1931: First victory of a non-Italian
Mercedes-Benz and the Mille Miglia belong together, in fact they are inseparable.
Of particular significance are the overall victories of 1931 and 1955, both of which are defining moments in the motorsport heritage of the Stuttgart manufacturer. These were not the only glorious chapters of the racing history books written at the Mille Miglia, with further contributions coming from a class win by Rudolf Caracciola and Christian Werner in 1930 in a Mercedes-Benz SSK and second place overall in 1952 by Karl Kling in a 300 SL racer (W 194).
Car enthusiasts have been staging the Mille Miglia out of the Tuscan town of Brescia since 1927. In the fourth edition of the road race leading over a distance of 1000 miles to Rome and back Mercedes-Benz scored a class victory for the first time in May 1930.
The powerful Mercedes-Benz SSK racing sports car driven by Caracciola and Werner made quite an impression: “Forging his path through the dust, Caracciola, the German champion, appeared in his squat white Mercedes”, wrote the reporter from British “Motor” magazine in his race report published on 15 April 1930. At one point on the home leg, in the high country of Bologna, Caracciola lay in fourth place, but eventually fell back to sixth place. This was enough to take a class win for cars with engines greater than 5 litres.
In 1931, Caracciola became the first non-Italian driver to take overall victory in the Mille Miglia. He was joined in the Mercedes-Benz SSK by co-driver Wilhelm Sebastian. From 12 to 13 April, Caracciola delivered a superlative performance throughout the 1635 kilometre race at the wheel of the SSK. His average speed in the marathon from Brescia to Rome and back was 101.1 km/h – the first time that the 100 km/h barrier had been broken at the Mille Miglia. In the mid 1930s, Caracciola reflected on this achievement in his first autobiography “Rennen – Sieg – Rekorde” (“Races – Victory – Records”): “1600 km on dusty country roads, passing gorges and ravines… around fearsome corkscrew bends and snake-like passages; through cities, towns and villages and again along dead-straight roads at an average of 150, 160, 170 km … one night and then another day.” He received a gold medal from the King of Italy and a cup from the Automobile Club of Germany in recognition of his victory.