Continental Notes, June 1963

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During the past twelve months I have often been asked “How is Stirling Moss and will he ever race again?” and while some of the inquirers were asking because it was fashionable to do so, and Moss was news, there were a great many people all over Europe who were very sincere. They varied from people who knew Moss, such as the mechanics at Maserati, to those who had never met him but admired him from the public enclosures, such as a small group of Belgian enthusiasts who asked me to pass on their best wishes for a speedy recovery.

All over Europe I met people who were genuinely concerned about the racing future of Stirling Moss, and I always replied, with my fingers crossed, “I hope he will race again.” After a time I changed it to “When he races again,” but as time went by I was forced to say “If he races again” and now, as we all know, I must say “He’ll never race again.” With the official announcement of his retirement, following some practice laps with a Lotus 19, motor racing has not only lost one of its greatest drivers but has lost a standard at which all competitors used to aim.

The greatest attribute that Moss had was that he never had an “off day”; he was always in cracking form and providing the car was right it was he who set the standard the moment he began to practise. One could write a book about Moss and his ability as a driver, in any type of car, on any type of circuit, and no doubt many people will, some qualified and some unqualified, but he will always be remembered for the way he never failed to have a go.

Some people have referred to Moss as “the maestro” but to me he could never be that, for he never grew up, he was always youthful and “maestro” implies age, skill, wisdom and ability. Moss had most of the qualities and vast experience but somehow he never developed the personal character or bearing of a true “maestro” such as Fangio. In 1955 when I first met the late Mackay-Fraser in Lisbon we spent an evening with Moss, and it was the usual high-pressure animated evening, with Moss untiring until about 2 a.m., when he then closed up instantly and was gone to bed, whereas Mac and I were happy to drift on for another hour and slowly unwind over a last drink or two.

During that time Mac referred to Moss as “Golden Boy” and I always felt that the title was very apt. He was not the equal of Fangio, he was young enough to have been Fangio’s son, yet he was head and shoulders above the rest of his contemporaries. For me Fangio was the true “maestro” but Stirling Moss will always remain “The Golden Boy.”

We have now had over twelve months of racing since his last race, when he crashed, and already his absence from the starting grids is accepted, but it will not be forgotten for as new drivers make new records or perform outstanding feats, those of us who saw Moss at his best, which was most of the time, will compare the new with the old, to keep our sense of proportion. I write this on the eve of the 1,000-kilometres race at Nurburgring, a race in which Moss did the seemingly impossible two years running with an Aston Martin when he had inferior co-drivers, and made it a hat-trick on the third occasion when he was ably supported by Gurney. The Nurburgring also saw one of his greatest triumphs when he won the German G.P. with an obsolete Lotus-Climax, beating the entire Ferrari team by sheer driving skill, but as I said before, one could write a book. He has been forced to retire from racing for the reasons that many drivers have retired in the past: his vision is defective, his judgment weakened, his concentration no longer consistent, his reflexes no longer razor sharp and his skill and dexterity not as it used to be. All these things usually overtake a man as age creeps on, perhaps at 45, maybe at 55, but not at 33. In one fleeting moment Stirling Moss became an old man, as regards the requirements of a top-flight Grand Prix driver, in an accident in a “piddlin” little race that was not much more than a club affair or grass-track meeting, which to me is the greatest pity of the whole affair.

***

Another question I am frequently asked is, “Will the Mille Miglia ever happen again as an open-road race?” In other words will it ever restart where it left off in 1957. I used to hope it would, being ever optimistic, but now I am sure that it will never be revived in its old form, for many reasons. The volume of traffic on Italian roads during the past four years has increased to an unbelievable quantity, the whole of Italy north of Rome has become obsessed with American ideas of road safety and traffic problems, there is no place for freedom and skill in motoring in Italy today, and these things would preclude all possibility of doing any practice for a Mille Miglia as we knew it. Just recently I had occasion to drive over two-thirds of the old route and when I recalled that in 1955 Moss averaged 87 m.p.h, for the 350 miles from Brescia to Pescara during one of our practice runs in a 300SLR during the morning amid everyday traffic and including stopping for the odd traffic light here and there, it made me realise how conditions have changed since then. In passing, it is worth noting that our average for that stretch during the race, on empty roads, was 118 m.p.h., and Taruffi was even faster. Today it is quite an achievement to reach a maximum of 87 m.p.h. on that leg of the circuit, so dense is the traffic. While it is nice that we live in a world of plenty where every peasant can buy a Fiat 500 on hire-purchase, and many people are making fortunes out of the lorry business and transport, it has spoilt the fun for the few. Driving down that Adriatic coast road I wondered how many fines we would incur today if we were in a 300SLR or 4.5.-litre Maserati, trying to do race practice. Epochs and eras come and go, and the era of Mille Miglia is gone, never to return, but I am happy to have been lucky enough to get in on the end of that era, and to have enjoyed it to the full.

In the same way I was happy to have been in on the end of the era of rough and tough motorcycle road racing in Europe during the years 1948-52, for I often drive round some of the old circuits that are no longer used and the mind boggles at the thought of the racing at that time. Such a circuit was in a small German town that was so narrow at one point where it went through the village high street on a cobbled surface that we were told “no overtaking with sidecars”; it was a needless rule as there just was not enough width for two sidecars. And some of the tree-lined straights on French circuits have to be seen to be believed. If you suggested racing there today I am sure you would get “protest committees” from riders and drivers. Those were days of an epoch that is finished and today we are in the middle of another era and I know that in 1975 I shall be thinking that 1955-65 were fine years, but different. It is not that things today are not as good as yesterday, for mostly they are better, but by many counts they are different, which is why next year will always be better than this year, or at any rate there is a good chance of it being that way. The ideal would be to combine the best of all years, such as doing the old Mille Miglia in a car like the new Lola V8 Coupé GT. but with a 4 1/2-litre V8 Maserati engine in it. That would be some car and quite an experience. Dreams can often be better than the real thing!

***

Calling in at Monza recently to talk to Mr. Bacciagalupi, the track manager, I was amazed to find that the whole line of two-storey concrete pits had been razed to the ground and work was proceeding on a line of new pits situated farther back from the track itself, and the plan is to have the pit area on a separate by-pass road, as at Goodwood, but instead of a few roughly made structures of scaffold pole and corrugated iron sheet, the Monza pits will be two-storey concrete affairs with a race-control tower at one end. Between the pits and the track will be a grass island with a retaining wall and mechanics will be able to signal from this island, so there should be no more nonsense of dim-witted police trying to stop mechanics giving pit signals. If all goes well the work should be finished in time for the Italian G.P. in September.

***

At the time of writing these notes the latest stir in the racing world is the business of Ford (America) buying Ferrari and for the moment I am a bit nonplussed about the matter. It has been obvious for some time that Ford are up to something pretty big as regards competitions and racing but to buy Ferrari just like that for a sum of money that sounds to be more than normal people can contemplate, is something that leaves me with a face like a question mark. I gather that the sale only affects GT and 2+2 production at the moment, and that the racing department will carry on separately, presumably spending the millions that Ferrari got from Ford. While a ‘T’-model Ferrari may not be so nicely made as a true Ferrari 250GTO, it may mean that we can all have one. I await developments with interest.

***

Finally, a word of warning. A number of race organisers in England, including one well-known by its initials, have recently been doing high-pressure advertising that so-and-so will be racing a such-and-such, even when it is known that the car and driver concerned are entered elsewhere. Two bad examples were at Easter when Clark and Team Lotus were entered at Pau, and Surtees and Ferrari were not ready and had no intention of entering anywhere. Both were billed to appear in England and the first that Surtees knew about it was when it was printed in the weekly papers. This sort of thing is very near to fraud and is certainly bad form, and whoever is responsible should “watch it” or the paying customers will not come back. Be it the responsibility of organisers, advertising agents, pressmen or P.R.O.s, it should stop.—D. S. J.

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