British Grand Prix in Aintree, July 16, 1955. Winner Stirling Moss (start number 12) racing at the wheel of his Mercedes-Benz W 196 R monoposto.
British Grand Prix in Aintree, July 16, 1955. Winner Stirling Moss (start number 12) racing at the wheel of his Mercedes-Benz W 196 R monoposto.

Happy 85th Birthday to Sir Stirling Moss

Sir Stirling Moss is an exceptional motor racing talent. Born September 17, 1929, Sir Stirling Craufurd Moss OBE is still going strong at a young 85, serving as Brand Ambassador for Mercedes-Benz, among many other duties that find him at events worldwide to the delight of his fans.

In the 1955 season, the Brit started out for Mercedes-Benz, racking up wins in the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR in sports car races and in the Mercedes-Benz W 196 R in Formula 1. Moss notched up his first Formula 1 win in the W 196 R Silver Arrow in Aintree and along with co-driver Denis Jenkinson, at the Mille Miglia in 1955, set the best time ever achieved in the Italian 1000-mile race: 10:07:48 hours, equivalent to an average speed of 157.65 km/h.

If Stirling Moss had followed his parents’ wishes, the Englishman born in London and raised in Berkshire would not have been sitting in the silver-coloured racing car from Stuttgart in 1955, but in a lecture theatre: their son was meant to become a dentist, according to the wishes of Alfred Moss – himself one of London’s leading odontologists – and his wife Aileen. Yet, Stirling dreamt of a career as a racing driver. This vision was also inspired by the respectable successes of both his parents on racing circuits in England and North America as well as in rallies and driving skills competitions.

Moss’s first encounter behind the wheel of a motor car came on the family’s farm when he was just six years old. He obtained his driving licence thanks to a special permit at the tender age of 15. By then, he had long decided he wanted to become a professional racing driver. In 1948, Moss bought a Cooper 500 racing car and took part in his first race in the British 500 cc formula (Formula 3). He was assisted by the German mechanic Donat Müller who was working on the farm as a prisoner of war. Moss competed in 15 races, taking the chequered flag in twelve of them. It was the lightning start to an international career.

In 1949, he was already racing in Formula 2 as a member of the British H.W.M. works team, winning the Madgwick Cup in Goodwood in a Cooper T9 on 17 September. He became British Formula 2 champion in 1949 and 1950. The 20-year-old racing driver was not only making his mark on the track: Moss was one of the first professional drivers at the time to take on a manager who would look after his engagements and fees. As such, the Briton became a pioneer in making motor racing a professional sport. In 1950, Moss took the Tourist Trophy in a privately owned Jaguar XK 120, beating even Jaguar’s own works racing cars. The next year he would head up the Jaguar team.

In 1953, his manager Ken Gregory approached Alfred Neubauer, the racing director of the former Daimler-Benz AG, to ask about the possibility of taking on Moss. Neubauer had certainly heard of the Brit, but the team line-up had already been fixed for the return of Mercedes-Benz to Grand Prix racing for the 1954 season. Moss’s racing successes also appeared too fresh for Mercedes-Benz to expect a string of results over an extended period.

So Moss entered Formula 1 in his own Maserati 250 F in 1954. The private team “Equipe Moss” would later become “Stirling Moss Limited”. Among his triumphs in 1954 was third place in the Belgian Grand Prix. And at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, Moss got into a thrilling head-to-head duel with Manuel Fangio, the top driver at Mercedes-Benz: Moss held onto the lead, 10 seconds ahead of Fangio, right up to the final twelve laps; then an oil line on the Maserati broke; the fault would put him hopelessly down the field. Fangio won, but paid Moss the ultimate tribute, declaring Moss the actual winner of the race. Despite his limited options as a private driver, Moss finished the season in equal 13th place. The English fans cheered him on throughout his victories, and a wax figure of the 25-year-old racing driver took pride of place at Madame Tussaud’s waxworks museum in London.

Moss meanwhile gained a reputation for thrashing his racing cars. Yet for the Brit, the competition car was primarily a powerful tool that allowed him to cross the line as fast as possible. In the next season, this tool would bear the Mercedes star and be painted silver. The talented British racing driver had made a strong impression on Alfred Neubauer. After a series of successful test drives, in December 1954 Neubauer signed him up to the Mercedes-Benz works team for the 1955 season. Back home, Moss was heavily criticised by certain sectors for having joined a German racing team – and the most successful of the time to boot. The public’s disapproval did not sway the ambitious racing driver though, and he signed up for a total of 17 races in the W 196 R Formula 1 racing car, which proved so successful in 1954, and in the new 300 SLR racing car.

Mille Miglia (Brescia/Italy), 1 May 1955. The subsequent race winners Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson pictured before the race in their Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR.
1955 Mille Miglia – The subsequent race winners Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson pictured before the race in their Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR.

Moss made his Formula 1 debut in the W 196 R at the Argentine Grand Prix on 16 January 1955 where he took the forth place together with Hans Herrmann and Karl Kling. The highlight of the season was his victory at the British Grand Prix in Aintree on 16 July, ahead of his teammate Juan Manuel Fangio. In two other Formula 1 races in 1955 (Belgian Grand Prix, Dutch Grand Prix), Moss crossed the finishing line 2nd behind Fangio and finished the season nd in the drivers’ rankings.

The British racing driver was, however, truly in his element in 1955 when at the wheel of the 300 SLR racing car developed specially for this season. Mercedes-Benz was still using the W 196 R chassis fitted with the 3-litre engine from the 300 SLR (W 196 S) for the Buenos Aires Grand Prix on 30 January 1955. The 300 SLR then made its premiere at the Mille Miglia from 30 April to 1 May 1955. Moss won the 1000-mile race with his co-driver Denis Jenkinson in the best time ever set in the Mille Miglia. Moss also won the Tourist Trophy in Dundrod (Northern Ireland) and the Targa Florio in Sicily in the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR.

Moss brought home the World Sportscar Championship in 1955 for the Stuttgart-based brand. Yet, Mercedes-Benz withdrew from active motor racing after this successful season, and the British racing driver continued his career with other racing teams – initially at Maserati. In the ensuing years, Stirling Moss drove racing cars for teams such as Vanwall, Cooper, Porsche, Aston Martin, Ferrari, Lotus and B.R.M. He consistently showed himself to be a world-class driver who notched up numerous victories and excellent finishes in Formula 1 and sports car races.

Following a serious accident in the 100 mile race in Goodwood on 30 April 1962, Moss retired from racing aged 33. At the time, the Brit could look back on his racing achievements, including 222 victories in 495 races in which he took part in no less than 84 different car models. This versatility underscores the immense prestige which the English motor racing legend enjoys as one of the best racing drivers of his day. Stirling Moss, who was knighted by the Queen in 1999, also maintained close ties with motor racing even after the end of his racing career.

“We would like to wish Sir Stirling Moss many happy returns on his 85th birthday. His victories in a Mercedes-Benz at the Mille Miglia and in the British Grand Prix rank among the crowning moments of the 1955 motor racing season,” says Michael Bock, Director of Mercedes-Benz Classic and the Customer Center. “They are dazzling highlights in the career of the then young English racing driver.”

[Source: Daimler AG]

Show Comments (12)

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  1. An excellent birthday tribute. As my closest friend for 54 years, I am glad to say that he is still invited to most major motorsport events to enhance the event. Herb Jones

    1. Herb Jones , were you the owner of the Maserati A6GCS ex-Maria Teresa de Filippis ? Best regards . Jeff

  2. I had the pleasure to get him to autograph his authorized biography (by Robert Edwards) at Laguna Seca. I had no clue and addressed him as “Sir Moss.” He is still one of my favorite race drivers.

  3. I remember seeing Moss at the Glen in the 60’s. My next opportunity will be at the Arizona Concours next January at the Arizona Biltmore.

  4. FIRST SAW STIRLING AT PARRAMATTA SPEEDWAY TRACK WITH KEN WARTON MID 50/S IN SYDNEY.DID LAPS IN J.MEYERS W/M SPECIAL. TOOK STRAIGHT TO IT. GREAT.

  5. At the US reveal of the BMC mini at Marlboro Park Speedway, MD, he raised hell along with Ireland, McCluggage, et al. The crowd watching might have exceeded 25 including me. Never had more fun at a race track. Long Live!

    Bill Giller

  6. First saw Sir Stering ,At Albert park Melbourne Australia in the 50s apsolutly fantastic display of driving he lap all the field including Sir Jack him self Keep on Reving Sir Sterling long live the kings’of motor sport .

  7. As a young man who loved cars and motor racing,I remember clearly in the late 1950’s or early 60’s at the Watkins Glen Race Track hearing all around me “Moss is on the course, Moss is on the course”. That was my first introduction to Sir Sterling Moss. I have closely followed his exploits since that day I saw him drive at Watkins Glen. Sir Sterling, thank you for a lifetime of inspiration, pleasure, excitement, and helping me strive for the highest standards in whatever I have done. Happy birthday and many more to come.

  8. One of the few great drivers who would talk with and help new drivers like me in 1961. I shall always remember him.

  9. Meeting Sir Sterling at Goodwood 2015 was a tremendous experience. Telling him to be the son of the former Dutch Formula 3 driver Lex Beels. He really remembered the good old days. He even remembered the name of my mother Elisabeth. When telling him that I was born on the 3-st of July 1949 the day he raced with my dad o n Zandvoort he replyd: I won and your dad was only 2 nd. When I told him, but my dad had set the fastest lap, he replyed” that still bothers me today” He is my obsolute favorite. I remember when my dad sent me out to spy on the gear ratios of the cooper Norton F 3. being a little lad of 3 that I counted one thooth less on the drive sprocket then everybody else. He was able to do this because he was soo much more fluent in the curves, then anyboddy else, so he could use a bigger ratio.