The automotive world, and especially the world of global motorsports, is a shallower, sadder place today. Sir Stirling Moss, one of the greatest racing drivers of all time and a deserving national hero in England, passed away over the weekend at the age of 90. The British legend had been in failing health in recent years, having been hospitalized in Singapore for a lung infection, fallen down an elevator shaft at his London townhouse, and retired from public events in 2018. Sir Stirling was widely considered the best driver who never won a world driving championship, but he was unquestionably one of the best pure talents that racing has ever known. He was a sportsman, the son of an Indianapolis 500 veteran, and a world-class equestrian. In Formula 1, he won 16 of the 66 events he contested between 1951 and 1961, including three towering victories at Monaco, and was the first British driver to capture the British Grand Prix, driving the mighty Mercedes-Benz W196 at Aintree, vanquishing his teammate and rival, Juan Manuel Fangio.
Fangio would go on to win the F1 world title five times during the 1950s. Moss, on the other hand, had started his career in a Cooper 500, and would show a patriotic preference for British cars during his F1 career, most notably Cooper, Vanwall and Lotus, which weren’t always competitive with the purebloods from Germany and Italy. In 1958, he defended rival Mike Hawthorn after Hawthorn was accused of deliberately reversing direction at the Portugese Grand Prix, which allowed Hawthorn to win the F1 title over Moss by six points. When he did drive for non-British marques, though, Moss made magic: In 1955, he shattered the lap record en route to winning Italy’s iconic Mille Miglia road race, teaming aboard a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR sports car with motoring journalist Denis Jenkinson, who navigated using handwritten pace notes. Moss was in the prime of his career when he had a devastating accident at Goodwood in 1962 that left him comatose and temporarily paralyzed. Moss, who also owned world speed records set at Montlhery and Bonneville, then turned to broadcasting, but continued to participate in vintage racing until he was 81. That’s when I got to know Sir Stirling, having photographed him (as above) and interviewed him when he was guest of honor at Lime Rock Park’s vintage festival in Connecticut. Moss was here about to lap Lime Rock with his wife, Lady Moss, aboard the 1.5-liter O.S.C.A. that he used to win the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1954, despite having no brakes for most of the going. Moss and Susie were profoundly conversational and charming people, and I got to interview Sir Stirling several more times after the Lime Rock encounter. He had exactly two regrets: Never having the opportunity to race against the great Jim Clark, and never getting the chance to race in the Indianapolis 500. Race on, knight of speed.