Born in 1928 to Alfred and Aileen Moss in London, England, Stirling had racing gene’s in his blood. His dentist father was an amateur racing driver who came in 16th in the 1934 Indianapolis 500 while his mother entered prewar hill climbs behind the wheel of a Singer Nine. His sister, Patricia Moss, was one of the most successful female rally drivers of all time. Clearly, racing was in their blood.
The Briton would eventually go on to race in the pinnacle of motorsports – Formula One, racing against the greats of his era such as Juan Manuel Fangio, Mike Hawthorn, Peter Collins and Alberto Ascari. Stirling Moss was said to be the greatest racing driver not to win an F1 World Championship. Join us as we take a brief stroll down memory lane.
Stirling, who was described as soft-spoken, modest and a gentleman, started his racing career behind the wheel of his father’s BMW 328 and eventually into a Cooper 500 single-seater racing car. With it he began to rack up the wins, which included Formula Three. Shortly before his 21st birthday, Moss secured his first major race win at the wheel of a borrowed Jaguar XK120 in the 1950 RAC Tourist Trophy in Northern Ireland.
Formula One was naturally the next step for the young Briton and the others thought so too. After his Irish victory, the then-head of Mercedes-Benz motorsports, Alfred Neubauer, saw the potential in Moss and advised his manager at the time to run a privately entered car. Stirling’s father purchased a Maserati 250F, which he used in the 1954 Formula One season. A year later, he was racing for the Mercedes works team, in which he took the British Grand Prix as his first World Championship win.
That same year, Moss went on to win the grueling Mille Miglia in a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR. He completed it in 10 hours seven minutes and 48 seconds, averaging almost 160km/h. Till this day, some argue that Moss’s drive was one of the greatest ever. Bear in mind too, the 50’s was an incredibly dangerous era for motor racing.
Fifteen drivers would perish that decade alone, and that’s only drivers who competed in an F1 event (including testing sessions and non-championship races). It doesn’t not include other races. Alberto Ascari was one example. The Italian – who was an F1 double world champion – lost his life at the 1000km race in Monza in 1955.
But that morbid fear never brought Stirling down. He was untouchable. He won 16 of the 66 Grand Prix he competed in, but that was just Formula One. Stirling was a very versatile driver, as evidenced by the 212 wins he garnered from the 529 events he started, in 85 different classes. Outstanding.
Apart from his Mille Miglia performance, one of his most priceless drives came from the 1961 Monaco Grand Prix, where he held off three Ferrari 156s who were charging hard and were more superior than his Rob Walker Lotus 18. Moss held the Prancing Horse’s at bay while he took the chequered flag. A prime example of sheer driving ability.
While Stirling understood the dangers associated with motor racing, he still kept at it, right till Easter Monday, 1962. It was on that fateful day that he had his racing career cut short, when a suspected defective throttle led to a violent crash during the Glover Trophy at Goodwood. He was in a coma for a month and was paralysed down his left side for six months, which he recovered from. Stirling would eventually return to the hot seat, but it would never be the same again.
In an interview with Top Gear back in 2009, he said: “One has to be able to speak the language of a car. That certainly makes a difference between one driver and another. Some drivers can speak to cars… If I hadn’t had the accident, I’d have gone on until I was 50. God it was annoying. I had to work for a living! There is bravery in knowing when to stop. That’s the most difficult thing to do. I’d had shunts before, and broken all sorts of things, but they hadn’t mattered. But that one did. And so that was that. You know nothing about anything, so there were only two things you can be: an estate agent or an MP.”
Following his full-time retirement, Stirling continued to dabble in rallies, endurance events and even attempted the 1980 season of the British Touring Car Championship. It was only until two years ago that Stirling retired from the public eye due to health issue. Otherwise, he was often spotted at motorsport events in the UK including historic races and the Goodwood Festival of Speed, where he often met the iconic speed machines of his era.
Sir Stirling Moss was 90 years old when he passed away on April 12th, 2020 with Lady Moss by his side after a long battle with an illness. Rest in peace, Sir.