Sam was an avid
student of the sport,
and he know that the
Gullwings had earned
their place in history
with their racing suc-
cess, which included
Le Mans and the Carrera
However, it was the SL’s
1000 miles on the roads
of Italy for the 1955 Mile
Miglia that was most im-
pressive for him.
It was the same race that Stirling Moss drove a Mercedes-Benz SLR to victory
and John Fintch had the drive of his life, piloting a stock 300 SL home 5th
overall and winning the GT class. Additionally, John Fitch was a neighbor.
And although he lived just 10 mile sway, Sam never had the nerve to try to
meet him. However, owning the Mercedes SL made things different and
it finally nudged Sam to ask Mr. Fitch for a lesson.
Mr. Fitch agreed, and they went to the Limerock race track. Internally, Sam
viewed the lesson as a pretext to show the great John Fitch what he could do
on the track. Sam saw that Mr. Fitch has laid out some cones for a slalom.
That was not what Sam had in mind at all! Mr. Fitch took Sam’s SL through
the cones. After raising the SL’s door he said, “This will not work, your
shocks are shot.” The many miles of driving in the farm fields had pounded
the shocks to mush. Somehow, Mr. Fitch let Sam do a few laps on the track
and something convinced him how serious Sam was about racing. After that,
Mr. Fitch became an informal mentor to Sam.
A couple of years later, Sam became old enough to race and in a sense,
the SL’s mission was accomplished! Regarding his SL Gullwing Sam
told Road & Track, “It had been a physical embodiment of my desire
to race, then a tool for learning some of the mechanics of driving fast,
finally a connection to John Fitch. I might have considered selling it,
but the beauty of living on a farm is that space can always be found
somewhere. Once I was racing fulltime, the SL sat up on blocks in one
of the barns.”
The next time that Sam remembers driving his SL was in 1971 on a rare
weekend that he was home between races. Tony Adamowicz and Sam had
finished 3rd at Le Mans in a NART Ferrari. Additionally, Sam was in love
with Ellen, his wife to be. Thus, life was good indeed. Jim Haynes, the
general manager of Limerock, asked Sam to participate in a hillclimb at
Mt. Equinox, Vermont. Sam’s mother liked the idea and she when along.
The SL came off of the blocks and up they went to Vermont.
Jim met them at the hotel for dinner and he informed Sam what class he
would be racing in and who his opposition was. The opposition! Sam had
been expecting the event to be a demonstration, a tour up the hill, not a race.
Sam thought about his never having raced his SL and he could not settle for
less than John Fitch would – winning. Sam needed to learn the course but
then he realized he did not have enough gas. Jim lend Sam his 240Z with a
full tank of gas. In the dark, Sam did five or six runs with the Z to identify
the important sections of the course.
In the morning, Sam drove his SL down the mountain to the starting line.
Be sure to check back for part three of: Masterpieces happen: The
Mercedes-Benz 300 SL and its boy ‘dreams’ owner.
To read part one go to: Masterpieces happen: The Mercedes-Benz
300 SL and its boy ‘dreams’ owner – part one.
Have an auto question or comment? You can email it to me at
Kbusch3@verizon.net. Kyle Busch is the author of “Drive the Best
for the Price…” www.DriveTheBestBook.com.