It was with great sadness that we learned of the passing of Stirling Moss over the Easter weekend. He died on 12 April 2020 in Mayfair, London, England at the age of 90 following a long illness, with his wife, Lady Susie Moss by his side.
An inductee into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1990, Moss won 212 major international races across several categories of competition. It has been said before, but frankly you cannot overemphasise the fact that he was “the greatest driver never to win the World Championship.” He finished second in the FIA Formula One World Championship for four consecutive years between 1955-1958, finishing third in the following three years 1959-1961.
Where it all began
Stirling Craufurd Moss was born in Thames Ditton, Surrey, UK, on 17 September 1929. Moss’ father, Alfred, was a dentist and racing driver (he once raced in the Indy 500) and his mother, Aileen was a trial and rally driver. His sister, Pat Moss, was a successful show jumper and rally driver, being the only woman ever to have won the Liege-Rome-Liege outright. Having been born into such a sporting family, it was a forgone conclusion that the young Stirling would make his way in motorsport too.
Stirling Moss made his competition debut in 1947 at the tender age of just 18 years, and the following year did a full season in Formula 3. In 1949, he made his international racing debut in Formula 3, competing in races all over Europe and scoring five wins that year. The 1950 season saw him competing in over fifty events, including his first ‘works’ team drive for HWM. He took part in Grands Prix in Paris, Rome, Berne, Bari, Naples, notching up 18 race wins in all, including the RAC Tourist Trophy in a Jaguar XK120, while still just 21 years of age! In 1952, he finished second in Monte Carlo on his international rallying debut, and then followed this up with a class win on the Alpine Rally.
Back in August 1952, when speed and endurance records were set in order to demonstrate the performance and reliability of cars, Moss was there to lend a hand. At the Autodrome de Montlhéry (about 30 km (19 miles) south of Paris), Moss was one of a four-driver team consisting of Jack Fairman, Bert Hadley and Leslie Johnson, who drove a factory-owned Jaguar XK120 fixed-head coupé (LWK 707) for 7 days and nights at the French track. The four drivers averaged 100.31 mph (161.43 km/h) to take four World records and five International Class C records, and covered a total of 16,851.73 mi (27,120.23 km).
Five years later, in August 1957, Moss broke five International Class F records in the purpose-built MG EX181 at Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, USA. The streamlined, supercharged car’s speed for the flying kilometre was 245.64 mph, which, in accordance with the regulations, was the average of two runs in opposite directions.
Racing debut in USA
In ’54 Moss scored a significant win when he and Bill Lloyd won the 12 Hours of Sebring (Florida International 12-Hour Grand Prix of Endurance) driving an Osca MT4 1450. This was the fourth running of the Sebring race, and it was Moss’ first win in the USA. In 1955, Moss became a Mercedes-Benz factory driver, but it was in this year in which he scored his most renowned win when he trounced the opposition in the Mille Miglia. Driving a Mercedes-Benz 300SLR he set a new record with co-driver Denis Jenkinson, winning at an average speed of 97.96 mph, beating Fangio by 32 minutes! He also scored wins in the British GP (the first victory for a British driver at this Grand Prix), Targa Florio, Tourist Trophy and the GP of Buenos Aires this year. This was also the year in which Mercedes withdrew from sports car racing after that horrific accident at Le Mans.
The Ferrari 250 GTO
The seasons 1956 through 1960 saw Moss scoring wins around the globe at an ever-increasing rate, challenging his rival and friend, Fangio, at every turn. The late Ken Gregory, UDT-Laystall team manager, commented, “In 1957, Stirling’s father and I decided to start a small racing team with one Formula 2 car [BRP – British Racing Partnership]. We campaigned that in 1958 and were very successful with it, so we decided in 1959 to go with two cars. Until 1960, there was no such thing as a sponsored Formula 1 team, but I was approached by a hire purchase company to see if I was prepared to let them sponsor the team for 1960. So, in 1960 the Yeoman Credit Racing team was born and that was the very first commercially sponsored Formula 1 team in the world.”
The following season, 1961, Yeoman Credit decided to run their own team and so Gregory arranged his second sponsorship deal. “This was with the United Dominions Trust hire purchase company and Laystall Engineering which they owned, and so the UDT-Laystall team was created in 1961 and 1962,” he recalled. It was in 1961 that Moss enjoyed the busiest and most successful racing season of his career, scoring 27 major international race wins, including Ardmore, Australia, Austria, Monaco, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, USA West, and Nassau.
In 1962, Ken Gregory ordered a brand-new Ferrari 250 GTO for the UDT-Laystall team for Stirling Moss to drive, finished in BRP Racing Green. Innes Ireland and Colonel Ronnie Hoare, the British Ferrari Concessionaire, went down to Maranello to collect the two cars, to be delivered to Goodwood over the Easter holiday period in 1962. Tony Robinson, UDT-Laystall’s chief mechanic, picks up the story, “The car was delivered to Goodwood for Stirling to drive but of course he didn’t drive it, because he had his accident on Easter Monday. After the race and after the accident on the Monday, I had to get the car back to Kingsbury where we lived, and on the way, we stopped off at the hospital in Chichester to see what the progress was on Stirling, but there was no news because he was still unconscious.” Innes Ireland would go on to score a memorable victory with this car in the Tourist Trophy at Goodwood on 18 August 1962. Despite Moss never having driven the light green Ferrari, it is still known today as ‘Stirling Moss’ 250 GTO’.
Twelve months after the accident, and having recovered from his injuries, he felt strong enough to test drive a Lotus. He had, though, decided that if he was not capable of driving at his previous racing speed, that he would call time on his career, which is the way it turned out. In a remarkable career, Moss had competed no less than ten times in the Le Mans 24 Hour race, another ten times in the Sebring 12 Hours (winning it twice), and in numerous other sports car races. And so it was, after a scintillating 15-year motor racing career with more than 200 international victories, Stirling Moss decided to hang up his helmet.
While he did put his toe back into the water in 1982 driving an Audi touring car in British Championship, he decided finally that it was no longer for him. He chose instead to pursue his passion for the sport behind the wheel of historic racing cars. It was in this capacity that he endeared himself to the racing public all over again, as he was an enthusiastic participant at numerous Goodwood and other similar events. Moss was as busy as ever in his post-racing life, being official starter at various races and he also made numerous appearances at shows and other racing events worldwide.
However, in 2010, he broke both ankles and four bones in a foot, chipped four vertebrae and suffered skin lesions, when he fell down the lift shaft at his home. Then, in late 2016, he was admitted to hospital in Singapore with a serious chest infection, and it was as a result of this illness and the subsequent slow and arduous recovery, that Stirling Moss announced his retirement from public life in January 2018, aged 88 years.
Having met Sir Stirling on a number of occasions and interviewed him both face-to-face and over the telephone, I have only ever found him to be courteous, kind-hearted, ever the enthusiast, and always the professional. He was a pleasure to engage with and so willing to answer one’s questions, whether on the spot or back home once he had consulted his ‘racing diaries’.
A chapter has closed, an era has passed, and we must now say goodbye to Sir Stirling. It remains for us to say ‘thank you’ for the great spirit of competition he displayed, and the example he set for those to follow. We wish his family our sincere condolences at this sad time.
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Virtual Motorpix/Glen Smale & Porsche Werkfoto