Today begins the great Mille Miglia of Italy, the 33rd running of the thousand-mile rally revival that commemorates one of the world’s most-storied road races.
A record 438 sports, GT and race cars that were built between 1927 and 1957 – the years of the original Mille Miglia race on Italian public roads and village streets – are slated to take part in the nationally celebrated four-day event. The vintage cars represent 70 automotive brands and were brought together from more than 40 nations.
Among them are key entries by Mercedes-Benz and BMW, both of which are observing anniversaries of historic Mille Miglia victories.
Mercedes-Benz is celebrating the 60th anniversary of what is considered the greatest of all Mille Miglia successes. It was in 1955 that a young British driver, Stirling Moss, and his navigator, auto-racing journalist Denis Jenkinson, roared to a record finish in Mercedes 300 SLR roadster No. 722.
Moss finished the 1,000-mile race over Italian back roads far ahead of the competition in a resounding record 10 hours, 7 minutes and 48 seconds, a time that was never beaten. Second place went to the legendary Argentine driver Juan Manuel Fangio, also driving a 300 SLR, who finished 32 minutes later.
The 1955 race established Moss as an important driver at the start of his brilliant career. Jenkinson’s published account of the race from the navigator’s seat remains one of the most-celebrated pieces of motorsports journalism.
Moss, 85, is an honored guest of the 2015 Mille Miglia and will takes turns behind the wheel of the very 300 SLR, now restored to perfection, with which he won the 1955 race with Jenkinson, who died in 1996.
Mercedes also is fielding two other original 300 SLRs, one of them driven by Hans Hermann, who was among Moss’s teammates in the 1955 race. Hermann’s run in 1955 was cut short by mechanical trouble. The other 300 SLR is driven by former Mercedes-Benz Germany touring-car series racer Ralf Schumacher.
“I am so pleased that Sir Stirling Moss, Hans Herrmann and Ralf Schumacher are here with us and the original Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR racing cars to celebrate the legendary win of 1955,” Michael Bock, head of Mercedes-Benz Classic and Customer Centre, said in a news release. “Mercedes-Benz, principal motor car sponsor of the Mille Miglia, is doing this as a mark of its respect for the unique history of this thousand-mile race – much of which has been written by Mercedes-Benz drivers and cars.”
Mercedes-Benz is also fielding a number of other renowned racing models in the Mille Miglia, including SS and SSK sports cars from the 1920s and iconic 300SL “gullwing” coupes.
Another German automaker honoring a Mille Miglia victory is BMW, which marks the 75th victory of Fritz Huschke von Hanstein and Walter Bäumer driving the aerodynamic BMW 328 Mille Miglia Touring Coupé in the 1940 event, which was altered in format for that year as World War II enveloped Europe.
“While we have realized a number of victories throughout the history of the Mille Miglia, it is our win at the 1940 event that remains as our most enduring and remarkable success,” said Alexander Bilgeri, BMW Group’s vice president of corporate communications of the Americas. “We’re honored to showcase in authentic form the vehicles that have helped BMW achieve incredible success in the world’s most celebrated classic event all those years ago.”
BMW has six other cars in the 2015 Mille Miglia: the 328 Berlin-Rom Touring Roadster, the BMW 328 Mille Miglia Roadster, and four additional BMW 328 models.
As always, the 2015 Mille Miglia starts in the town of Brescia, where the 1927 race originated. The rally then traces an eastern route through a number of towns to its southernmost point in Rome. From there, the cars head up the western part of Italy through Sienna, Luca and Parma until finishing on May17 back in Brescia.