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1950s Mercedes Team Mates Appear at Frankfurt Auto Show
Sir Stirling Moss and John Fitch present for the unveiling of the Mercedes SLR McLaren

Photo | Daimlerchrysler
MADISON, WISCONSIN - September 16, 2003 -- Sir Stirling Moss and John Fitch, the only surviving drivers from the great Mercedes-Benz racing teams of the 1950s, stood quietly next to one of the cars that helped them sweep race after race against the world’s finest sports cars, the Mercedes-Benz 300SLR. No, they weren’t about to don helmets and race once again. They were on the stage at a Mercedes-Benz Press Conference awaiting the introduction of the newest addition to the long line of silver super cars, the SLR McLaren. Gathered with Moss and Fitch were stars of Formula One today and yesterday; David Coulthard, Pedro de la Rosa, Kimi Raikonnen, Alexander Wurtz, Jean Alessi and Hans Hermann.

Mercedes-Benz, as is always to be expected, had orchestrated the launch of the new car in the tradition of the great automotive events and the biennial Frankfurt Auto Show was a perfect setting to showcase one of the world’s most exciting and significant road cars. On the previous evening of the introduction, M-B played host to some 700 journalists and guests from around the world as everyone awaited a preview of the SLR McLaren. A large television screen showed Stirling Moss, clad once again in his familiar Dunlop coveralls and his “corker” helmet, driving the original 300SLR (carrying the number 722 he made famous in winning the 1955 Mille Miglia), through Brescia followed by the new SLR McLaren. The plan, unfortunately delayed by virtually undrivable weather in the mountain passes, was for the new car to be driven from Brescia to Frankfurt and arrive at the preview. It did arrive but hours behind schedule.

No matter, the image was now fast in everyone’s mind and, while many present were drawn to the original 300SLR and the racing history surrounding it, the new car was everything promised and became the hit of the entire Frankfurt show. Moss and Fitch had great times in the original 300SLR, teaming up to win the 1955 Tourist Trophy at Dunrod, Moss winning the Mille Miglia and Targa Florio. Fitch not only paired with Moss in the other events but also won the touring class of the Mille Miglia, finishing fifth overall behind Moss, Fangio and a racing class Ferrari and a Maserati piloted by team drivers, driving a production car – the 300SL “Gullwing” Coupe. Fitch also ran the famous Pan-Americana (Mexican Road Race) in the racing prototype for the ensuing production 300SL. Their presence at the announcement tied the new car solidly to the history of the original and the two were, of course, crowd favorites.

John Fitch, accompanied to the show by Race Legends president, Donn Gurney, regaled listeners with stories from his racing days. Fitch, a WWII fighter pilot, was shot down over Germany and was a POW for the last two months of the war after four years of combat duty. When asked how this all worked out when racing with the Mercedes-Benz team only seven years following the war, said, “We were race drivers and focused on the task at hand. The war was part of history and wasn’t a factor in our working relationships and friendships. After all, we had Germans, Americans, English, French and an Argentine (Fangio) and were really a cosmopolitan group.”

Stirling Moss, also a Race Legends client, took some moments to point out that the current “722” car is not quite as it was when he raced. “It had a four spoke steering wheel and I asked to have it changed to a three spoke model, which the team did. After I won, Mercedes-Benz gave me the wheel I used and it now hangs in my office in London. They replaced the original wheel and that’s how the car is today.” Now, almost fifty years after the great day, Moss looks much the same as he did in 1955, the only major difference being eyeglasses under the goggles. Fitch, now 86, has the vitality of a man many years younger and had just returned from a record attempt at the Bonneville Salt Flats in a 300SL similar to the car he drove to fifth place in 1955. No, they are no longer the young hot shoes they were in 1955 but each can still turn a fast lap when called upon to do so; each has had an outstanding career since retiring from competitive driving; and each is still respected by both their contemporaries and by the newest crop of drivers. Mercedes-Benz, of course, honors its heroes and understands the value of tying the new to the old and the presentation of the two cars, the 300SLR and the SLR McLaren, reminded everyone that the company’s racing history is second to none.

Moss, obligated to return early to London, was able to spend considerable time with Fitch, talking about both the old days and the current happenings in the sport they love. A crowd of reporters and photographers gathered around, hanging on every word, snapping photos of these two now older heroes of the “Glory Years” brought once again together by the silver magic of Mercedes-Benz. It was one of those great occasions that makes motor racing what it is.

John Fitch
(860) 435-2006
433 Salmon Kill RD
Lime Rock, CT 06039
Carl Goodwin
221 W.5th St. Box D
Palisade, CO 81526

Donn Gurney
(608) 237-1922
Race Legends, Inc.
5410 Highway 73
Marshall, WI 53559-9679

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