Motor Sport came into being as The Brooklands Gazette in the summer of 1924, but a year later its name was changed to the one now used, as being more all-embracing. I began to contribute to it around 1936 and became its full-time editor by 1945, after piloting it through the war years by ‘remote control’, never seeing galley-proofs or being allowed to order printing blocks for new illustrations. I made do with those discarded by Speed, the ex-Alan Hess monthly we had acquired. Thus, if someone sent in a piece about, say, an 8-litre Bentley, I had to forage about in search of a picture and if unlucky, might need to use one of a 3-litre, captioned “A smaller car of this famous make”. Happy, if difficult, clays, now far behind us.
After Motor Sport had become well established, its proprietor would expect a special issue when a jubilee year came round. This presented the problem of whether 1949 or 1950 was the paper’s first one. In the end we compromised, celebrating our 50th birthday in 1975. For the August issue, apart from nostalgic articles, Jenks had a good idea: “Why not get Stirling Moss to drive and comment on racing cars from different eras?” The Management having (for once!) agreed the fee, and Tom Wheatcroft having generously offered to release from his Donington Collection of racing cars the ones we wanted Stirling to try, it was on.
First, with DSJ and Alan Henry on hand with notebooks, Stirling took out the ex-Shuttleworth Type 51 GP Bugatti then owned by the late ‘Jumbo’ Goddard, using just the test loop of the reconstructed Donington Park circuit. “Ah,” murmured those few Bugatti fans present, “he’ll like this one!” On the contrary, Stirling thought the cockpit ridiculously cramped and uncomfortable and the gearbox difficult, but liked the feel of the steering (when the front wheels were on the ground!) and thought the brakes better than expected, but he shuddered at the idea of driving such a car through a 10-hour Monaco GP…
Next, Stirling got into the 1934 8CM Maserati. Returning, he said “What a man’s motor-car,” and admired the power from the supercharged 2.9-litre straight-eight engine, but thought the Maserati would be tiring to drive in a long Grand Prix. He disliked the ‘feet astride gearbox’ pedal layout, with its left-hand accelerator.
At this point Tom arrived, sorry to have missed anything. He explained that his lawyers had kept him (something to do with a GP at his circuit, I think). “How long did the run from London take?” asked Jenks. “No, the barristers come to me,” Wheatcroft explained. A whiff of real wealth, I thought… He was greeted by Moss in the 1936 works twin-cam single-seater Austin, as raced by Charlie Dodson in 1939 and superbly rebuilt in the Collection’s workshops. The verdict was “a fun car”, from a company which could easily have made a full-size GP contender. Keeping the engine to 6000rpm, Stirling found a surprising amount of performance but had to use the external brake lever to aid the drum-anchorage into the downhill corner. “Beautifully controllable, capable of being really thrown about” was the verdict.
A rasping 1951 supercharged 1½-litre V12 Ferrari, the ex-Peter Whitehead one, was produced, and Moss found it a car he understood, but with a heavy vintage-like gearshift. After the blown methanol-fuelled cars, it was next on to something Stirling Moss knew extremely well a – 250F Maserati, the ex-Volonterio car (2515). After quite a time, out he climbed, full of praise for such a well-balanced car, easy to drive, forgiving, and able to slide comers with the de Dion rear-end keeping it stable. It had a five-speed gearbox (Moss had used this or a four-speed depending on the circuit) but he disliked the central throttle pedal, which the works used to change for him. “Fantastic,” was his comment, adding “Volonterio had some smashing girlfriends!”
We were now well into the Moss period of racing, as he went out in the Lotus 18 he drove for Rob Walker, gaining some of his greatest successes. He even recalled the tyre pressures used as he discussed cornering techniques with Tom, who had been impressed by Stirling’s power-on oversteer, whereas he had found the rear-engined Lotus an understeerer. An interesting day ended with Moss circulating in the Tyrrell 006/2, the last car Jackie Stewart raced, to his 1973 World Championship.
At this 1975 Donington Jubilee occasion, Stirling was anxious to get to grips with the Tyrrell because he had never raced a car with slicks, or the other later technologies. His verdict was “terrific”. He was surprised at the grip of the Goodyear tyres, breakaway on the admittedly slow corners quite impossible “you just pointed it, rather than steering it.” All the way round the short loop he was changing up and down the five-speed Hewland gearbox, the power above 8000rpm from the 3-litre Cosworth very impressive.
Tom Wheatcroft must have enjoyed what he saw and heard, for he is a 100 per cent lover of true racing cars. Jenks once saw him sitting in one of his single-seaters in the museum, hands moving on the stationary steering wheel, eyes peering into the distance. Asked what it was all about, Tom looked a little sheepish, and explained that he was imagining that he was leading the Monaco GP… For Stirling I suppose it was just another job; I believe it was made clear that the fee must include any VAT extras incurred…