NUM­BER OF THE BEAST

World - - CONTENTS -

It may be the most valu­able car in the world – the Mercedes-benz 300 SLR Stir­ling Moss drove to vic­tory in Italy in 1955.

IT MAY BE THE MOST VALU­ABLE CAR IN THE WORLD – THE MERCEDES-BENZ 300 SLR STER­LING MOSS DROVE TO VIC­TORY IN ITALY IN 1955. STORY AND PIC­TURES BY ROYCE RUM­SEY.

“Seven twenty-two.” Just speak­ing that num­ber out loud brings rev­er­en­tial nods from the automotive cognoscenti. And with good rea­son – be­cause the 1955 300 SLRS were in­domitable in mo­tor rac­ing that year. And the ul­ti­mate state­ment of their su­pe­ri­or­ity was Stir­ling Moss’s as­tound­ing vic­tory at the Mille Miglia in car num­ber 722 (start­ing-time: 7.22am). His re­mark­able record of that year still stands 60 years on. Re­cently, at an el­e­gant South­ern plan­ta­tion-style es­tate near Jack­sonville, Florida, a spe­cial car trans­porter ar­rived in the dark, predawn hours. At­tend­ing the trans­porter was Mercedes-benz master tech­ni­cian Gert Straub. He spoke in quiet but know­ing tones as he su­per­vised the un­load­ing of the 722. This vaunted car, deemed by one Lon­don news­pa­per as “the most valu­able car in the world”, was to be part of the 2015 Amelia Is­land Con­cours d’el­e­gance, whose Grand Mar­shal would be Sir Stir­ling Moss him­self. He would not only be re­united with his vic­to­ri­ous 1955 steed but would ac­tu­ally drive it in the open­ing cer­e­mony. The 1955 “722” 300 SLR (“Sport Light-rac­ing”) was the re­sult of an el­e­gant, three-year evo­lu­tion from the orig­i­nal 1952 ver­sion. Un­der­neath the beau­ti­ful sil­ver Elek­tron ul­tra-light mag­ne­sium-al­loy skin, with its dis­tinc­tive dual teardrop head­rests, was a light­weight, high-strength tubu­lar steel frame cradling a 3-litre straight eight with up to

340 bhp and 235lb/ft of torque. Sim­i­lar to the MercedesBenz W196 of that era, the car’s low-pro­file hood fea­tured a dis­tinc­tive right-side bulge that was the re­sult of the en­gine be­ing canted 33 de­grees to that side. The 722’s re­mark­ably light weight of 880kg was off­set some­what by a huge 70-gallon (around 300l) tank in the rear car­ry­ing a high-oc­tane fuel mix­ture of 65 per cent ga­so­line and 35 per cent ben­zene. Stir­ling Moss won the 1955 Mille Miglia at an as­tound­ing av­er­age speed of 157.65 km/h (97.96 mph in those days) over 1,600km. He was ably as­sisted by Bri­tish mo­tor-rac­ing jour­nal­ist-cum-nav­i­ga­tor De­nis Jenk­in­son, who crafted a unique scrolling note de­vice to pro­gres­sively in­form Moss of up­com­ing routes and con­di­tions as they tore through the Ital­ian coun­try­side and vil­lages. Fa­mous Mercedes-benz team­mate Juan Manuel Fan­gio fin­ished a dis­tant sec­ond in another 300 SLR. The dom­i­nat­ing 300 SLRS scored ad­di­tional onetwo world cham­pi­onship vic­to­ries in the Ire­land TT, the Eifel­ren­nen at the Nür­bur­gring in Ger­many, the Targa Flo­rio in Si­cily and the Swedish Grand Prix. Not sur­pris­ingly, Mercedes-benz won the 1955 World Sportscar Cham­pi­onship. Now that the 722 had been un­loaded, Herr Straub went through a size­able check­list of pre­par­ing it for an early-morn­ing drive and photo shoot in a rus­tic set­ting of

UN­DER­NEATH THE BEAU­TI­FUL SIL­VER ELEK­TRON SKIN WAS A LIGHT­WEIGHT TUBU­LAR STEEL FRAME CRADLING A 3-LITRE STRAIGHT EIGHT WITH UP TO 340 BHP AND 235LB/FT OF TORQUE.

pine trees, saw grass and Span­ish moss. The dawn quiet was punc­tu­ated by pre­cise sounds of fas­ten­ers open­ing to ac­cess the 3.0l straight eight un­der the bon­net and the mas­sive fuel tank in the boot. Straub hov­ered over these ar­eas to con­firm all was in or­der. Then, the left-side half-door swung up and Straub low­ered him­self into the pur­pose­ful sur­rounds of the 722’s cock­pit. His men­tal check­list con­tin­ued as Mike Kunz, Nate Lan­der and Con­stantin von Ka­ge­neck, of the Mercedes-benz Clas­sic Cen­ter USA, who had ar­ranged for all of this, looked on ap­prov­ingly. With the ig­ni­tion key turned, the fuel pumps hummed and Straub pushed the start but­ton. With that, the 110db ex­haust notes burst­ing from the twin ex­hausts shat­tered the placid am­bi­ence. The me­chan­i­cal “tick-tock-tach” hand jumped from 1,500 to 3,000 to 5,000 rpm as Straub mas­saged the throt­tle to warm up the en­gine. Don­ning a vintage driv­ing hel­met, he swung the door down and launched the 722, ac­cel­er­at­ing down the nar­row plan­ta­tion road. Each ag­gres­sive gearshift brought a bark from the ex­hausts, which re­sounded off of the sur­round­ing trees. A quick left turn and the car bar­relled out of sight, only the fad­ing ex­haust note re­port­ing its progress. The as­sem­bled team stands with silent and ap­prov­ing grins. A glance at a watch shows the sig­nif­i­cantly ap­pro­pri­ate time of – yes – seven twenty-two.

OP­PO­SITE PAGE: The num­ber 722 de­noted the start­ing time – 7.22am – of Stir­ling Moss’s win­ning 300 SLR at the 1955 Mille Miglia. CLOCK­WISE FROM BE­LOW: Sir Stir­ling Moss in the cock­pit of the 722 60 years on; the car’s record-break­ing 3.0l straight eight; Moss driv­ing the 722 at the 2015 Amelia Is­land Con­cours d’el­e­gance.

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