When I was a young lad, Stirling Moss was my hero. My interest was first sparked by a book entitled “Stirling Moss’s book of Motor Sport.” There has been so much written about this man I do not presume to cover even a small part of his amazing deeds. In my library there are seven books written by or about him.
The now Sir Stirling is regarded as the greatest racing driver never to win the world Formula One Championship. Even though he came second five times, many say he was the greatest driver of all time.
When I learned he was coming to compete at the 1956 New Zealand Grand Prix, I wrote to him and asked for his autograph. His reply is now framed and sits proudly in my office. In the 1950’s, unlike today, Formula One drivers, would drive all classes of vehicles. In 1956 Stirling drove in the sports car race as well. In the Ardmore handicap of 32 cars, the result was:
- S. Moss (Porsche Spyder)
- P. Whitehead (Cooper-Jaguar)
- F.A.O Gaze (HWM-Jaguar)
I vividly remember that silver Porsche looking like a flying saucer screaming down the back straight.
The New Zealand Grand Prix result was 210 miles 100 laps:
- S. Moss Maserati 250 F £600 and trophy
- F.A.O Gaze Ferrari £300 and trophy
- P. Whitehead Ferrari £200 and trophy
Stirling won again in 1959 in a Cooper 2 litre. In 1962 starting from the back of the grid he won again, this time in a Cooper 2.5 litre. This was the last race at Ardmore before the Grand Prix was moved to Pukekohe. Even in 1962 the prize money was still only £500 for winning.
Motor racing in the 1950’s and 1960’s was very popular and a quote I read once said “If the weather is good, attendance around 60,000 fans is expected, that is 1 in 33 of the population of N.Z.”
It is very difficult to record even a small percentage of the highlights in this man’s career. One that stands out is that in 1957 he won the British Grand Prix. This was the first time a British driver, in a British car had won the British Grand Prix. He drove the amazing Vanwall. Another was after his horrific crash in a race at Goodwood in 1962 suffering knee, shoulder, chest and head injuries.
The accident put him in a coma for a month and for six months his left side was paralysed. He recovered fully but some twelve months later he retired from all racing. Admitting he was not the driver he had been in the past. He did do a test drive at Goodwood and put in some very quick laps. Saying that, “The things I used to do without thinking, such as braking and gear changing do not come naturally now. I think I would be a danger to myself and others on the track”.
So many of his compatriots had died in crashes, including Mike Hawthorn, Peter Collins, Archie Scott-Brown and Ken Wharton. Fortunately, times have changed these days. Sir Stirling is now 88 years old and was recently enjoying a public outing with 94-year-old Jaguar man Norman Dewis.
Moss’s record from 527 races was 212 wins and 97 places. This was extraordinary considering the number of times the cars under him seemed to break down.
In his book “Stirling Moss’s second book of Motor Racing” he devotes a whole chapter to “The Jaguar Story”. He relates how in 1950 he was offered a drive in Tommy Wisdom’s brand new XK120.
This was for the Tourist Trophy run on the notoriously difficult Dundrod circuit, outside Belfast. The weather was atrocious with a nine tenths gale blowing as well as flooding on the track in places.
Leading from start to finish a new course record was set. So impressed was Jaguar, that they offered him a factory drive for the following years.
This was the first race win for the XK120 and started Stirling off into big time motor racing. During his career he also drove C types, D Types, Lister Jaguars, MK2’s and Mk7’s
Many speed records were broken. In 1950 in an XK120, with co-driver Leslie Johnson, they drove for 24 hours and averaged 107 mph (172 kph) which included stops for fuel and tyres. In 1952, with three other drivers they drove for 7 days and 7 nights covering 16,851 miles (27,120 kms) at an average speed of 100.3 mph (161.53 kph). Again, in an XK120. This car was later seen with a cheeky sales ticket, 1 owner, carefully run in!
After a long period of poor health, Sir Stirling has retired from public life. I was lucky to get a Christmas Greeting from him saying. “Thank you for your kind words. Have a lovely Christmas and a gentle New Year”.
By Neville Barlow