In 1955, having provided repeated evidence of their impressive performance over the previous few years, Mercedes-Benz racing and sports cars now had the opportunity to add the majestic finishing touches to a great racing adventure.
The motor sport department vested its hopes for the 1955 season on an improved Grand Prix car and the 300 SLR (W 196 S) racing sports model. Racing Manager Alfred Neubauer had recruited Englishman Stirling Moss as the second star of the team alongside Juan Manuel Fangio – joined by a number of other drivers in the brand’s driver line-up for various races during 1955 including Peter Collins, Werner Engel, John Fitch, Olivier Gendebien, Hans Herrmann, Karl Kling, Pierre Levegh, André Simon, Piero Taruffi and Wolfgang Graf Berghe von Trips.
After years of anticipation, the now legendary Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR finally made its race debut on May 1 1955 in the Mille Miglia thousand-mile race – starting and finishing in Brescia, Italy. Already the world's most popular and famous road race, the Mille Miglia celebrated its 28th running in 1955 and that year, Neubauer entered four racing sports cars. Although the designation and bodywork of the racing sports car were similar to the 300 SL of 1952, the SLR had a lot more in common technically with the all-conquering Grand Prix Silver Arrow – a relationship confirmed by its internal designation W 196 S.
In addition to the four new cars, the line-up of 520 vehicles for the long-distance race also included several Mercedes-Benz 300 SL cars and even three Mercedes-Benz 180 D diesel saloons. The 1597-kilometer route took the cars from Brescia via Padua, Ferrara and Pescara to Rome, and then via Florence, the Futa and Raticosa passes, Bologna and Piacenza back to Brescia.
The pre-race favourite in 1955 was Juan Manuel Fangio, who was bidding to become the first non-Italian since Rudolf Caracciola to win the Brescia thousand-mile race – the latter having taken the spoils in 1931 in his Mercedes-Benz SSKL.
The four Mercedes-Benz cars moved into the top four places en route to Rome. However, leading the way wasn’t Fangio, but the young Englishman Stirling Moss and his navigator Denis Jenkinson. For Neubauer, though, this position was a bad omen: “There's an old rule, a kind of curse, that hangs over this race. The lead driver in Rome has never won the Mille Miglia. It's not looking good for Moss,” he mused.
Mercedes-Benz stalwart Karl Kling subsequently retired following an accident shortly after leaving the Italian capital, while stable mates Hans Herrmann and Hermann Eger were soon undone by a fault with the tank filler neck. Moss, however, continued to turn the screw over the Apennines and through the Bassa – securing the Gran Premio Nuvolari for the fastest passage between Cremona and Brescia. The Brit romped home in a record time for the Mille Miglia, which remains intact to this day – ten hours, seven minutes and 48 seconds to cover the race distance, equating to an average speed of 157.65 km/h.
Moss' victory can be traced back to a number of factors: the skill of the driver, the strategic genius displayed by Alfred Neubauer in the meticulous planning of his team’s fuel supply, the extensive practice runs, Jenkinson's roadbook and the outstanding Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR, which laid down a powerful claim to supremacy in the sports car championship on its debut outing in Italy. In addition to overall victory, Mercedes-Benz also took the honours with a trio of 300 SL cars in the over 1300-cc GT class, as well as top position in the diesel class in the shape of three Mercedes-Benz 180 D racers.