Stirling Moss (b. 1929)

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Stirling Moss (b. 1929)

Stirling Moss
Stirling Moss
It seems every generation argues over who was the greatest racing driver ever. Of recent times there is all conquering Michael Schumacher, and a little earlier was the undisputed champion Aryton Senna. But back in the halcyon days of 1950’s and 1960’s motorsport, it seems there were plenty of great drivers contending for the title as ‘The Worlds Greatest Driver’. Was it Tazio Nuvolari, Rudolf Caracciola, Alberto Ascari, Juan Manuel Fangio, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, Jochen Rindt, Mike Hawthorn, Graham Hill or Giuseppe Farina?
There is of course one name missing from that list ... Stirling Moss ... who admitted only one peer among his contemporaries – Fangio - with whom he was teamed for Mercedes-Benz in 1955 and who kept the World Championship away from Moss on several occasions. There are those, however, who will rightly claim that Moss was a better all-rounder than Fangio, who was not happy in sports cars or anything other than Formula One.

Stirling Crauford Moss - Born Into A Motorsport Family

Born Stirling Crauford Moss on 17 September 1929, he was the son of Alfred and Aileen Moss who had both taken part in motoring competitions. Alfred Moss had driven a Fronty-Ford into 14th place at Indianapolis in 1924, while Aileen Moss had driven in many rallies and trials, winning several of them, too.

Although the Moss family was not in the motor trade - his fither was a dentist and a farmer - sporting machinery was much in evidence and the talk was all about motor racing, so Stirling Moss grew up indoctrinated with racing lore. Education was undertaken unwillingly, largely at Haileybury public school and the youthful Moss was destined, it seemed, for the catering trade.

However, when he let it be known that he fancied a spot of motor racing, the family immediately offered help in the shape of a Cooper-JAP, then the in-car for any up-and-going driver who had his eyes set on the big time. His debut was made at a hill-climb in Stanmer Park, Brighton, and in that first season in 1948, at the age of only 18, he showed that indefinable natural ability by picking up ten class wins. The die was cast and in 1949 he took on a 1000 cc Cooper-JAP as well as the 500 cc car, gaining his first victory abroad when he won an F3 race at Zandvoort in Holland.

Alf Francis and HWM

Hill-climbing was soon forgotten, as he knew that only in pure motor racing would he rise to the top. His talent was soon recognised by others and in 1950 he was asked by John Heath to drive the 2-litre HWM Formula Two car, beginning a long and mutually rewarding liaison with Polish-born mechanic Alf Francis who was then chief mechanic for HWM. The HWM was not very reliable, but he gained a lot of experience and picked up several wins when the car lasted the race distance. He also drove a works Jaguar XK120 in production-sports-car events, taking his first major victory when he won the Tourist Trophy at Dundrod.

The British Racing Drivers' Club awarded him a Gold Star for his performances during 1950. For 1951, he stayed with HWM in Formula Two and with Jaguar in sports cars, picking up three good wins in the HWM, as well as winning the TT again in a C-type Jaguar. He also won the British Empire Trophy on the Isle of Man - then an important event - driving a Le Mans Frazer-Nash. He stayed faithful to Formula Three as well during 1951, mostly using a Kieft.

Stirling Moss droving the British built Vanwall to victory in the 1958 Dutch GP
Stirling Moss droving the British built Vanwall to victory in the 1958 Dutch GP.

Stirling Moss behind the wheel of the four-wheel-drive Ferguson at Oulton Park in 1961
Stirling Moss behind the wheel of the four-wheel-drive Ferguson at Oulton Park in 1961.

Stirling Moss driving Rob Walker's Lotus 24 during 1962
Stirling Moss driving Rob Walker's Lotus 24 during 1962.

After motorsport retirement Moss became a motoring journalist. He is pictured here next to a Datsun 2000 during a road review
After motorsport retirement Moss became a motoring journalist. He is pictured here next to a Datsun 2000 during a road review.

Driving the Sunbeam Talbot 90 in the Monte Carlo Rally

In 1952, the restless Moss, who could barely sit still long enough to consume a meal, also took up rallying. He was asked to drive for the Rootes team in a Sunbeam Talbot 90 and in his first event, the Monte Carlo Rally, he finished a close second to the winner, Sydney Allard. Later on in the season, he won a coveted Coupe des A/pes in the Alpine Rally, a feat he repeated in 1953 and 1954 to win one of the only two gold Coupes ever presented for three un-penalised runs.

Moss was intensely patriotic and wanted to drive only British cars, but in the early 1950s there were few British Grand Prix cars with any chance of success. However, Moss turned down an offer from Ferrari in 1953 in order to build his own Cooper-Alta, with Alf Francis as mechanic. This car was not very successful and Moss had another Cooper-AIta built which was a much better car. At the 1953 Italian Grand Prix, he had the car fitted with fuel injection and powered by nitro-methane fuel which enabled him to get the green car in amongst the Italian Ferraris and Maseratis which were dominating Formula One racing at that time.

Driving the C-type at Silverstone

In 1953, Moss had his first serious mishaps in racing cars, first when he overturned a C-type Jaguar at Silverstone without serious injury and then he overturned his Cooper-JAP at Castle Combe. Moss was now a fully professional driver, even to the extent of employing a manager, Ken Gregory, who negotiated contracts for Moss. Gregory heard that Mercedes were planning to re-enter Grand Prix racing in 1954 and went to the factory to ask if they would sign on Moss. Team manager Neubauer commented that Moss was indeed a promising driver but that he should buy a fully competitive car for the 1954 season to show just how good he was.

Moss agreed and his family rallied round to help buy a 250F Maserati. Although he was unable to use the full performance because his budget restricted the number of engine rebuilds that could be undertaken, the green Maserati put up a number of good performances in F1 races, winning the Aintree 200, Oulton Park Gold Cup, the Goodwood Trophy and the Daily Telegraph Trophy at Aintree. Moss's performances in 1954 were good enough to persuade Mercedes that he should join them and for 1955 he drove the Mercedes W196 as number two to Fangio as well as handling the 300 SLR sports/racing car.

Although he had to take second place to Fangio, Moss was allowed to win the British GP at Aintree and he also finished second in the Belgian and Dutch GPs to take second place in the World Drivers' Championship. He also gained three memorable victories in the 300SLR at the MilIe Miglia, the Targa Florio and the Tourist Trophy, as well as winning the Oulton Park Gold Cup in his Maserati 250F. In the sports Mercedes, he proved beyond doubt that he was a faster driver than Fangio, who was content to finish second to him in all three races.

Moving to Maserati

The Mercedes team withdrew from racing at the end of 1955 and, although several British teams vied for his services, Moss decided that they were not yet competitive in Grand Prix racing and signed for the Maserati team in both F1 and sports-car events. It was an outstandingly successful season, for he won more than twenty major events during the season. In Formula One racing, he won the Monaco GP and the European GP at Monza, finished second in the German GP, third in the Belgian GP and fifth in the French GP. He again wound up in second place in the World Championship, only three points behind Fangio. He also won the Australian and New Zealand GPs, the Aintree 200 and the Richmond Trophy at Goodwood.

In sports cars, he drove the 300S Maserati to victory in the Argentinian 1000 Kilometres and the Nurburgring 1000 Kilometres, as well as the non-Championship Venezuelan GP, Bari GP, Nassau Trophy, the Australian TT and the BRDC Trophy at Silverstone. He also drove Aston Martin DB3s, Porsche Spyder, Cooper-Climax and Vanwall cars to victory, the latter being the Fr Vanwall with which he won the International Trophy at Silverstone. Moss decided in 1957 that at last Britain had a worthy challenger for the World Championship and he signed to drive for the Vanwall team. The car proved to be very fast but rather temperamental and, although Moss won the Italian GP, the Pescara GP and the European GP at Aintree, he was again relegated to second place in the Championship behind Fangio.

In sports-car racing, Moss won the Swedish GP in a 4½-litre Maserati and was second at Sebring ina 3-litre Maserati. For the rest of the season, his big V8 Maserati proved fast but fragile. Moss remained with Vanwall in 1958 and the car won no less than six of the ten Championship races. Unfortunately, Moss only drove it to three of these wins - at the Moroccan, Portuguese and Dutch GPs, backing up with a win in a 2-litre Cooper-Climax in the Argentine GP and second place in the French GP. In sports-car racing, he drove in the World Championship for Aston Martin, winning both the Nurburgring 1000 Kilometres and the TT at Goodwood.

Moss also won a mixed bag of other races in Cooper, Maserati, Ferrari, Lister-Jaguar and Aston Martin sports cars. A long term contract with a fuel company meant that Moss had difficulty in reaching agreement with works teams who raced on other products so, for the remainder of his career, he drove mostly privately owned cars. In 1959, he drove Rob Walker's Formula One Cooper Climax in F1 races, retiring on many occasions but, towards the end of the season, he won the Portuguese and Italian GPs. Earlier, he had driven a BRM into second place in the British GP at Aintree.

Driving for Aston Martin

Moss again drove for Aston Martin in sports-car races, taking a memorable victory in the Nuirburgring 1000 Kilometre race together with yet another TT victory. These wins helped Aston Martin to take the World Championship. Moss also drove a Cooper-Borgward in F1 races and a Cooper-Monaco sports car at non-Championship events. Moss again drove a Cooper-Climax at the start of the 1960 season, taking third place in the Argentine GP, but Rob Walker purchased a Lotus 18 for Moss to drive which he immediately drove to victory at the Monaco GP, followed by fourth place at the Dutch GP.

However, in practice for the Belgian GP, the Lotus broke a rear hub carrier and Moss was thrown out of the car, receiving hairline cracks in both legs as well as breaking his nose and damaging his back. Despite these injuries, he was back on the track within seven weeks, winning a sports-car race in Sweden with a new Lotus 19. Later in the season, he won the United States GP with a Lotus 18 to finish third in the Championship.

In sports-car racing, Moss drove the 2.9-litre Maserati type 61 to victory at the Niirburgring 1000 Kilometres. He also picked up a number of other victories, including the Oulton Park Gold Cup with the Lotus 18 and the TT once again with a Ferrari 250GT. Formula One changed from 2½ litres to 1½ litres for 1961, leaving the British teams unprepared, while Ferrari built brand new V6 cars which were far more powerful than the ageing Coventry Climax engine. It was during this season that Moss showed his ability at its best as he did not even have the latest model Lotus all season, yet on circuits where pure straight-line speed was not of paramount importance, Moss was more than a match for the Ferrari drivers.

The Lotus Takes On The Superior Ferrari's

He put in a memorable drive at the Monaco GP, holding off all the Ferrari drivers to take a narrow victory. He followed this with a fourth place at the Dutch GP then won another remarkable victory at Nurburgring. Stirling notched up a whole string of other victories in the Lotus 18 and 19, as well as with a 2t-litre Cooper. He also won the TT yet again with a Ferrari 250GT and gave the new four-wheel-drive Ferguson-Climax its first victory at the Oulton Park Gold Cup. The 1962 season started as successfully as ever with three victories in the Tasman series of races in Australia and New Zealand and then he went to the USA where he took a class victory in the Daytona 3 Hours, driving a'250GT Ferrari.

Moss returned to England to drive a Lotus Climax V8 in the F1 Goodwood Easter Monday meeting but, after making two pit stops which left him well down the field, his car suddenly veered off the track after Fordwater bend and crashed heavily into an earth bank. He was trapped in the car for a long while and suffered severe head injuries which necessitated several operations. His matchless sense of timing and first-class vision had been affected and, although he recovered fully, he felt that he was unable to match his previous high standards and decided to retire from the sport.

After his retirement, Moss concentrated on various business ventures, as well as acting as technical and public-relations adviser to various companies. Perhaps the most lasting memorial to his achievements is the immortal phrase uttered by police-car drivers as they pull up a driver for exceeding the speed limit: 'Who do you think you are - Stirling Moss?'. He remained the most successful English driver in terms of wins until 1991 when Nigel Mansell overtook him, after competing in many more races.

Stirling Moss in his Lotus 18 during the 1960 Monaco GP - which he won
Stirling Moss in his Lotus 18 during the 1960 Monaco GP - which he won.
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