Stirling Moss, the greatest driver never to win the world championship, has finally, officially decided to call it quits. No more racing of any kind, and that even includes vintage races.
Sure, you could say that might be going a bit far, but you also have to admit that not only is Sir Stirling 81 years of age, but you could also add that the gentleman has little, if anything to prove or to show to anyone (especially you little whippersnappers out there).
Other than not winning the World Driving Championship, what more does this guy have to demonstrate or to do with cars? If you ask him (or me for that matter) the answer is ‘absolutely nothing’. Yes, it is a bit of a sad loss to know that he won’t be turning up at various vintage races as a driver. Because seeing one of the all-time greats, even in a muted and reduced setting like a vintage race can still be a whole lot of fun. I know, because I had a chance to meet and briefly talk with Sir Moss at the Monterey Vintage Races back in the early 90s.
Back then, and I’m pretty sure it’s still this way, Moss came off sort of like Austin Powers dad (Nigel Powers played by Michael Caine in the movie). Sort of a well-mannered British gentleman on the outside, but you could tell from talking to him (added to what you read about the guy) that he had an affinity for things not quite legal or proper.
Things like fast driving and fun living and girls, or “birds” as he still refers to them. Back when he was a young up-and-comer, Stirling had a rep as a lady’s mad that would have made James Hunt blush (no small feet, that). And, after a slew of crashes, retirement from competition and actual aging, you’d expect that tendency to slow down or be blunted. But no. Stirling still has a rep, at least in public setting as being a real crumpet collector (to paraphrase Henry N. Manney III). No, he still is happily married, but the little bits of fluff still seem to flock around the guy. He still has this strange sort of animal magnetism about him that women flock to. Which is usually noteworthy on it’s own, but becomes really impressive when it’s radiating from an octogenarian who is balding and short.
And speaking of that ” slew of crashes”, just looking back at them speaks to the guy’s intestinal fortitude. It might have been three, but at least twice he had Lotus F1 cars break to the point of causing nasty accidents. And the only one of those Lotus-related shunts that really slowed him down was the last one that turned him from a hip young racing driver in the early sixties into some strange British doppelganger of Jan Berry; Cheekbone crushed, one eye gone all wonky and just enough brain damage to give him an odd, slurred speech impediment. Yeah, I would have quit too.
Doing away with those tragedies, it is better to focus on, if not impossible to ignore, his racing achievements. He raced, and could occasionally beat the great Juan Manuel Fangio – hell, sometimes in the same car when they were teammates at Mercedes Benz. He could haul underpowered, under funded cars to race wins (for example winning at Monaco in a Lotus 18 that was giving up a lot of displacement to the sublime Ferrari Sharknoses). And when given a truly competitive, world-class car, like a Merc streamline GP car, the only guys that seemed capable of staying with him or beating him were of the Fangio caliber.
It is also worth noting that he put on what many consider to be the race win of all times at what many consider the race to end all races: Winning the 1955 Mille Miglia driving a Mercedes Benz 300 SLR, covering a thousand miles in a minute or two more than ten hours.
The cherry on top of the very British driver is that he is a bit of an eccentric and a nerd. The BBC did a nice walk-through of his London flat with Stirling leading the tour. And the place was crammed with gadgets and gizmos like tables that descended from the ceiling and motorized dinner plate storage and the like. Stirling, of course, not only came up with the ideas for these household mechanical aids, but he built and installed them all as well. A boffin, as the Brits would say.
So yeah, sure, we’ll miss seeing you turn up the wick a little at places like Laguna Seca and Goodwood or the Mille Miglia Storica, but you’ve already given us, the race fans and gearheads, so much already, that the only appropriate and rational words at this time are thank you.