Suzuki and Stirling Moss are two names not usually uttered in the same sentence. When we think of Moss, we think of his achievements in motorsport, his illustrious name usually associated with marques like Mercedes-Benz and Maserati. After all, the greatest driver to never win a world championship forged a career racing grand prix cars and high-performance sports cars around the world.
And yet, for one brief day in 1968, Moss was a factory Suzuki driver, covering a gruelling 743km drive at breakneck speeds from Milan to Naples for the fledgling Japanese car maker.
Suzuki, celebrating its centenary as a company this year (it started life as a manufacturer of textile looms), toyed with making cars as early as 1937, but World War II saw that endeavour put on hold until the early 1950s. The first car, the Suzulight made its debut in 1955 and by 1960 the company was producing around 6000 cars annually.
In March 1963, Suzuki expanded its range to include the Suzulight Fronte FEA and eager to test its capabilities, Suzuki entered a team of cars into the mini vehicle category at the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, the cars finishing first, second and fourth in their category.
Fast forward to 1968 and Suzuki had just released a performance version of its popular light car, dubbed the Fronte SS 360.
Keen to test and highlight its performance credentials, Suzuki hired Moss to drive the new car from Milan to Naples, part marketing exercise, part performance test. Moss was joined by Suzuki factory motorcycle racer, Mitsuo Ito, the first Japanese rider to have won a tourist trophy at the Isle of Man TT. The pair would drive matching Fronte SS 360s, Moss’s finished in red, Ito’s yellow.
The pair set off on 12 August 1968 from Milan to Naples via the no-speed-limit Autostrada del Sol, a distance of 743km.
In what would be a remarkable achievement, the pair reached Rome in four hours and 27 minutes at an average speed of 124km/h. Moss, perhaps channelling his legendary 1955 Mille Miglia triumph for Mercedes-Benz showed no mercy to the car or the roads, completing the journey to Naples, the entire 743km driven at an average speed of 121km/h, no mean feat given the Fronte SS’s 360cc engine with a meagre 18.4kW (25PS horsepower). A kerb weight of 420kg no doubt helped.
Suzuki used the achievement to herald its abilities as manufacturer of small, versatile and fun-to-drive cars, a trend that continues to this day with its current model line-up, including the Swift and Jimny.
Today, Moss’s Fronte SS 360 is on display in the company’s museum in Hamamatsu, a reminder of the time one of the world’s greatest ever racing drivers drove for Suzuki.