STIRLING MOSS

Post 1945 Drivers

Born September 17 1929; London.

AppleMark?tirling Moss professional racing career started on May 9, 1948 - 40 years ago next Monday - at the Prescott Hillclimb in a 500 cc Cooper. It ended on April 23, 1962 against an earth bank at Goodwood in the mysterious accident that nearly killed him. In the intervening 14 years Moss repeatedly made history, building up a reputation as probably the finest British racing driver there has ever been. He was certainly the most versatile. The great victories stack up in the history books: the British Grand Prix for Van wall, the first grande epreuve for a British car since the '20s; the record-breaking Mille Miglia in 1955; the Monaco Grand Prix for Maserati in 1956, and twice more for Rob Walker; the Argentine Grand Prix in the little Cooper, on thread-bare tyres. But ask Moss which win was the most important to his career, and he will tell you about a pouring wet September afternoon in Northern Ireland, the day before his 21st birthday.

In 1950 Stirling Moss was already Britain's most promising young driver, but so far all he'd raced were the little rear-engined Coopers and John Heath's underfinanced HWM Formula 2 cars. He was desperately keen to prove himself in a sports car, and approached all the factories - Jaguar, Aston Martin, even MG for the loan of a 'I'D - but no-one was interested.

Jaguar, of course, was the marque everyone was talking about. The stunning new XK120 sports car not only looked beautiful with its twin-earn 3.5-litre engine; it was tremendously fast by the standards of the day.

There was no works team as such. However, a batch of six specially-prepared cars was laid down at the beginning of 1950 for sale to favoured private owners who could be expected to race them with distinction. Ian Appleyard got one for rallying and one went to Italy on loan to Mille Miglia specialist Clemente Biondetti. The others were sold to Leslie Johnson, Nick Haines, Peter Walker and Tommy Wisdom,

Wisdom was an elegant, blazered journalist, the motoring editor of the Daily Heraldbut also a talented racing driver, who had raced and rallied SS Jaguars before the war and wanted an XK for both competitions and fast road work.

The Wisdom car, registered JWK 988, was delivered in a curious shade of mid-green. Wisdom drove it in the production sports car race supporting the Silverstone International Trophy in July: the main race that day was dominated by the Alfa Romeos of Farina and Fangio, but a surprise sixth was young Moss in the underpowered HWM. It was after seeing this drive that Wisdom approached Moss, and offered him his Jaguar for the Tourist Trophy, which was being revived that September on a new road course at Dundrod, near Belfast. Wisdom's offer was to go 50/50 on all start and prize money.

Moss was overjoyed, but Jaguar was none too pleased. It hadn't sold Wisdom this precious, works-prepared car for him to lend it to a young tearaway. However, Jaguar relented sufficiently to lend Moss a blue demonstrator for a few days so he could get used to the car: more delight for Moss, whose everyday transort at that time was a Morris Minor.

The weekend of the TT Moss was already entered with the Cooper in a Brands Hatch Formula 3 meeting, but fortunately that wason the Sunday and the TTwas a Saturday race. So a seat was booked for him to return on the Saturday evening Belfast- London flight and on Thursday morning he had his first sight of the Dundrod track.

It delighted him. It couldn't have been more different in character from the short, flat, wide airfield tracks that were universal then in England. Rising to 1000 ft in the hills above Belfast, 7.5 miles to the lap, it was twisty and very narrow, but with fast straights. that undulated between earth banks. The race was a three-hour handicap, with outright victory going to the car that most improved on a distance percentage based on its cubic capacity. Even with a dry race, the pundits said, the big cars could not beat their target: the winner was bound to come from one of the very fast 2-litre Frazer-Nashes.

Moss spent a lot of time out on the circuit on Thursday, gradually bringing down his lap time to 6m 5s, but that was much slower than Leslie Johnson's 5m 39s with his white XK120, and well adrift of his handicap target.

Jaguar team manager Lofty England was already expressing doubts about the youngster's ability to cope with the big Jaguar on this difficult track, and Moss confided gloomily to Johnson afterwards: "It's no good, Leslie. I just can't go any faster."

But Johnson, who'd already seen enough of the Moss style to be impressed, said: "You'll go faster." 

And he did. On Friday he got down to 5m 28s, which was not only comfortably better than everyone else but also represented 105 per cent of his target speed.

Race day dawned to dreadful weather. A gale was blowing, bringing with it torrential rain. The press tent and catering marquees were blown down and the paddock reduced to a quagmire. The makeshift pits were awash as the cars lined up in echelon down the narrow start-finish straight for the Le Mans type start in order of engine size. Three big J2 Allards were atthe top, then threeXKs, red, white and green. An incongruous Austin Atlantic convertible (with the hood up!) followed and then the three works Aston Martin DB2s of Reg Parnell, Lance Macklin and George Abecassis. Further down the line, after the Healey Silverstones and the Frazer Nashes, was a Jowett Jupiter, a works entry entrusted to the debonair Wisdom.

Johnson was first away in the whiteXK, with Moss in his spray. Up in the hills there was thick cloud and visibility was down to about 50 yards. The road was awash in places, and treacherously slippery everywhere. While the Allards and Aston Martins scrapped over third place, Moss bided his time until the end of the first lap, then moved effortlessly past Johnson and began to draw away.

After six laps the polished and experienced Johnson was 53 seconds behind Moss. As the race went on the weather worsened, and Moss' lead grew bigger. He was swooshing the big Jaguar along the main straight past the pits at over 120 miles an hour and hustling it through the corners in superbly controlled slides, displaying the style that was to become so f~miliar: leaning back almost motionless in the cockpit, calm and relaxed, only his outstretched arms and feet working away.

But while his lead on the road was now over two minutes, there was the handicap to worry about. In the pits .his father's lap chart had become a sodden pulp and Alfred Moss threw it away in disgust. Despite the rain, Moss was averaging around 97 per cent of his target time, but as the race drew towards the end of its final hour, word ran through the pits that the leading Frazer-Nash of Bob Gerard was ahead of Moss on handicap. In the spray and gathering gloom Moss senior hung out a "Faster" signal as Stirling came round to start his final lap-and Moss junior coolly responded with his fastest lap of the race, averaging 77.61 mph.

As it turned out, the pits rumour had been incorrect. Moss came home over three miles ahead of Peter Whitehead's XK120, but on handicap he'd scored 97.47 per cent of target, with Whitehead second on 96.15 per cent and Gerard third on 96.12 per cent. The Aston Martins of Reg Parnell and George Abacassis were fourth and fifth, with Culpan sixth and Johnson slipping to seventh.

The damp and bedraggled crowd cheered lustily as Moss' mud-streaked Jaguar splashed into the paddock. And none was more delighted than Wisdom. His Jowett Jupiter had expired out on the circuit long since, with a blown head gasket but, before trudging back to the pits, he'd watched this brilliant young man at work. Moss had driven the full distance non stop, the wet weather preserving his tyres and the Jaguar carrying enough fuel for the 225 miles without replenishment. The prize money that they would split between them, including trade bonuses, would be over £1400 - a considerable sum then.

Lofty England was happy to admit he'd changed his view of Moss - and he was even more impressed when he found out that the brakes on the Wisdom car were only half worn after three hours' racing, whereas the other two cars' brakes were at the end of their life.

Now Moss' carefully-planned schedule had gone awry: his victory meant going to the prize-giving party. So he put his bedraggled father on the evening plane and flew home himself next morning - his 21 st birthday getting to Brands Hatch just in time for his first race.

Orchestrated by the commentator, the crowd greeted him with a chorus of Twenty-One Today. His Cooper-Norton was waiting but, having missed practice, he had to start from the back row of the grid. He was in the lead by the end of lap four, and went on to win. In his second race he made a bad start but came through to finish second; in the third he had just taken the lead when his car's gearbox failed.

No sooner was the meeting over than the entire Formula 3 contingent repaired to a pub on the A20 near Brands Hatch to help Moss celebrate his birthday. They were led by a Maidstone milkman called Stan Coldham, who was a Cooper driver and general character.

"At that age I was really quite shy," says Moss, but he was still delighted when a remarkably arresting girl asked him to dance. She turned out to be called Yvonne, a dancer from the Folies Bergere club in London.

"Do you know why I'm here?", she asked. "No, answered the bemused Moss. "Why?"

"I'm your birthday present from Stan Coldham."

It had been quite a weekend. .

The Best Race of Stirling Moss

The Best Race of Stirling Moss version 2

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Fangio

Mike Hawthorn

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Moss 1958

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