When it comes to classic car events, there is no question that the Mille Miglia is one of the highlights of the year. Car enthusiasts from around the world make the trek to Italy to watch or take part in the 1,000 mile endurance race that kicks off on May 16. Taking part in the 2013 Mille Miglia will be Mercedes-Benz Classic with the legendary 300 SLR, numerous other vintage models and Mercedes-Benz USA CEO Steve Cannon.
Watch the video below of last year’s Mille Miglia for an idea of what Steve Cannon and other racers and fans will experience at this year’s race.
Thanks to a long illustrious history, Mercedes-Benz and Mille Miglia will be forever linked. For example Karl Kling drove a 300 SL racing car (W 194) to finish second place in 1952, symbolising the successful return of the Mercedes-Benz brand to the international racing stage. And of course no one can forget the legendary victory of Rudolf Caracciola in 1931. Along with his co-driver Wilhelm Sebastian, the Mercedes-Benz driver became the first non-Italian to win the Mille Miglia in his SSKL model.
And perhaps the most famous moment for Mercedes-Benz at the Mille Miglia was in 1955 when Stirling Moss and his co-driver Denis Jenkinson won the 1,000 mile race with the number 722 300 SLR (W 196 S). Sterling Moss won the race by maintaining an average speed of 97.95 mph. The team completed the course in the fastest ever time of ten hours, seven minutes and 48 seconds.
There will be four famous faces representing Mercedes-Benz Classic at this year’s event: former Formula 1 driver David Coulthard will drive a 300 SLR (W 196 S) while Karl Wendlinger and Jochen Mass will team up in a 300 SL (W 198). Bernd Mayländer, the current driver of the Official F1 Safety Car, will also start at this year’s Mille Miglia in a 300 SL (W 198).
In addition to several Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W 198) models, this superb line-up will include an SSK, the legendary six-cylinder supercharged vehicle from the pre-war era. Also taking part is the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL racing model (W 194) with the original chassis number 5. It is the same vehicle that saw Rudolf Caracciola secure fourth place at the Mille Miglia in 1952. What’s more, the 300 SLR with starting number 658, behind whose wheel David Coulthard will be starting the race, is an original participant vehicle: in 1955, the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio drove this very vehicle solo across the finish line to take second place in the overall rankings, coming in just behind the winning team of Moss and Jenkinson, thus making 1955 doubly successful for the Mercedes-Benz brand.
The vehicles from Mercedes-Benz Classic at Mille Miglia 2013
Mercedes-Benz SSK 27/170/225 hp (W 06), 1928
Of all the six-cylinder supercharged vehicles from the Mercedes-Benz S-series, the SSK (W 06) is the most exclusive and most impressive model. SSK stands for “Super-Sport-Kurz” (Super Sport Short) and its particularly sporty design is emphasised by the shortened wheelbase. Rudolf Caracciola got off to a flying start in the summer of 1928 in the brand-new SSK, winning the Gabelbachrennen race, as well as both the Schauinsland and Mont Ventoux races. In 1930 and 1931, the SSK helped him secure victory at the European Hill Climb Championship. Spectacular success was also achieved with the lighter, even more powerful version from 1931, known as the SSKL (“Super-Sport-Kurz-Leicht”; Super Sport Short Light). One particularly significant victory was recorded at Mille Miglia in April 1931 when Rudolf Caracciola drove the SSKL over the finishing line in first place, making him the first ever non-Italian to win the race. He even set a new record by travelling at an average speed of 101.1 km/h.
Mercedes-Benz 300 SL racing car (W 194), 1952
Mercedes-Benz returned to the world of international motorsport after the Second World War in 1952 with the 300 SL racing car (W 194). This vehicle was based on an extremely light, yet torsionally stiff space frame, covered by an elegantly curved, aerodynamic light-alloy body shell made from aluminium magnesium sheet metal. The space frame, with its increased torsional stiffness, was quite high at the sides of the vehicle in comparison to other vehicles. In turn, this meant that conventional doors were not suitable. Instead, the W 194 featured the characteristic gullwing doors attached to the roof. This design was also used for the 300 SL (W 198) series-production sports car from 1954, referred to in the English-speaking world as the “Gullwing”.
Powering the W 194 was the 170 hp (125 kW) M 194 inline six-cylinder engine with 2996 cubic centimetres of displacement. The 300 SL launched its racing career at the Mille Miglia in May 1952, after being unveiled in March of the same year. There were major successes recorded in the first and only racing season of the W 194, which included 1st. 2nd and 3rd place at the Bern Prize for Sports Cars, the spectacular 1st and 2nd place at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and at the 3rd Carrera Panamericana in Mexico, as well as winning the Jubilee Grand Prix for sports cars at the Nürburgring.
Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR (W 196 S), 1955
In 1955, Mercedes-Benz won the World Sportscar Championship with the 300 SLR. This vehicle is essentially a W 196 R Formula 1 racing car fitted with a two-seater sports car bodyshell albeit with a three-litre in-line eight-cylinder engine and light alloy cylinder blocks instead of the 2.5-litre Formula 1 engine and its welded steel cylinders which were required for thermal reasons.
With 310 hp (221 kW), the 300 SLR was way ahead of the competition in 1955, as proven by its 1st and 2nd place victories at the Mille Miglia, the Eifel race, the Swedish Grand Prix and Targa Florio. Stirling Moss and his co-driver Denis Jenkinson (start number 722) won the Mille Miglia in 1955 with a record average speed of 157.65 km/h, one that remains unbeaten to this day. They were helped to victory by the “prayer book”. This was a series of notes on the course used by Jenkinson to direct Moss as they travelled across Italy. Lone driver Juan Manuel Fangio (start number 658) took second place.
Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W 198), 1954
In February 1954, the 300 SL “Gullwing” was unveiled to the world for the first time at the International Motor Sport Show in New York. The new high-performance sports car was based on the legendary 300 SL racing car (W 194) from the 1952 season. A light and torsionally rigid space frame supported the engine, gearbox and axles. Just like the racing version, it left no space for the classic door design, so the gullwing doors also became a distinctive feature of this series-production sports car. In any case, the “Gullwing” represented real innovative thinking. As the world’s first series-production passenger car, it was powered by a four-stroke engine with fuel injection. This not only increased efficiency, but also engine performance. With 215 hp (158 kW), thus 20 percent more than the carburettor racing version, top speeds of up to 260 km/h were possible, depending on the final transmission ratio. This made the 300 SL the fastest series-production vehicle of its time and the 1950s racing car that dreams were made of.
It also helped secure victory at Mille Miglia: in 1955, the team of John Fitch and Kurt Gessl won the Gran Turismo class for vehicles with a displacement of over 1600 cubic centimetres, achieving 5th place in the overall classification. Olivier Gendebien and Jacques Washer also secured 7th place in the same class. The 300 SL made another appearance at Mille Miglia in 1956 when the team of Prince Metternich and Count Einsiedel took 6th place in the big GT class.
Mercedes-Benz 220 a (W 180), 1954
The 220 model introduced in the spring of 1954 – also known internally within the company as the 220 a (W 180) – was the first Mercedes-Benz six-cylinder model to feature a self-supporting structure. Presented by Mercedes-Benz just six months previously in the mid-size 180 model, the modern and spacious self-supporting “Pontoon” body offered a standard of comfort as yet unknown to drivers. The single-joint swing axle, introduced to series-production with the 220 model, ensured safe handling.
At the Mille Miglia in 1956, several Mercedes-Benz 220 models started in the class for standard special touring vehicles. In this class, modifications were permitted to both the chassis and the engine. The team of Erwin Bauer and Erwin Grupp won their class at the legendary Italian endurance race with a special 220 model. Three vehicles had been specially prepared for the Mille Miglia by Karl Kling and his team. They already had the twin-carburettor system of the successor 220 S model, with an engine capable of approximately 115 hp (85 kW). For the challenging journey, there were shorter and harder springs, as well as modified shock absorbers. Furthermore, the drivers were able to change gears using the floor shift, just like in the 190 SL, instead of the previously used steering column shift.