Sir Stirling Moss died on April 12th at the ripe old age of 90. Justifiably called the greatest driver never to have won the World Championship, Moss was like something out of a comic book. Before angry cops would growl, “Who do you think you are, Mario Andretti?” during a traffic stop, it was “Who do you think you are, Stirling Moss?”
In a lot of ways, Moss was the last of his era. Although he was bridging the gap from the 1950s into the 60s when his career was tragically cut short by an accident that should have killed him, he was very much a 1950s style driver. He was one of the last, classical drifters who openly admitted he copped his driving style from Giuseppe Farina.
Back then, cars cornered differently, in a constant, semi-sideways controlled slide, always on the edge of disaster. Moss was one the masters. Although he crashed several times, it was always worth noting it was due to mechanical failure, rarely ever his mistake.
I remember, decades ago, seeing an interview with Moss where he related one of the great truisms about high-performance driving. “A car is like an animal, like a horse,” he said. “You never want to do anything sudden. You never want to do anything to upset it. You never want to jerk it or make any movements that are too sudden or too quick.”
I knew that, of course, but there was something about hearing him say it that really galvanized the concept in my mind. Never overdrive the car. Never force it. Always listen to what the car is saying. Know what the car can do, then ask it to do that. Never overstep your abilities and never, ever, ask more from the car than it is capable of giving. If you could learn to do that, you were halfway there.
To me, there’s no real point delving into the statistics of Stirling’s career. He nearly won the Driver’s World Championship three times, set the outright record in winning the Mille Miglia in 1955, competed in F1, Le Mans, sports cars, rallies, you name it. Ultimately, those are just numbers, and numbers are a weak way to measure a man.
Everybody Wanted to be Around Stirling Moss
I don’t know who said, “Women want to be with him and men want to be him,” but they might as well have been talking about Stirling Moss. Although one of the fiercest competitors and a bit of a stickler for details and rules, everyone liked Stirling. He was the same way on the track as he was off it; gregarious, competitive, fair to the point of giving up wins (and in one case a championship) and, as odd as it sounds, gentlemanly.
Moss was fun. He was one of those guys that you could hang out with down at the pub, drink too many pints, flirt with the birds and then the next morning, go out and race at places like Le Mans or Reims or Monza; then hang out at the pub again that night and talk it all over. As a guy, you wanted to be Moss, or at least in the same crowd. But women loved this guy.
I don’t know what it was. He was short, balding, and rather odd-looking, but women just loved Stirling Moss, I mean L-U-V the guy. He always, and I mean always, had some fantastically attractive woman on his arm. At the track, off the track, throughout his life. And everybody just shrugged, as if to say, “That’s Stirling.” He dated beautiful women because he could. He raced cars because he could. He’d hang out and have a laugh with his mates like Fangio and Hawthorn and Brooks because he could.
There are sadly few drivers on any grid like him these days. We are all the poorer for that, as we are for the passing of Sir Stirling Moss, The Greatest Driver Never To Have Won The World Championship.
Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He is the author of Bricks & Bones: The Endearing Legacy and Nitty-Gritty Phenomenon of The Indy 500, available in paperback or Kindle format. Follow his work on Twitter: @TonyBorroz.