Thousand Mile Thursday - Mercedes-Benz 300 SL

John Fitch's 1955 Mille Miglia class winning car

The Mille Miglia, Italian for 1000 Miles, was an endurance race run on public roads between the cities of Brescia to Rome and finishing back in Brescia in Italy. Originally, the race had an unbroken annual run between 1927 to 1957, except for the years of World War II.

Contrary to most major races where the faster cars start from the top of the grid, the Mille Miglia had the slower cars go first, ostensibly to minimize the road closure times. Something else that was unique to the Mille Miglia was the number assignments. Cars were assigned numbers according to their start times.

The most famous car got such an assignment is this one that won the 1955 Mille Miglia. But we are here to talk about the car that finished 5th overall and won its class - the Mercedes Benz 300 SL driven by John Fitch.

The 300 SL was known internally within Mercedes-Benz as the W198. The 300 SL was greenlit for the 1954 model year by Mercedes because their US importer perceived a market for such a light sports car. Consequently Mercedes chose to unveil the car in the 1954 auto show in New York rather than one of the shows in Europe.

With its light tubular frame construction borrowed from Mercedes’s racers (hence the SL designation, standing for Sport Leicht or Super Leicht) and an engine with direct fuel injection, the first for a production car, the 300 SL was powerful and fast.

When the 300 SL went to the races starting in 1955, it was able to beat its competitors hands down. The competing Maseratis and Ferraris had a top speed advantage of almost 20mph, but the 300 SL’s superior reliability meant that drivers could drive flat out for longer without worrying about the engine blowing.

At the 1955 Mille Miglia, John Fitch finished the race in the #417 in 11 hours 29 minutes, 7 minutes ahead of the next 300 SL, but more importantly 55 minutes ahead of the next fastest car in its class. The 300 SLs also won the Leige-Rome-Leige road race aka "Road Marathon" in both 1955 and 1956. And a 300 SL also won the Group D class of the SCCA for 3 straight years from 1954-57.

All these meant that the 300 SL has since become a automotive icon. In fact, the 300 SL was voted the "sports car of the century" in 1999.

This model was part of a 5 car Mercedes 1/64 scale set given away by UCC's Good Smile coffee in Japan. This is a brilliant casting (I've read that Kyosho made this casting, but am not sure) and while I am not really an expert, I can tell you that quality-wise, it ranks up with there with the Kyoshos of the world.

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