Driving a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR, Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson emerged as the winners of the 1955 Mille Miglia.

Happy 80th Birthday to Sir Stirling Moss

Sir Stirling Craufurd Moss OBE (born September 17, 1929 in London) is a retired racing driver from England. His success in a variety of categories placed him among the world’s elite – he is often called “the greatest driver never to win the World Championship.”

Moss, who raced from 1948 to 1962, won 194 of the 497 races he entered, including 16 Formula One Grands Prix. He once told an interviewer that he had participated in 525 races overall, as many as 62 in a single year, in 84 different cars. Like many drivers of the era, he competed in several formula – sometimes on the same day.

Moss is the son of Alfred E. Moss, who placed 14th at the 1924 Indianapolis 500 in a “Fronty” Ford. His younger sister, Pat Moss, also took part in rallying, and married rally driver Erik Carlsson. Moss was educated at Clewer Manor Junior School and later at Haileybury and Imperial Service College.

Moss was one of the first customers of the Cooper Car Company when he persuaded his father, Alfred Moss, to get him one of the new Cooper 500 cars. He quickly demonstrated his ability with numerous wins, at national and international level, and continued to compete in Formula Three, both in Coopers and Kieft cars long after graduating to the senior categories.

Moss was a pioneer in the British Formula One racing scene and placed second in the Drivers’ Championship four times in a row from 1955 to 1958.

Moss finished second in the 1952 Monte Carlo Rally driving a Sunbeam-Talbot 90 with co-driver John Cooper. Cooper ran Moss in Formula One later in his career. Having won the Monaco Grand Prix and finished second in the Monte Carlo Rally, Moss is the most successful driver to have competed in both events.

Moss’s first Formula One win was in 1955 at his home race, the British Grand Prix at Aintree, driving the superb Mercedes-Benz W196 Monoposto for a convincing German 1-2-3-4 win, with Karl Kling and Piero Taruffi in the international driver line-up.

Stirling Moss drove the Mercedes-Benz W196 to victory at the 1955 British Grand Prix at Aintree.
Stirling Moss drove the Mercedes-Benz W196 to victory at the 1955 British Grand Prix at Aintree.

It was the only race where he finished in front of Juan Manuel Fangio, his teammate, friend, mentor and arch rival at Mercedes. It is sometimes debated whether Fangio, one of the all-time great gentlemen of sport, yielded the lead at the last corner to let Moss win in front of his home crowd. Moss himself asked Fangio repeatedly, “Did you let me win?” and Fangio always replied, “No. You were just better than me that day.”

One of his most famous drives was in the 1955 Mille Miglia, the Italian 1,000 mile open-road endurance race. Opponents are the 520 other cars, a winding course featuring little in the way of safety precautions, and the clock with its unremittingly advancing second hand – at the end the only thing that counts is the time taken to cover the thousand miles.

Stirling Moss starts the 1955 Mille Miglia in the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR #722
Stirling Moss starts the 1955 Mille Miglia in the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR #722

His navigator in the Mille Miglia was journalist Denis Jenkinson. As navigator, he supported Moss with notes about details of the long road trip, then an innovative technique. This assistance helped Moss compete against drivers who had a lot of local knowledge of the route.

After 10 hours, 7 minutes and 48 seconds Moss’ silver-colored Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR with “722” – the customary starting time of the Mille Miglia – painted in red on it gets waved across the finish line in Brescia as winner, finishing almost half an hour ahead of teammate Fangio in second place. The time set was a new record for the “1000 Miles” (average speed 157.65 km/h), and it would not be beat anymore, for in 1957 the Mille Miglia was discontinued as a regular sports event.

Driving a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR, Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson emerged as the winners of the 1955 Mille Miglia.
Driving a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR, Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson emerged as the winners of the 1955 Mille Miglia.
Stirling Moss driving the Mille Miglia-winning Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR
Stirling Moss driving the Mille Miglia-winning Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR
Stirling Moss fresh from his 1955 Mille Miglia Victory

In 1957 Moss won on the longest circuit to ever hold a Grand Prix, the daunting 25 kilometre Pescara Circuit, again demonstrating his skills at high speed, long distance driving. He beat Fangio, who started on pole, by a little over 3 minutes over the course of a grueling 3 hour race.

Moss believed the manner in which the battle was fought was as important as the outcome. This sporting attitude cost him the 1958 Formula 1 World Championship. When rival Mike Hawthorn was threatened with a penalty in the Boavista Urban Circuit in Porto, Portugal, Moss defended Hawthorn’s actions. Hawthorn was accused of reversing in the track after spinning his car. Hawthorn went on to beat Moss by one point, even though he had only won one race that year to Moss’s four, making Hawthorn Britain’s first World Champion.

Moss was as gifted at the wheel of a sports car as he was in a Grand Prix car. For three consecutive years (1958–1960) he won the grueling 1000 km race at Germany’s Nürburgring, the first two years in an Aston Martin (where he won almost single-handedly) and the third in the memorable “birdcage” Maserati.

Sir Stirling MossFor the 1961 F1 season, which was run under 1.5-litre rules, Enzo Ferrari rolled out his state-of-the-art Ferrari 156, also known as Sharknose. Moss was stuck with an underpowered Coventry-Climax-powered Lotus, but managed to win the 1961 Monaco Grand Prix by 3.6 seconds, and later also the partially wet 1961 German Grand Prix. Some observers have noted that, while taking nothing away from Moss’ superlative performances in these races, there were other factors at play. At Monaco, the tight circuit negated the horsepower advantage of the powerful but heavy and ill-handling Ferraris; and at the Nurburgring, Moss and manager Ken Gregory made a risky but inspired decision to fit super-soft rain tires on the Lotus after a pre-race shower had soaked the track. Had the skies cleared and the track dried, the decision would have been disastrous for Moss. But when rain returned, Moss was able to drive away from the Ferraris of Phil Hill and Wolfgang von Trips (while nursing rapidly deteriorating tires) to take the win.

In 1962, Moss was badly injured in a crash at Goodwood while driving a Lotus in the Glover Trophy. The accident put him in a coma and partially paralyzed the left side of his body. He recovered but decided to retire from racing after a private test session the next year. During this session, he lapped a few tenths slower than before, and did not feel he had the command of the car to which he was accustomed. Many racing and medical observers have speculated that Moss simply tried to return too soon—that another six months of recovery and training would have allowed him to regain most of the physical acuity that distinguished him. He made a brief comeback in the British Touring Car Championship in 1980 with Audi, and in recent years has continued to race in historic cars.

During his career, Moss drove a private Jaguar, and raced for Maserati, Vanwall, Cooper, and Lotus, as well as Mercedes-Benz. He preferred to race British cars stating “Better to lose honorably in a British car than win in a foreign one.” The British cars were often uncompetitive and this was considered the reason he never won the drivers’ championship. At Vanwall, he was instrumental in breaking the German/Italian stranglehold on F1 racing (as was Jack Brabham at Cooper). Moss remained the most successful English driver in terms of wins until 1991 when Nigel Mansell overtook him, after competing in many more races.

For more on this racing legend, visit his official website at www.stirlingmoss.com.

[Source: Wikipedia; Mercedes-Benz]

Show Comments (3)

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  1. What a great article! Sir Stirling has always been one of my heroes. I met him once, he was gracious even to a kid like me. His driving always exemplified smoothness and control, much like his public persona. I am very glad that he is still going strong.

  2. Dear .Sir Moss:

    You are one of my favorite race car drivers. I have your book when I meet you and Lady Moss at a Concours d’ Elegance at strawberry fields many year ago when you were
    a guess judge at the Concours. I must say if it was not for your lovely wife I would not of been able to get your signature on some books I took to the Concours and the one I purchased there.

    I am a Mercedes-Benz enthusiast and have the CMC model of the car yoiu drove with navigator Dennis Jenkins to victory. I also have the W196S model.

    I hope you are recovering from your accident. My wife did the samething to her left leg thjree months ago luckly it was a clean brake and no surgury was need.

    give my regards to your wife and I hope to meet you again someday soon
    Robert Geco

  3. I will never forget his appearance at the 1954 Australian G.P. (I was 10 yo) in the 250F, which racing car I’ve had a lifelong love for ever since that breathtaking moment in time! …. I was there for his 80th at my only ever
    attendance at Goodwood Revival This is truly a sad time.