Stirling Moss

Stirling Moss

Stirling Moss was born in London on September 17th, 1929. His father, Alfred, a dentist, had raced at Brooklands and twice contested the Indianapolis 500. Aileen, his mother, was also a competitor in rallies and trials, in 1936, she won the Ladies Experts Trials. At the age of nine his father bought him an old Austin Seven in which the young Moss would drive in the fields around their home. The family were also keen on horses, Stirling and his sister Pat entering various horse show competitions. While Pat continued to compete, Stirling's heart lay more in horsepower of the mechanical variety. He failed to show much academic ability and his parents were forced to accept that he would not follow his father into the medical profession. At age seventeen it was decided that the young Moss would go into the hotel trade. His training included serving as a waiter and later night porter, an occupation he was totally unqualified for.

Moss maintained his interest in cars and was soon driving on the open road, in Morgan. His next car was a MG and after seeing an advertisement for a racing car with an Aspen engine he promptly ordered one. When Alfred found out, he angrily contacted the company and cancelled the order. Eventually he relented and allowed Stirling to borrow his BMW sports car. It was in this car that Moss would start to compete in local speed trials.

Moss became one of the first customers for John Cooper with a Mk II, he became aware of these cars through fellow competitors and went looking for the Cooper garage in Surbiton. Stirling contrived to drive past the showroom one day with his father as his unsuspecting passenger. Remarking on the car in the showroom he impressed upon his father how wonderful it would be to race such a car as this.....

Stirling's portrait featured in Autosport as early as October 1950 "Most promising of all present day drivers is twenty-one year old Stirling Moss...."

Pa Moss agreed but only if only Stirling could meet the cost. Reduced to selling most of his possessions he was still short of the £600 needed but on his 18th birthday his parents made up the difference. This would be the beginning of a long association which saw him driving Coopers, on and off, for much of his career.

Initially, of course, there was no real circuit racing so Stirling made his early appearances on the hills, starting at Prescott in May where he finished a respectable fourth, ahead of fellow new boy Ron "Curly" Dryden. On the 5th June at Stanmer Park, Brighton he made his first real impression beating Eric Brandon and the Monaco of George Hartwell, then won his heat, the final and handicap at Brough in July.

At Bouley Bay on the 15th, Stirling beat establish driver Colin Strang, a few days later he won at Prescott beating Strang and Dryden, again at Great Auclum on the 24th and Boscombe on 7th August. Stirling was a little off form at Brighton and Prescott, only fourth and third but bounced back at Goodwood, winning the first high profile race of the year. The first British Grand Prix on the 2nd October brought mixed fortunes, Moss leading for much of the race in front of a huge crowd only to lose a chain and hand the win to Spike Rhiando. Winning at Dunholme Lodge a week later would have been some consolation. In his first season Stirling hade made a significant mark showing that he could succeed in all conditions and types of track.

Alfred Moss rides shotgun on Stirling's Mk II

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For 1949, Alf Moss recommended his son take on a Continental season, for the experience of the bigger international venues, the exposure, and to experience the life of the professional racing driver on tour. With 500cc racing slower to take off in mainland Europe, the opportunity was spotted to run a Cooper with the 1,000cc JAP Twin engine. This would probably be competitive in the 1100cc hill climb class, and put up a decent showing in the 2 litre Formula II races. It would also be a known quantity - useful for maintenance and reliability in the field.

A new Cooper Mk III LWB chassis was ordered and, as with his previous car, Stirling did much of the build himself at the Cooper works. Several modifications were included, such as rack & pinion steering, the "Moss" seat with side bolsters, and removable pannier fuel tanks for the longer races.

As a result, he appears less dominant of the 500cc class at home. He failed to finish the 500 race at the Easter Goodwood meeting but walked away with the handicap race with a 1,000cc engine installed. Iota reported "Apart from Reg Parnell, there was nobody to come anywhere near young Moss for sheer handling skill." For the British Grand Prix, now brought forward to May, he had better luck winning handsomely from "Curly" Dryden and Bill Aston then Blandford on the 28th. The English drivers travelled en masse to Zandvoort, Holland where Stirling beat Bill Aston and local man Lex Beels on the 30th July. He followed this with a second to Brandon in the 50 Mile Race at Silverstone. At Brough on the 2nd October, Moss could only manage third in the scratch race to the Cooper of Stan Coldham and Don Parker's Special and failed to finish the handicap race.

Of some note is his appearance at that Zandvoort race in July. Stirling was returning from the first part of his Continental tour, and in fact attempted to enter the Dutch Grand Prix with his JAP Twin motor. The organisers refused, so Stirling stripped one cylinder to make a 500cc 'sloper' engine and duly won the 500cc race. Considering the lap times, it looks like the Cooper Twin would have fared rather well in the Grand Prix. A full year before Harry Schell entered his Cooper twin in the Monaco Grand Prix, one may wonder how it might have affected Moss' career, Cooper, or even the history of Formula 1.

Stirling upgraded his car again for 1950, now to a Cooper Mk IV but the Royal Silverstone race proved frustrating with over 100,000 spectators watching. He won his heat but holed a piston in the final and had to coast the car over the line for second to the Iota of Frank Aikens with new boy Peter Collins a mere 0.4 of a second behind! All three were presented to the King and Queen. A week later, the Brits went to Monaco where Stirling won his heat and the final, beating Harry Schell and Don Parker. At Brands Hatch on the 25th June, Moss won the Open Challenge, Production Car and the Race for the 10 Fastest, a good day's work by any standard. By now, the Manx Norton engine was becoming available and Moss had Ray Martin install one of Harold Daniel's engines in his lightened Cooper. First time out at Silverstone for the Daily Express meeting nearly ended in disappointment, the clutch jamming just 10 minutes before the race. Stirling started from the back of the grid, then proceeding to dominate the race, taking 30 of the 32 cars on the first lap and dealing with Raymond Sommer and Ron Dryden on the second to record a two minute lap, equal to 86.66 mph. A second demonstration at Silverstone in a season, both before crowds in excess of 100,000, Moss still only 20 had certainly arrived. Moss' Mk IV was sold to Charlie Graham at the end of 1950, Charlie modified it extensively.

Also in 1950 Moss got his first works team drive for HWM. The team leader was Lance Macklin and Moss would learn his racing craft from HWM and lessons about life from Macklin. At Monza he was involved in a terrific dice with the veteran Ferrari driver Villoresi who later congratulated the young Moss on his skill. During this time he also raced other cars including the Jaguar C-Type in which he won the sports car race leading up to the French Grand Prix

In November 1950, Kieft tackled the 350cc and 500cc international records at Montlhéry. The driving team consisted of Stirling Moss, Ken Gregory and Jack Neill. They came away with 13 records. Cyril Kieft asked Moss to drive for him for the 1951 season but Stirling did not rate the car highly. Ken Gregory, now Moss' manager persuaded Kieft to take over a design conceived by Dean Delamont, John A Cooper and Ray Martin. Ray would build the prototype at his Victoria garage, to Stirling's specification and Kieft would badge the car and build production versions. The CK51 was an advanced design featuring a distinctive suspension arrangement using a swing axle, suspended by elastic with negative camber. Moss and Gregory became directors of Kieft Cars Ltd which moved to Wolverhampton.

By this time, of course, Moss was in demand for the senior categories, he was contracted to race for Ferrari at selected events but when practice began for the first race he was told that the car he supposed was his had been given to Taruffi. Moss concluded that Ferrari was not the place for him and he vowed to exact his revenge against the red cars. Enzo Ferrari would later, privately, admit that failing to sign Stirling had cost him many wins.

On the grid with Ray Martin in the Kieft in 1951

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Moss, Ken Gregory and Ray Martin after the Kieft's first outing at Goodwood, May 1951.

Development of the CK51 fell behind schedule during the spring of '51 and Moss was forced to use a Kieft Mk I car for his first race of the year, at Castle Combe on 12th April, he won but only against other Kieft Mk Is! Against more serious opposition at the Luxembourg Grand Prix, a poor result was inevitable and Stirling failed to finish his heat. By the 9th May, the new car was ready for a shakedown at Brands Hatch and finally made its debut in the International Trophy at Goodwood on the 14th May 1951. After problems in the heats, where he finished eight, Stirling ran away in the final to win by 27 seconds from Alan Brown's Cooper Mk V. A week later, they travelled to Genoa but failed to finish leaving the works Cooper Mk Vs of Ken Carter and Bill Whitehouse to dominate. The next outing was the British Grand Prix on 14th July where Stirling beat Ken Wharton and Jack Moor then on to Zandvoort on the 21st where he won from the JBSs of Les Leston and John Habin. The German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring proved disappointing, a broken steering arm forcing him out but took a win at Freiburg the following week. Finally, Brands on 21st October where he won the Brands Hatch Championship. In Championship terms, not a huge tally for the year, largely due to the late arrival of the car and his other commitments but Stirling had won three of the most important races of the year and demonstrated the potential of the car, sufficient for Charlie Headland to acquire one part way though the season and Don Parker to abandon his JBS for 1952.

Moss leads in the Kieft at Silverstone in 1951

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In modern times, any driver with a Formula 1 or sports car contract would have little choice but to abandon Formula 3. A different philosophy prevailed in the '50s, particularly for Moss, who regarded himself as a professional in the full sense of the word. At that time, it was usual for race promoters to offer start money as well as prize money and Stirling always tried to enter as many races as possible on a given weekend, realising that he could earn good money by taking part in several races and mitigate the financial effects of the inevitable disappointments. Of course he could never race enough in Formula 3 to impact on the National Championship, won by Eric Brandon in 1951, but continued to compete for a number of years.

With production tooling of the Kieft now made, Moss bought the prototype for himself, and tasked Ray Martin with making several upgrades. Stirling's 1952 season started well at Castle Combe on the 12th April with wins in his heat and the final in the slightly updated Kieft. Next up was Goodwood where he also drove a Jaguar XK120 and won the Earl of March Trophy comfortably from the Cooper Mk VIs of Alan Brown and John Coombs. The International Trophy at Silverstone on 10th May proved frustrating, after building up a significant lead, a brake problem dropped him behind the Coopers of Stuart Lewis-Evans and Alan Brown. A trip to Luxembourg proved mixed with a win in his heat but only sixth in the final and the Nürburgring also turned sour when a rear wheel came off his Kieft. For the next race on the 2nd July at Boreham, Moss drove John Cooper's car, his Kieft still not repaired from an accident, finishing third behind Brown and Parker. For the Grand Prix on the 19th, he was back in the Kieft, the race featured a a race long battle between Moss, Parker, Brandon, Wicken and Whitehouse. Moss was lucky on this occasion, in second on the last lap, the chain on Don's Kieft broke at Stowe corner gifting Stirling the win. A quick dash to Namur in Belgium the following day was wasted, his Kieft failing to finish. Then a rare return to the hills followed at Prescott on the 27th July, Moss in MK6 1949.jpg (137388 bytes)Moss again forced to use a substitute car after his was damaged at Fairwood the previous day, this time the production Kieft of Derek Annable. He was second fastest to Les Leston in a Cooper but still ahead of Parker. By now, Stirling was becoming frustrated with the lack of development and support for his Kieft. For Boreham on the 2nd August he appeared in a Cooper Mk VI to take third, then back to the Kieft for a frustrating day at Brands Hatch on 4th August. In the Sprint Race he had to settle for second to Parker, suffering gearbox problems and retired in the International Trophy. In the Cooper, he won at the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort on the 17th At Turnberry on the 23rd, Moss won in a Cooper from the Kieft of André Loens and again for Goodwood on the 27th, he used a Mk VI to win from Les Leston and Reg Bicknell. The report from the Castle Combe race on 4th October notes Moss' changing mounts "Moss, the Kieft Director in a Cooper, pulled out his usual masterly lead from the placemen, Loens Kieft and Parker's Kieft". His final race of the year at Charterhall on the 11th October proved eventful, Stirling spent most of the race chasing John Coombs for the lead until John's Cooper lost a rear wheel. Moss spun in avoidance, handing the win to Brandon, Stirling recovering to finish second. Stirling simply didn't race sufficiently to be a contender for the Formula 3 Championship, won by Don Parker but he was placed second in the Light Car Challenge Trophy.

For 1953, Stirling finally abandoned the Kieft marque but continued to race Formula 3 in various Coopers, including the highly rated Beart Cooper, dovetailing with his other commitments. He finished third in the Earl of March Trophy on 7th April, causing some surprise when Reg Bicknell passed him. Moss was back on form by May to win at the newly reopened Crystal Palace, even giving the unfortunate Les Leston a lift back to pits after the race. A trip to Germany yielded another win at the Nürburgring on 31st May. He dominated the British Grand Prix on 18th July, in a works Cooper Mk VII, with Brandon and Lewis-Evans behind and had better luck than the previous year at Charterhall, wining from Parker and Leston. Returning to Crystal Palace in September for the Redex Trophy, it was his turn to hitch a lift from the obliging Bob Gerard after his carburettor fell off.

He had no more luck at Goodwood a week later, oil problems forcing him out, and at Castle Combe on 3rd October where, after winning his heat he was unable to take the grid for the final. Choosing to use the Cooper in the Formula 2 race, in the absence of the Alta, he tangled with the big boys, resulting in a trip to hospital. That was it for 1953, a slightly mixed season, not helped by continually swapping cars and categories.

Moss gets a ride on the back of Bob Gerard's Cooper Mk VII Crystal Palace 1953. Photo by George Eatwell.

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Moss rolls his Cooper at Castle Combe in October 1953 (image copyright LAT). This was, in fact, the Formula II race. His Cooper-Alta was unready so he used the Cooper with a JAP twin engine. Unfortunately he was struck by Rolt's Connaught at Quarry and retired to Bristol Infirmary....

A follow up article from Motor Sport in June 1954.

Now recognised not just as a star but the best driver in Britain Moss' focus for 1954 was establishing himself as a Grand Prix driver and competing in the top flight sports car races. The intention was to finally abandon Formula III, but the offer from Francis Beart to drive the Beart Cooper whenever he was available kept him involved and would prove more fruitful, Moss' first major event was the Earl of March Trophy at Goodwood in April, Les Leston won in the new Cooper Mk VIII and Moss could only manage seventh in the Beart Cooper, though he liked the car and stuck to it for the season. He turned the tables on Les at Daily Express Meeting, Silverstone with Jim Russell and Ivor Bueb in third and fourth, won again at the Nürburgring on the 23rd May, then dominated the Opening Meeting at Aintree on 29th May, winning comfortably from Parker and Russell. It was similar story at the British Grand Prix in July, leading sufficiently to be able to wave to his girlfriend and leaving Reg Bicknell and Ivor Bueb to squabble for second, their times declared equal but nearly a minute behind Moss.

At Brands for the Daily Telegraph Meeting on the 2nd August, Stirling missed the first race, having flown back from the Continent and had to start from the back of the grid. He still finished second in the International Trophy race to the up and coming Jim Russell in his privately entered Cooper Mk VIII.

A week later, the Oulton Park Gold Cup yielded a double victory, including the 75 Mile race, Russell's turn to be second this time. Goodwood on the 25th September proved a tremendous tussle; on the first lap he dropped to fourth behind Jim Russell, then to sixth on the second lap. On lap three, he fought back to second and a dice ensued with Don Parker, Ivor Bueb and Reg Bicknell. At the flag, Stirling was 0.2 seconds behind Don but had set a new lap record of 83.88 mph! Finally, at Aintree on the 2nd October, he won comfortably, half a minute ahead of Ivor Bueb and Les Leston. They were not the only drivers to come off second best that day "The British Driver won the Formula III race in Beart's Cooper-Norton and the Formula I race and the Formula Libre races in his Maserati, and there was no other driver who could get anywhere near him".

And that was the end of Moss' 500 career, his 1955 contract with Mercedes for Grand Prix and sports cars, precluding any more Formula 3. Measured on a purely statistical basis it doesn't amount to much, five years and no championships but this merely tells us how meaningless points can sometimes be. The truth is that he was so good and progressed so quickly that he never really completed a full season, had he done so he would most certainly have been Formula 3 Champion. Measured on a more qualitative basis, his record is quite outstanding, the fact that he could "dip in" and still take on the top drivers, who were racing every week in the class, is quite remarkable.

Don Parker and Stirling battle it out at Goodwood in September 1954. This time Don would win by 0.2 of a second. Ivor Bueb follows.

For 1955 Moss partnering Fangio at Mercedes and tasted his first Grand Prix victory, in front of a home crowd, at Aintree. At home in any type of car he partnered with journalist Denis Jenkinson to win the historic Mille Miglia in 1955, the first foreigners since Caracciola and the only Britons to ever do so. In 1956 he drove for Maserati and won twice more and for Aston Martin at Le Mans, paired with Peter Collins. They were beaten by the Ecurie Ecosse Jaguars of Ninian Sanderson and Ron Flockhart. The following year although again pursued by Ferrari he chose to drive for the Tony Vandervell This decision to drive for British teams whenever possible may have cost him future World Championships. An illustration of Moss’ innate sportsmanship occurred at the 1958 Grand Prix of Portugal. During the race Mike Hawthorn spun his car but was able to continue and eventually finished second. Which when added to his fastest lap gave him 7 points to Moss' 8 for the win. Hawthorn though, was accused by the officials of breaking the rules by restarting in the opposite direction. Moss who witnessed the incident came to his rival's defence and a relieved Hawthorn was able to keep his 7 points. As a result, Hawthorn became the first British world champion beating Moss by one point. Stirling would continue to win against larger teams but the championship was always just beyond his reach. In 1962, a serious accident in the BRP Lotus during the Glover Trophy at Goodwood left Stirling in a coma for a month and would eventually force his retirement. He did return briefly in 1982 driving touring cars but then took up historic racing.

Immediately after his greatest victory in the 1955 Mille Miglia, with "Jenks".

Moss is considered by many as being the first professional driver who raced for the love of the sport but was also intent on earning a living. He took his fitness seriously and would travel all over the world to race, often several times in the same meeting.

He wasn't above haggling for more appearance money and income from endorsements, something that was exceptional at the time. He is often referred to as the greatest driver who never won the Formula 1 championship, but this is a serious underestimation of the man. Certainly he suffered from the presence of Fangio, one of the greatest driver of all time, and from his choice of British cars when others may have brought more success but his overall tally of wins is huge and, most significantly, achieved in a very wide variety of cars and disciplines.

Now over 80, has finally quit the cockpit. He was knighted in 2000.

Click to go to the official Stirling Moss site:

Moss reunited with Cooper at the Goodwood Chicane, left.

Stirling chose the Cooper Mk V of Jason Wright for the Legends parade, Goodwood 2008.