misjudging a corner, he collided with a hay bale—at 175mph. Luckily, as you can see from the photos, the damage was largely cosmetic and the crash resulted in little more than a dented front bumper. However, it did have its consequences, as Castellotti sped past and was soon building an increasing lead. 188 miles in, to Moss’s advantage, the Italian had to stop to change his tyres in the city of Ravenna—an opportunity that he made the most of as he overtook the Ferrari once again.
However, that didn’t mark the end of Moss and Jenkinson’s woes. As they approached the Adriatic Coast, the petrol tank cap worked itself loose, spraying fuel in the faces of Moss and Jenkinson. Overwhelmed by the chemicals, Jenkinson leaned over the side to vomit, and as he did so the force of the air whipped his glasses from his face. Either this happened often, or Jenkinson wasn’t aware of the need to save weight, because he carried a spare.
Moss only learned of his victory once he crossed the finish line in Brescia: Castelotti’s Ferrari had experienced transmission issues and he had to retire, and Moss’s teammate, Fangio, had crossed the line 33 minutes slower. Moss’s time of 10 hours and 7 minutes is something he humbly attributes almost entirely to the car, stating that he doesn’t believe he would have been able to do it in anything else and that no other manufacturer but Mercedes would have been able to construct such an outstanding machine. Moss’s record still stands to this day, as just two years later, in 1957 the Mille Miglia would be discontinued for being too dangerous to both the drivers and the spectators.