• Triumph at the 1955 Sicilian final.

World Championship double victory.

It was a thrillingly heart-stopping final: on 16 October 1955 Stirling Moss and Peter Collins drove a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR racing sports car (W 196 S) to victory in the Sicilian road race of Targa Florio ahead of their team colleagues Juan Manuel Fangio and Karl Kling. The double victory was the crowning glory of the World Sportscar Championship for the brand with the star. In fourth place Desmond Titterington and John Cooper Fitch rounded off the success 65 years ago.

The 1955 was extremely challenging. Why? That was explained by the British motoring magazine “Motor Sport” to its readers: “The Targa Florio must rate as the toughest motor race remaining in the International Calendar and this year the length of the race was nearly doubled, to comply with World Championship regulations, making it the hardest Targa ever.”

Stirling Moss (right) and Peter Collins, the winners of the 39th Targa Florio in Sicily, 1955.

Stirling Moss (right) and Peter Collins, the winners of the 39th Targa Florio in Sicily, 1955.

A special challenge.

For Mercedes-Benz the Targa Florio was a special challenge. The brand went to Sicily with a firm intention to attain a double victory. The reason for this was the standing of the World Sportscar Championship: despite a triple victory at the International Tourist Trophy in Northern Ireland on 17 September 1955, Mercedes-Benz was narrowly behind Ferrari in the table 65 years ago. With a double victory of the 300 SLR in the legendary road race in Sicily, they were still able to turn the tide and perfect their successful season. Alongside the Formula 1 World Championship title, it was the second international championship of 1955 for Juan Manuel Fangio – who also raced for Mercedes-Benz at the Targa Florio. 

Adventure in Sicily: Formula 1 World Champion Juan Manuel Fangio raced in the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR racing sports car with start number 112 at the 1955 Targa Florio.

Adventure in Sicily: Formula 1 World Champion Juan Manuel Fangio raced in the 300 SLR racing sports car with start number 112 at the 1955 Targa Florio.

Ideal preparation.

Mercedes-Benz racing manager Alfred Neubauer left nothing to chance. He trained intensively with his drivers on the southern Italian island: “I hounded the lads over the course from dawn until dusk, until they were dizzy, until they knew every corner, every gradient in their sleep,” he reminisces in his autobiography “Herr über 1.000 PS (Lord of 1,000 PS)”. And in his “Sicilian Adventure” article in “Autocar” W. F. Bradley describes how, early in the morning of the race day, Neubauer took the position of a general “from which he would manage his powerful team.”

Strategist of the 1955 motorsport season: Mercedes-Benz racing manager Alfred Neubauer. Images of the Swedish Grand Prix on 7 August 1955.

Strategist of the 1955 motorsport season: Mercedes-Benz racing manager Alfred Neubauer. Images of the Swedish Grand Prix on 7 August 1955.

Three 300 SLR.

At the Targa Florio, a total of three 300 SLR started the race, each with teams of two drivers. A main and a replacement driver were each registered and both had to switch after no more than five rounds. Stirling Moss shared a cockpit with Peter Collins (start number 104), Desmond Titterington with John Cooper Fitch (start number 106) and Juan Manuel Fangio with Karl Kling (start number 112). The start numbers were drawn at random – the committee of the race founder Vincenzo Florio only provided even numbers. 

The Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR racing sports car of Stirling Moss and Peter Collins (start number 104, winner), Juan Manuel Fangio and Karl Kling (start number 112, 2nd place) along with Desmond Titterington and John Cooper Fitch (start number 106, 4th place) at the 1955 Targa Florio.

The 300 SLR racing sports car of Stirling Moss and Peter Collins (start number 104, winner), Juan Manuel Fangio and Karl Kling (start number 112, 2nd place) along with Desmond Titterington and John Cooper Fitch (start number 106, 4th place) at the 1955 Targa Florio.

Mobile workshop.

The Mercedes-Benz racing department cortege also included the famous Blue Wonder racing car transporter, which was repurposed as a mobile workshop once or twice under the Sicilian palm trees. And the racing manager, devoted even to culinary delights, took sole responsibility for feeding his drivers: “I personally go to the market at 7 every morning in order to buy groceries. I procure [...] coffee by the kilo, entire crates of cheese, salami, sardines and baskets of eggs and tomatoes,” Neubauer wrote looking back.

Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR racing sports car during preparation for the 1955 Targa Florio.

300 SLR racing sports car during preparation for the 1955 Targa Florio.

Start at 7 a.m.

The 1955 Targa Florio are 13 rounds of 72 kilometres on public roads through the Madonie mountains, wrote the Mercedes-Benz racing manager to his team in a detailed briefing. The cars were supposed to start from 9 a.m. at one-minute intervals. But after the racing drivers protested against the likely long final stage in darkness, the start was brought forward to 7 a.m. This turned out to be lucky for Stirling Moss.

Before the start of the season finale: Mercedes-Benz racing manager Alfred Neubauer (seated) with racing drivers Desmond Titterington, Stirling Moss and Peter Collins (from left to right), before the start of the 39th Targa Florio on 16 October 1955.

Before the start of the season finale: Mercedes-Benz racing manager Alfred Neubauer (seated) with racing drivers Desmond Titterington, Stirling Moss and Peter Collins (from left to right), before the start of the 39th Targa Florio on 16 October 1955.

Three phenomenal rounds.

The British rising star Moss began the race, initially leading, with three phenomenal rounds, posting average times of between 43:07 minutes and 43:58 minutes. But then he came off the road with his left wheels, span down a hillside into a field covered in rocks and was only able to get back onto the track with the energetic assistance of several dozen spectators. The result was that Moss had lost the lead and the lighting of the 300 SLR was so badly damaged that he would not have been able to drive in the dark. Neubauer wrote: “The beautiful Mercedes 300 SLR looks like Mister Moss found it on some scrapyard and cobbled it together himself. The headlamps are torn out, the body is pressed in at the rear, the whole sidewall is torn open and shredded, and there are dents and scratches all over...” Yet, but for the lighting, the racing sports car continued to be fit to drive.

The Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR of Moss and Collins at a pit stop during the 1955 Targa Florio with the visible results of an accident.

The 300 SLR of Moss and Collins at a pit stop during the 1955 Targa Florio with the visible results of an accident. 

The greatest of all European road races.

Peter Collins then took the wheel of the abused racing car and began the race third in the field. After a race to catch up lasting four rounds, in round 9 – once again back in the lead – he handed over to Stirling Moss, who ultimately led the double victory ahead of Fangio in the second 300 SLR. The “Autocar” magazine report on the final wrote of Moss: “The young Britisher drove what undoubtedly was the finest race of his career, honestly beating his team-mate Fangio, who had started out with the conviction that such a speed was impossible [at the Targa Florio].”  The winners were personally congratulated by Vincenzo Florio himself, inventor of the Targa Florio. The entrepreneur and shipowner was described by Neubauer in friendly terms: “This gentleman worth millions brought this, the greatest but also most complicated of all European road races, to life 49 years ago.”

The day after the race: on 17 October 1955 the mechanics of the Mercedes-Benz racing department preparing the victorious 300 SLR racing sports cars for return transportation to Germany.

The day after the race: on 17 October 1955 the mechanics of the Mercedes-Benz racing department preparing the victorious 300 SLR racing sports cars for return transportation to Germany.

Review and farewell.

The win at the 1955 Targa Florio is also an occasion for Mercedes-Benz to look back. After all, the brand from Stuttgart had already attained success at the legendary road race in the 1920s. In 1922 Giulio Masetti won as a private driver in a Mercedes 115 PS Grand Prix racing car built in 1914. In 1924 Christian Werner won in the Mercedes 2-litre racing car with compressor and the team classification in the 2-litre class also went to Mercedes. One of the racing drivers at this time was also none other than Alfred Neubauer. Back then the later portly racing manager was still “capable of wriggling into the bucket seat of a racing car,”  W. F. Bradley wrote laughingly in 1955.

For the successful racing department, the joy of the victory at the 1955 Targa Florio and the clinching of two World Championships was overshadowed by the temporary departure of Mercedes-Benz from racing at the end of the 1955 season: the brand from Stuttgart withdrew from Formula 1 and sports car racing on a high in order to be able to give all its attention to the development of new production vehicles. There were nevertheless sporting successes for Mercedes-Benz in the following years – but in touring car races and rallies.

Kraftstoffverbrauch kombiniert CO₂-Emissionen kombiniert Stromverbrauch im kombinierten Testzyklus

Product may vary after press date on 02.11.2020.

1 Die angegebenen Werte wurden nach dem vorgeschriebenen Messverfahren ermittelt. Es handelt sich um die „NEFZ-CO₂-Werte“ i. S. v. Art. 2 Nr. 1 Durchführungsverordnung (EU) 2017/1153. Die Kraftstoffverbrauchswerte wurden auf Basis dieser Werte errechnet. Der Stromverbrauch wurde auf der Grundlage der VO 692/2008/EG ermittelt. Weitere Informationen zum offiziellen Kraftstoffverbrauch und den offiziellen spezifischen CO₂-Emissionen neuer Personenkraftwagen können dem „Leitfaden über den Kraftstoffverbrauch, die CO₂-Emissionen und den Stromverbrauch aller neuen Personenkraftwagenmodelle“ entnommen werden, der an allen Verkaufsstellen und bei der Deutschen Automobil Treuhand GmbH unter www.dat.de unentgeltlich erhältlich ist.

4 Angaben zu Kraftstoffverbrauch, Stromverbrauch und CO₂-Emissionen sind vorläufig und wurden vom Technischen Dienst für das Zertifizierungsverfahren nach Maßgabe des WLTP-Prüfverfahrens ermittelt und in NEFZ-Werte korreliert. Eine EG-Typgenehmigung und Konformitätsbescheinigung mit amtlichen Werten liegen noch nicht vor. Abweichungen zwischen den Angaben und den amtlichen Werten sind möglich.

6 Stromverbrauch und Reichweite wurden auf der Grundlage der VO 692/2008/EG ermittelt. Stromverbrauch und Reichweite sind abhängig von der Fahrzeugkonfiguration. Weitere Informationen zum offiziellen Kraftstoffverbrauch und den offiziellen spezifischen CO₂-Emissionen neuer Personenkraftwagen können dem „Leitfaden über den Kraftstoffverbrauch, die CO₂-Emissionen und den Stromverbrauch aller neuen Personenkraftwagenmodelle“ entnommen werden, der an allen Verkaufsstellen und bei der Deutschen Automobil Treuhand GmbH unter www.dat.de unentgeltlich erhältlich ist.