10 HOURS NEXT TO STIRLING MOSS | 4
Without any warning the car spun and there was just time to think what a desolated part of Italy in which to crash, when I realised that we had almost stopped in our own length and were sliding gently into the ditch to land with a crunch that dented the tail. “This is all right,” I thought, “we can probably push it out of this one,” and I was about to start getting out when Moss selected bottom gear and we drove out – lucky indeed! Before we could point the car in the right direction we had to make two reverses and as we accelerated away down the mountainside. I fiddled about putting the safety catch back on the reverse position of the gear-gate, while we poked our tongues out at each other in mutual derision.
At the Siena control we had no idea of whether we were still leading or not, but Moss was quite certain that Taruffi would have had to have worked extremely hard to catch him, for he had put all he knew into that last part of the course, he told me afterwards. Never relaxing for an instant he continued to drive the most superb race of his career, twirling the steering wheel this way and that, controlling slides with delicateness of throttle that was fairy-like, or alternatively provoking slides with the full power of the engine, in order to make the car change direction bodily, the now dirty, oily and battered collection of machinery that had left Brescia gleaming like new still answering superbly to his every demand, the engine always being taken to 7,500 rpm in the gears, and on one occasion to 8,200 rpm, the excitement at that particular instant not allowing time for a gear change or an easing of the throttle, for the way Moss steered the car round the sharp corners with the back wheels was sheer joy to experience.
On the winding road from Siena to Florence physical strain began to tell on me, for with no steering wheel to give me a feel of what the car was going to do, my body was being continually subjected to terrific centrifugal forces as the car changed direction. The heat, fumes and noise were becoming almost unbearable, but I gave myself renewed energy by looking at Stirling Moss who was sitting beside me, completely relaxed, working away at the steering as if we had only just left Brescia, instead of having been driving for nearly 700 miles under a blazing sun. Had I not known the route I would have happily got out there and then, having enjoyed every mile, but ahead lay some interesting roads over which we had practised hard, and the anticipation of watching Moss really try over these stretches, with the roads closed to other traffic, made me forget all about the physical discomforts. I was reminded a little of the conditions when we approached one corner and some women got up and fled with looks of terror on their faces, for the battered Mercedes-Benz, dirty and oil-strained and making as much noise as a Grand Prix car, with two sweaty, dirty, oil-stained figures behind the windscreen, must have looked terrifying to peaceful peasants, as it entered the corner in a full four-wheel slide.
The approaches of Florence were almost back-breaking as we bounced and leapt over the badly maintained roads, and across the tramlines, and my heart went out to the driver of an orange Porsche who was hugging the crown of the steeply cambered road. He must have been shaken as we shot past with the left-hand wheels right down in the gutter. Down a steep hill in second gear we went, into third at peak revs, and I thought “it’s a brave man who can unleash nearly 300 bhp down a hill this steep and then change into a higher gear”. At speeds up to 120-130 mph we went through the streets of Florence, over the great river bridge, broadside across a square, across more tramlines and into the control point. Now Moss had already got the bit between his teeth, nothing was going to stop him winning this race, I felt; he had a rather special look of concentration on his face and I knew that one of his greatest ambitions was to do the section Florence-Bologna in under one hour. This road crosses the heart of the Apennines, by way of the Futa Pass and the Raticosa Pass, and though only just over 60 miles in length it is like a Prescott Hill-Climb all the way.
As we got the routecard stamped, again without coming to rest. I grabbed the sheet of paper from the Mercedes-Benz man at control, but before I could read more than that we were still leading, it was torn from my grasp as we accelerated away among the officials. I indicated that we were still leading the race, and by the way Moss left Florence, as though at the start of a Grand Prix, I knew he was out to crack one hour to Bologna, especially as he also looked at his wrist-watch as we left the control. “This is going to be fantastic,” I thought, as we screamed up the hills out of Florence, “he really is going to do some nine-10ths plus motoring” and I took a firm grip of the “struggling bar” between giving him direction signals, keeping the left side of my body as far out of Moss’ way as possible, for he was going to need all the room possible for his whirling arms and for stirring the gearlever about. Up into the mountains we screamed, occasionally passing other cars, such as 1900 Alfa Romeos, 1100 Fiats and some small sports cars. Little did we know that we had the race in our pocket, for Taruffi had retried by this time with a broken oil pump and Fangio was stopped in Florence repairing an injection pipe, but though we had overtaken him on the road, we had not seen him, as the car had been hidden by mechanics and officials. All the time I had found it very difficult to take my eyes of the road. I could have easily looked around me, for there was time, but somehow the whole while that Moss was really dicing I felt a hypnotic sensation forcing me to live every inch of the way with him. It was probably this factor that prevented me ever being frightened, for nothing arrived unexpectedly, I was keeping up with him mentally all the way, which I had to do if I wasn’t to miss any of our route marking, though physically I had fallen way behind him and I marvelled that anyone could drive so furiously for such a long time, for it was now well into the Sunday afternoon.
At the top of the Futa Pass there were enormous crowds all waving excitedly and on numerous occasions Moss nearly lost the car completely as we hit patches of melted tar, coated with oil and rubber from all the other competitors in front of us, and for nearly a mile he had to ease off and drive at a bare eight-10ths, the road was so tricky. Just over the top of the Futa we saw a Mercedes-Benz by the roadside amid a crowd of people, it was 704, young Hans Herrmann, and though we could not see him, we waved. The car looked undamaged so we assumed he was all right.
Now we simply had to get to Brescia first, I thought, we mustn’t let Taruffi beat us, still having no idea that he had retried. On we went, up and over the Raticosa Pass, plunging down the other side, in one long series of slides that to me felt completely uncontrolled but to Moss were obviously intentional. However, there was one particular one which was not international and by sheer good fortune the stone parapet on the outside of the corner stepped back just in time, and caused us to make rude faces at each other. On a wall someone had painted “Viva Perdisa, viva Marserati” and as we went past in a long controlled slide, we spontaneously both gave it the victory sign, and had a quiet chuckle between ourselves, in the cramped and confined space of our travelling hothouse and bath of filth and perspiration. On another part of the Raticosa amid great crowds of people we saw an enormous fat man in the road, leaping up and down with delight; it was the happy body-builder of the Maserati racing department, a good friend of Stirling’s, and we waved back to him.
Down off the mountains we raced, into the broiling heat of the afternoon, into Bologna, along the dusty tramlined road, with hordes of spectators on both sides, but here beautifully controled, so that we went into Bologna at close on 150 mph and down to the control point, Moss doing a superb bit of braking judgment even at this late stage in the race, and in spite of brakes that were beginning to show signs of the terrific thrashing they had been receiving. Here we had the steering column disc punched again and the card stamped, and with another Grand Prix start we were away through the streets of Bologna so quickly that I didn’t get the vital news sheet from out depot. Now we had no idea of where we lay in the race, or what happened to our rivals, but we knew we had crossed the mountains in 1 hr 1 min, and were so far ahead of Marzotto’s record that it seemed impossible. The hard part was now over, but Moss did not relax, for it had now occurred to him that it was possible to get back to Brescia in the round 10 hours, which would make the race average 100 mph. Up the long fast straights through Modena, Reggio Emilia and Parma we went, not wasting a second anywhere, cruising at a continuous 170 mph cutting off only where I indicated corners, or bumpy hill-brows.
Looking up I suddenly realised that we were overtaking a aeroplane, and then I knew I was living in the realms of fantasy, and when we caught and passed a second one my brain began to boggle at the sustained speed. They were flying at about 300 ft filming our progress and it must have looked most impressive, especially as we dropped back by going round the Fidenza by-pass, only to catch up again on the main road. This really was pure speed, the car was going perfectly and reaching 7,600 rpm in fifth gear in places, which was as honest a 170 mph plus, as I’d care to argue about. Going into Piacenza where the road doubles back towards Mantova we passed a 2cv Citroën bowling along merrily, having left Brescia the night before, and then we saw a 2-litre Maserati ahead which shook us perceptibly, for we thought we had passed them all long ago. It was number 621, Francesco Giardini, and appreciating just how fast he must have driven to reach this point before us, we gave him a salutary wave as we roared past, leaving Piacenza behind us. More important was the fact that we were leaving the sun behind us, for nice thought it was to have dry roads to race on, the blazing sun had made visibility for both of us very tiring. Through Cremona we went without relaxing and now we were on the last leg of the course, there being a special prize and the Nuvolari Cup for the fastest speed form Cremona to Brescia. Although the road lay straight for most of the way, there were more than six villages to traverse, as well as the final route card stamp to get in the town of Mantova. In one village, less than 50 miles from the finish, we had an enormous slide on some melted tar and for a moment I thought we woud hit a concrete wall, but with that absurdly calm manner of his, Moss tweaked the wheel this way and t
hat, and caught the car just in time, and with his foot hard down we went on our way as if nothing had happened.
The final miles into Brescia were sheer joy, the engine singing ro
und on full power, and after we had passed our final direction indication I put my roller-map away and thought “If it blows to pieces now, we can carry it the rest of the way.” The last corner into the finishing area was taken in a long slide with the power and noise full on and we crossed the finishing line at well over 100 mph, still not knowing that we had made motor-racing history, but happy and contented at having completed the whole race and done out best.
From the finishing line we drove round to the official garage, where the car had to be parked and Stirling asked “Do you think we’ve won?” to which I replied, “We must wait for Taruffi to arrive, and we don’t know when Fangio got in” – at the garage it was finally impressed upon us that Taruffi was out, Fangio was behind us and we had won. Yes, won the Mille Miglia, achieved the impossible, broken all the records, ruined all the Mille Miglia legends, made history. We clasped each other in delirious joy, and would have wept, but we were too overcome and still finding it hard to believe that we had won. Then we were swept away amid a horde of police and officials, and the ensuring crush amid the wildly enthusiastic crowds was harder to bear then the whole of the 1,000-mile grind we had just completed.
Our total time for the course was 10 hr 07 min 48 sec, an average of more than 157 kph (nearly 98 mph) and our average for the 85 miles from Cremona to Brescia had been 123 mph. As we were driven back to our hotel, tired, filthy, oily and covered in dust and dirt, we grinned happily at each other’s black face and Stirling said “I’m so happy that we’ve proved that a Britisher can win the Mille Miglia, and that the legend ‘he who leads at Rome never leads at Brescia’ is untrue – also, I feel we have made up for the two cars we wrote off in practice”, then he gave a chuckle and said “We’ve rather made a mess of the record, haven’t we – sort of spoilt it for anyone else, for there probably won’t be another completely dry Mille Miglia for 20 years.”
It was with a justified feeling of elation that I lay in a hot bath, for I had the unique experience of being with Stirling Moss throughout his epic drive, sitting beside him while he worked as I have never seen anyone work before in my life, and harder and longer than I ever though it possible for a human being to do. It was indeed a unique experience, the greatest experience in the whole of the 22 years during which I have been interested in motor-racing, an experience that was beyond my wildest imagination, with a result that even now I find it extremely hard to believe.
After previous Mille Miglias I have said “he who wins the Mille Miglia is some driver, and the car he uses is some sports car.” I now say it again with the certain knowledge that I know what I’m talking and writing about this time. – DSJ
Written by Dennis Jenkinson in MOTOR SPORT
"The last part of the story was the most amusing to read, it looks like Jenks was in a giggly mood at the end of the race…
I have really enjoyed writing this legendary story, I hope did too. Although this great story has been written 60 years ago it was definitely worth publishing it once again. While reading it I had the feeling I was doing the Mille Miglia with Moss and Jenks in the 300 SLR. It is really incredible how Jenks managed to put the complete story on paper so quickly and so well. I have the greatest respect for these two heroes.
By the way this is the famous ‘Roller-Map’ that Jenks used during the race."