For more than 40 years, Stirling Moss has been perhaps the world's most famous former racing driver. Indeed, his stature amply demonstrates the stupidity of the FIA Drivers' World Championship for, despite having been the absolute standard-setting driver of the period 1958-1962, "Mr Motor Racing" never achieved his contemporary ambition of being World Champion in succession to his adored former team-mate, mentor and friend - Juan Manuel Fangio.
He was the greatest English racing driver of all time. Sir Henry Segrave arguably achieved greater fame in the rarefied, naive atmosphere of the 1920s and Nigel Mansell would win more Grands Prix and the American Indycar Championship too - in the 1990s. But neither ever matched the overall stature and achievement of Moss, the Maestro.
Stirling Crauford Moss was simply born into motor racing. His father, Alfred, had raced Crouch cars at Brooklands, and a Fronty-Ford at Indianapolis in the 1920s - while his mother, Aileen, was an expert trials driver in the 1930s."Pa" Moss was in dentistry, with a chain of practices in the poorer areas of London. "You don't need patients you have to spend time with and be nice to,' he would explain. "You just need patients who come in, yank, pay, out the door. That's good business".
This practical man's son grew up on the family farm at Tring, in Hertfordshire, surrounded by quality motor cars. Both his parents encouraged competitiveness, and Stirling sharpened his taste for competition on horseback, in gymkhanas and show jumping. "Pa" also taught him to box - honing his reflexes, balance, stamina and commitment to win.
Stirling badgered his parents into giving him a car and, thanks to a bureaucratic bungle, he actually held a driver's licence before he was legally old enough. At 17 he made his debut in the Eastbourne Rally and then contested the Brighton Speed Trials in a 1939 BMW 328 sports. He did not impress. For his 18th birthday he acquired one of the new 500cc motor-cycle engined Cooper-JAP single-seater racing cars.
The Moss family trailed it around in a horsebox to minor sprint and hill-climb meetings during 1948. "S. C. Moss" ended the year with ten class wins to his name, and was blooded in circuit racing on the new aerodrome venues at Goodwood and Silverstone.
Suddenly it was apparent that this tousle-haired youngster was someone special. Thrown in at the deep end in 500cc racing he had immediately begun to swim. He was driving in races before his techniques had been dulled by the restrictions of the public road. He grew up simply as a dedicated racing driver.
In 1949, Cooper adopted a 998cc twin-cylinder JAP engine to allow their cars to run in Formula 2 events against conventional 2-litre unsupercharged racing cars. These little lightweight Cooper "thousand" had a power-to-weight ratio that made them highly competitive on twisty circuits when a good driver was in command. Moss - aged 19 - was just the man.
On his first European tour he led a Ferrari for miles on the Garda circuit before finishing third behind Villoresi and Tadini in a pair of the new Italian VI 2s. The Italian press delighted in the young English boy's bearding of La Ferrari, and raved about this performance - nicknaming his spidery and raucous little Cooper "The Jukebox". In this way, the Italian press and public latched onto Moss's magic long before the promotional bandwagon - which would ultimately make him a household name - began rolling back home.
He had won seven times during 1949, including his first victory on foreign soil; in a 500cc race at Zandvoort, Holland. And, in 1950, this bouncy, supremely enthusiastic 20-year-old hit the British headlines by winning the RAC Tourist Trophy at Dundrod in a Jaguar XK120 loaned by journalist Tommy Wisdom. None of the factories would trust him with a car because to them Moss's precocious talent and "scorching style" presaged an early demise. They didn't want the bad publicity of being associated with the accident he must surely suffer! He promptly beat all the works cars.
John Heath and George Abecassis - the Walton-on-Thames garage proprietors who were building and racing HWM Formula 2 cars - had no such qualms. They recognised his true class and, in their cars, he harried the Ferraris on Rome's Baths of Caracalla circuit to set fastest lap before a stub axle broke and his HWM - made out of largely proprietary and surplus parts - threw a wheel. At Bari he finished third in his "funny little green car" behind the works Alfa Romeos of Farina and Fangio. His prestige soared even higher in the Italian tifosi's estimation.
Stirling was an extremely patriotic young man and he delighted absolutely in tormenting the Continental establishment on their home ground in a normally uncompetitive British car. At the end of that season he thoroughly deserved the first of his ten British Racing Drivers' Club Gold Star awards.
At Berne in 1951, HWM gave him his first World Championship Grand Prix start. He finished eighth, but it was not until 1953 that he would complete another Grande Epreuve, when his Connaught carried him to ninth place in Holland. His conviction that he should drive British cars cost him dear. The upstart Mike Hawthorn burst onto the scene in 1952, joined Ferrari for 1953 and won that year's French Grand Prix, becoming the first Briton to do so since Segrave 30 years before. A specially-made Cooper-Alta proved to be an Ecurie Moss disaster, while a more conventional replacement survived to give him sixth place in the German Grand Prix. Obviously there was no British-built Grand Prix car capable of doing him - or itself - justice in Grand Prix racing.
Jaguar, meanwhile, had provided worthy machinery for sports car competition. In a works C-Type he led the Le Mans classic in 1951 and set a new record lap, then shared the second-placed car in 1953. Sunbeam-Talbot paid him "fifty quid a time" to compete in the Monte Carlo and Alpine Rallies. He finished second in "The Monte" of 1952 and earned a rare Coupe des Alpes en Or for three consecutive penalty-free drives in the Alpine Rally 1952-53-54.
By 1954, Stirling Moss Ltd had been formed to manage, promote and publicise this first truly-professional British racing driver. He had become so much more than the standard British "Racing motorist". He was a consummate "racing driver" in the established, Continental, sense. He was already a national sporting celebrity in his native country. He would race or rally almost anything, anywhere, if the money was right, but he still had to prove himself as a Grand Prix driver.
Alfred Neubauer - Mercedes-Benz's legendary racing manager - pointed out this failing to Moss's father and his manager, Ken Gregory, when they offered Stirling's services to the reviving German Formula 1 team for 1954. Neubauer pointed out that there was no way of telling whether Moss really was any good or not, until he stopped messing about with inadequate British cars. It was time he showed what he was made of in a truly competitive machine - such one of the forthcoming 2&frac;-litre Maserati 250F customer cars. Why not buy him one?
So Moss's management ignored his misguided - if always laudable - instinctive patriotism and bought him a Maserati 250F for 1954. He promptly finished third in his first Championship race with the car - the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa - and by mid-season '54 had been taken under the Modena factory's wing, using works engines and shining brightly despite little in the way of concrete Grand Prix results.
Neubauer remembered how he had recognised the pre-war British driver Dick Seaman's true talent during rain-swept practice for the Swiss Grand Prix meeting on the daunting Bremgarten circuit, at Berne in 1936. Now, 18 years later - again at Berne in wet Grand Prix practice - Stirling Moss out-qualified all the factory Mercedes entries in his works-supported Maserati. Then, later in the season, he led the Italian Grand Prix until a problem intruded, by which time - in the opinion of the Mercedes-Benz Team Manager - Moss truly had arrived as the finished article
Maserati was mortified to see the young English star moving to Mercedes-Benz for 1955 - and for a big bag of Deutschmarks. They had lost the services of Fangio this same way just the previous year, and now Moss had gone to join him. The racing world was an uncompromising place.
With Mercedes-Benz in 1955, Stirling found himself driving as number two to Juan Manuel Fangio. He marvelled at the maestro, as he trailed closely in his wheel-tracks, and in effect he learned at the great man's knee. He finished runner-up in the Drivers' World Championship, and Fangio placed second at Aintree where Stirling became the first British winner of the British Grand Prix. And, where Fangio's luck was out in sports car racing, Stirling's was absolutely in and he revelled in it. Indeed, he did not need luck. He had always excelled in long-distance sports car competition, and he not only won the mighty Mille Miglia, but also the RAC Tourist Trophy (yet again) and the Targa Florio in Sicily to secure the FIA's Sports Car World Championship for the German giant.
Mercedes-Benz - having nothing left to prove - withdrew from motor racing at the end of that year, and for 1956 Stirling Moss would rejoin Maserati as its number one. The remainder of his glittering career with them, followed by Vanwall, Aston Martin, Porsche, and the Rob Walker team with its Cooper, Lotus and even Ferrari cars is today the stuff of legend. In 1956 he won the Monaco Grand Prix for the first time as number one driver of Maserati, in 1957 he won the British Grand Prix for the second time as number one driver of Vanwall, and followed up with further victories for the British Green in Italy, at Pescara and Monza. Starting 1958 he scored a sensational first-ever Formula 1 Grand Prix victory for a rear-engined car in Rob Walkers private little Cooper-Climax at Buenos Aires, Argentina. Later that season, driving for Vanwall, he won the Dutch, Portuguese and Moroccan GPs and was only edged out of the Drivers' World title by one point, the title going to his compatriot Mike Hawthorn, who had only won one Grand prix all season, driving for Ferrari.
For the rest of his frontline career Stirling drove Rob Walkers private Formula 1 cars almost exclusively at Championship level, and his fathers British Racing Partnership cars in several non-Championship events. He won the 1959 Italian Grand Prix, and two Monaco GPs, in both 1960 and 1961 when Lotus cars replaced his Walker Coopers. He survived a terrible accident in practice at Spa, Belgium, in 1960, in which he broke his back - yet was back racing again seven weeks later, winning of course.
Through 1961 he was absolutely the superstar standard-setter of his era, yet still relished the role of underdog by driving privately-owned instead of factory team cars. He could and di win at all levels, in Formula 1, Formula 2, sports, Grand Touring and saloon cars. And he raced anywhere around the world that would pay him his due appearance and starting money. He drove upwards of 55 races every year, gave tremendous value, and shone everywhere. An off-day was almost unknown.
But then it all ended in a never-explained mystery crash during the 1962 Glover Trophy Formula 1 race at Easter Monday Goodwood, where he had started his frontline career in 1948. He survived critical injuries but decided he had lost that special edge which had made him the world's most special driver. And while he would return to racing at minor and enthusiast level purely for the fun of it, his enthusiasm utterly undiminished, never again would he compete wheel-to-wheel with the racing world's finest.
But of all Stirling Moss's great racing exploits none ever exceeded that of his May Day drive in 1955 with the Mercedes-Benz SLR "722" and he always recalled with affection his first Grand Prix victory, that July day at Aintree in 1955.