Britain has produced some of the world’s most talented and successful drivers, from Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart to Colin McRae and Lewis Hamilton. But by far the most universally adored and well-known around the globe is Sir Stirling Moss.
Moss may never have won the Formula One World Championship, but he was runner-up four times and took 16 Grand Prix victories. He was also a consummate all-rounder, proving just as fast in sports-car racing (where he reckoned that, unlike in F1, he had the edge on his good friend Juan Manuel Fangio) and rallying.
After Fangio’s retirement, Moss was the benchmark in Grand Prix racing, and a household name. Updates on his condition following his career-ending accident at Goodwood in 1962 were the lead news item for weeks, and the fact that his name still resonates around the world more than 50 years later is testament to his enduring popularity.
On the eve of his 21st birthday, Stirling Moss took the chequered flag in the 1950 Tourist Trophy at Dundrod, Northern Ireland. It was one of the Boy Wonder’s first major international victories, and he went on to win the prestigious race six more times throughout his career.
As well as being a gifted Formula One and sports-car racer, Moss also proved his talent at top-flight international rallies. One of just three people to win the Coupe d’Or for achieving three perfect runs on the Alpine Rally, he also finished second in the 1952 Rallye Monte-Carlo after teaming up with The Autocar editor John Cooper and Desmond Scannell, secretary of the BRDC.
Ever a supporter of British-built cars, Moss drove a Vanwall to victory at Aintree in the 1957 British Grand Prix. With his own car suffering a persistent misfire, Moss took over from team-mate Tony Brooks, who was still recovering from an accident at Le Mans. He stormed back through the pack to claim the first World Championship victory for a British car, and helped to break the German and Italian dominance of Formula One.
Moss’ first championship Formula One win came in front of his home crowd at the 1955 British Grand Prix at Aintree, where he led a Mercedes charge that locked out the top four positions. Fangio was close behind in second, and Moss was never quite sure if the great Argentinian had allowed him to win. Fangio, for his part, would ever after murmur only that it was Stirling’s day.
1955 proved to be a year of top-level success for Moss, including winning the Targa Florio with Peter Collins and taking that first championship Formula One victory. His greatest achievement, however, was winning the arduous Mille Miglia with friend and co-driver Denis ‘Jenks’ Jenkinson. The pair averaged 98.53mph around the roads of Italy in one of four factory-backed Mercedes-Benz 300SLRs – a record that would stand in perpetuity.
Moss became known as the greatest driver to never win a Formula One World Championship, and perhaps his best opportunity came in the 1958 season. Despite winning four races, Moss conceded the championship to Mike Hawthorn (who won a single race) by a margin of just one point – but it could have been very different. Hawthorn faced disqualification in Portugal for push-starting his car against the flow of traffic, but Moss – who won the race – defended his Ferrari rival, helping him to avoid the penalty and go on to claim the title.
Despite facing overwhelming competition from Ferrari’s new V6-powered ‘sharknose’ 156, Moss twice vanquished them that year – in Monaco and Germany. Around the streets of the Principality, he drove the race of his life, finishing three seconds ahead of the Ferraris of Richie Ginther, Wolfgang von Trips and Phil Hill. The British ace had set a qualifying best of 1 min 39.1 secs - driving flat-out all the way, his average laptime for the race’s 100 laps was only 0.4 secs slower.
Throughout his career, Moss had been involved in a number of record-breaking attempts. The first came in 1950, when he shared with Leslie Johnson to drive a Jaguar XK120 at an average speed of 107.46mph over 2579.16 miles at Montlhery – the first time a production car had average more than 100mph for 24 hours. He revisited the circuit two years later with another XK120 and set four more world records, as well as driving the streamlined MG EX181 to a 245.64mph flying kilometre at Bonneville in 1957.
In 1954, Moss became the first non-American to win the Sebring 12 Hours, at the wheel of a Cunningham-backed 1.5-litre Osca MT4. Moss shared driving duties with Bill Lloyd: the pair scored an unexpected victory over the more powerful Lancia D24s, Aston DB3S and Ferrari 375s, all of which suffered various mechanical problems. A big fan of the little sports-racer, Moss later bought himself a 1956 Osca to use in historics.
Determination was an important factor in Moss’ success, a quality he demonstrated at Monza in 1956. The race went down in history as one of his finest, after driving his Maserati 250F to a narrow win over Fangio – but not without incident. Amid a number of retirements, Moss ran out of fuel with five laps to go and waved down teammate Luigi Piotti, who nudged his car back to the pits to refuel.
Coming out of the pits, Moss set a lap time of 2min 45.4sec – the fastest of the race. With the car’s tyres worn down to the canvas, Moss charged across the finish line with a lead of just six seconds ahead of a fast-closing Fangio.
In addition to conquering the Mille Miglia, Targa Florio and Sebring 12 Hours, Moss had a great deal of success at the Nurburgring, winning the 1000km race three times from 1958-’60. His first two victories came via Aston Martin, while his third was achieved alongside Dan Gurney at the wheel of a Tipo 61 Birdcage Maserati.
Since retiring from competitive driving in 1962 – bar a short comeback with Audi in the British Touring Car Championship in 1980 and ’81 – Moss has been a popular figure in historic racing. Whether demonstrating his Mille Miglia-winning Mercedes, racing Jaguars at the Goodwood Revival or tackling the Pirelli Marathon in an MGB, he remains a fine ambassador for the sport.