Mercedes-Benz Mille Miglia Champions on Display in Brescia

Words Jim Davis | February 14, 2012
This event is the first highlight of the strategic cooperation between Daimler and the Museum in Italy
Words Jim Davis February 14, 2012

“Mille Miglia” stands for the fascinating history of motor racing legends. Again and again, the famous racing sports cars from Mercedes-Benz and their drivers have reached new heights in this legendary Italian thousand-mile race. This is now being marked by the “Mercedes-Benz Champions at Mille Miglia” exhibition at the Museo Mille Miglia in Brescia. This event is the first highlight of the strategic cooperation between Daimler and the Museum in Italy, which was concluded in February 2012. “Mercedes-Benz Champions at the Mille Miglia” will open its doors on 15 February, and can be seen until this year’s 2012 Mille Miglia (16 to 20 May 2012).

The stars of the exhibition are automative gems from the Mercedes-Benz Classic collection which have contributed to the history of the Mille Miglia. These racing sports cars and other exhibits bring this history to life, major highlights being the overall victories by Rudolf Caracciola in 1931 and Stirling Moss in 1955. The history of this event carried out from 1927 to 1957 also includes several class victories and excellent placings for Mercedes-Benz. These successes give the Stuttgart-based brand an exceptional status in the history of the Mille Miglia. For one thing, no other non-Italian car brand has ever managed to win this road race from Brescia to Rome and back.

From the SSK to the 300 SLR

The Mille Miglia was three years old in 1930, when Rudolf Caracciola and his co-driver Christian Werner left the starting line for the “Thousand Miles” in their Mercedes-Benz SSK. On this first attempt Caracciola achieved the class victory for cars with a cubic capacity of up to 8 litres, reaching sixth place overall with an average speed of 92.8 km/h. In the following year he returned to Brescia to drive for Mercedes-Benz, this time at the wheel of a Model SSKL, a weight-reduced version of the SSK designed for road and mountain races. Caracciola duly won an overall victory in the racing sports car, whose supercharged six-cylinder engine developed 300 hp (221 kW) from a displacement of 7065 cubic centimetres. As a German national accompanied by co-pilot Wilhelm Sebastian, Caracciola was the first non-Italian to win the Mille Miglia.

Building on its success during the era of large, supercharged Mille Miglia cars, Mercedes-Benz entered a new generation of racing sports cars in the race during the 1950s: in 1952 Karl Kling took second place in the new Model 300 SL from the W 194 series, with Rudolf Caracciola in fourth place. Kling was the fastest driver to cover the route from Brescia to Rome, and received the “Sportman of the Year” award in that year. Three years later, in 1955, Mercedes-Benz almost completely dominated the Mille Miglia. Stirling Moss and his co-driver Denis Jenkinson won an overall victory in the 300 SLR (W 196 S) racing sports car, whose 2982 cc eight-cylinder engine developed up to 310 hp (228 kW). The 157.65 km/h average speed achieved by Moss is the best ever achieved in the history of this road pace. Juan Manuel Fangio, who embarked on the “Thousand Miles” with no co-driver, was the second to cross the finishing line.

In 1955 John Cooper Fitch with co-pilot Kurt Gesell also won the class victory for GT cars above 1300 cc cubic capacity in a standard 300 SL sports car (W 198 I), and in the diesel class victory went to Helmut Retter and Wolfgang Larcher in a Mercedes-Benz 180 D (W 120). That season also saw the debut of the new Mercedes-Benz racing car transporter, which was created on the basis of the 300 SL for the purpose of rapidly transporting a racing car from the factory to the racetrack when required.

The “Mercedes-Benz Champions at the Mille Miglia” exhibition provides a particularly wide view of the motor sports world in the mid-20th Century. It repeatedly becomes clear that the champions are not just the drivers who are the first to cross the finishing line. Instead the winners are a large team using the innovative strength and performance of the entire company, a company whose origins go back to the independent invention of the automobile by Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler in 1886.

Tradition of the Mille Miglia viewed in a historical setting

The Museo Mille Miglia (Museo Mille Miglia) is where the fascination of this legendary road race can be experienced throughout the year. For this reason Daimler has embarked on a strategic cooperation with the Museum in Brescia. One major aim is to emphasise and strengthen the aspects held in common by the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart and the Museo Mille Miglia.

Opened in 2004, the Museo Mille Miglia is located in the historic Sant’Eufemia della Fonte monastery complex outside the gates of Brescia. The former Benedictine monastery was founded by Landolfo, Bishop of Brescia, in the year 1008. The monastery having been moved inside the city in the 15th Century, the historic buildings were first used as warehouses, then as a hospital. In 1997 the decision was taken to create the Museo Mille Miglia in this highly evocative location just under 20 kilometres from the shores of Lake Garda.

The focus of the permanent exhibition, which is divided into nine periods, is on the road race itself. However, the Museum also reflects the national, social and cultural history of Italy using the example of the regions traversed by the race in the course of time. Here the emphasis is on the period between 1927 and 1957, to which seven sections are devoted. There is also one section each covering the Mille Miglia from 1958 to 1961, and the present event for classic cars which was first held in 1977.

Special exhibitions such as “Mercedes-Benz Champions at the Mille Miglia” are devoted to individual, celebratory perspectives during which a dialogue also develops with the permanent exhibition. The exhibition opening in February provides a complete, panoramic view of the exciting motors sports history written by the racing sports cars of Mercedes-Benz at the Mille Miglia. Accordingly a visit to “Mercedes-Benz Champions at the Mille Miglia” will be one of the highlights of the programme for both the participants and spectators at this year’s race from Brescia to Rome and back.