Lunch with... Stirling Moss (reprinted)

‘The Boy’ welcomed Motor Sport to his home in 2006. But as Simon Taylor discovered, even at 76 Sir Stirling wasn’t yet ready to slow down for lunch

Lunch with Moss header picture

Moss relaxes in the office of his Mayfair home after a simple lunch from the local sandwich shop

Sir Stirling Moss doesn’t eat lunch. At 76 years of age, he’s far too busy. By 7am each day he’s at his desk in his self-designed, high-tech house in Shepherd Street, Mayfair. Lady Moss, his wife Susie, is at her desk on the floor above. They call up and down the spiral staircase to each other as phones ring, faxes chatter and computers click.

Stirling Moss Limited is a thriving business, with a full-time staff of two. Since he doggedly crawled up out of the coma and paralysis that followed his dreadful (and still unexplained) Goodwood accident, 44 years ago now, and fought back to a healthy life, Stirling has earned his living from personal appearances, PR and endorsements. Just as he did when he was racing, he charges a healthy rate – and then delivers 100 per cent. If you’ve bought Stirling’s time for an hour, he’ll give you 65 full-throttle minutes. Around the world, he seems to be in ever-increasing demand. He and Susie fly a quarter of a million miles a year, and a lot of the work involves driving: the Japanese Mille Miglia, the Argentinian 1000 Milas, the Ennstal Classic in Austria. The commitments pile up, from Australia to Abergavenny, Goodwood to Gothenburg. And he’s still racing: in two days he’s off to Le Mans to campaign an Osca in the Motor Racing Legends event.

“Don’t go to a restaurant, boy. That’ll kill an hour. If you need to eat, we’ll grab a sandwich from the place around the corner. All the taxi drivers go there. Best Coronation Chicken you ever tasted.” Stirling is always enthusiastically evangelical about his discoveries. Today it’s a German company producing a 1/18 scale model of his 1960 Nürburgring 1000Kms-winning Birdcage Maserati. “Just look at this. Every little tube is right, and the wire wheels. Under the bonnet, look, the oil-filler cap opens.”

This is the man who, to everyone of my generation at least, is the world’s most famous racing driver. Carve up a London cabbie, and it’ll be: “’Oo you fink you are, Stirling Moss?” Not Mansell, Stewart, or Hunt.

Stirling Moss in 2007

Goodwood would be pivotal to Moss’s career, pictured here in 2007, and 2019’s Revival had a Moss tribute

Even if you weren’t born when his racing career ended against the St Mary’s bank on April 23, 1962, you probably rate Moss as the greatest British racing driver of all time. No World Championship titles: just the ability to race, and win, in any sort of car on any sort of day. In 15 seasons he did 529 races. He retired in 130 of them – cars were less reliable then – but, of the 366 he finished, he won 212. It’s a 58 per cent hit- rate. As a true road racer, he was unbeatable.

We trot to the sandwich bar, and Stirling uses the time to tell me his latest joke. Last night he was in Vienna to launch a new range of Austrian postage stamps, one of them depicting his 1961 Monaco GP victory. The joke, about a Chinaman having his dustbins emptied, is politically incorrect, rather rude, and very funny. It’s unrepeatable in print, but “I told it to the British Ambassador in Vienna last night, and His Excellency seemed to like it.” Stirling notes ruefully that his stamp is only 75 cents, while the Jack Brabham one is 125 cents. I point out that the Moss stamp will probably go on first-class letters, while Brabham’s will only be used for parcels, which delights him.

Stirling queues with the office workers and taxi drivers, orders Coronation Chicken on Brown and a bottle of still water, with the same for me, and minutes later he’s back at his desk. Susie works on without a sandwich. “She runs the business with me, knows far more about it all than I do. My floppy disc is full now, but she has an incredible memory. Not just organising me and looking after all the admin: on historic rallies and the Mille Miglias, she navigates and works the watches. When I was racing a Chevron recently, she had to change the ratios in the Hewland box. Did it brilliantly, too. They loved it in the paddock.”

Stirling Moss with Susie Moss

Moss married Susie in 1980, having first met in the ’60s

They’ve been married for 26 years; their son Elliott is in the restaurant business. Flying to the Tasman Series in the 1950s, Stirling used to break his journey with a Hong Kong-based friend who had two small daughters. As a visitor’s gift, he gave the younger one a toy giraffe. She still had it when, 20 years later, she came to London to work. They were married in 1980, and he depends on her absolutely. “She’s involved in every trip, organising and taking part. We haven’t spent a night apart this century. I couldn’t have done that with my other wives.”

Stirling justifies his hectic pace by quoting his motto: “Motion is tranquility, boy. I only feel tired if I do nothing. Keeping on the move is relaxing to me.” After commitments at this year’s Australian GP on the Sunday, he had to speak at a dinner in Manhattan on the Monday. “After the race, we flew to Sydney, on to LA and then New York. We landed at Kennedy and went straight to the dinner. Of course, the time change helped us.”

He also owns several residential properties, which he looks after himself. “I’m very hands-on. If a tenant rings up and says the washing machine’s broken, I go round myself and try to fix it. I get a lot of satisfaction from that. If I can save a plumber’s £60 call-out fee, it’s almost like getting pole at Monaco!

“All my properties are within scooter distance. I used to go everywhere by scooter, but one day I got on some spilt diesel near Waterloo Station and fell off. Broke my pelvis. After that, Susie said no more two wheels, so I found a tiny three- wheel scooter that Honda makes for Japan only and imported one.

Stirling Moss in London on a scooter

Moss favoured his scooters, and would end up in dispute with Ken Livingstone…

“Then I found I was being done for the Central London congestion charge because it wasn’t a two-wheeler. Outrageous – the back of the thing is only 22 inches wide. So I went to see Ken Livingstone. He agreed the charge wasn’t meant for vehicles like mine. So I said, good, give me an exemption. He said he couldn’t do that, but he’d get the law changed. I’m still waiting.”

In May he was at Monaco, of course – at the historics, racing (until its transmission broke) the unique four-wheel-drive Ferguson with which he won the 1961 Oulton Park Gold Cup, and flying back for the Formula 1 race the following weekend. What does Moss think of Schumacher’s Monaco ‘mistake’, in which the Ferrari driver went off at Rascasse during qualifying?

“I couldn’t believe a professional could cheat like that. Terrible. I think it’s a tragedy. The man has spent years building up a wonderful reputation, and now he’s thrown it away. He’s not the best driver ever, of course – he’s won seven world titles, but he’s racing in the Safe Era, you see. His greatest contribution to racing has been putting Ferrari back on top, but for me, only Senna, in the modern era, really had the passion. Prost was like Stewart – an exceptional driver, but not a real racer. I was more a Gilles Villeneuve man: he never made it to the top, but he was unbelievable to watch. In my day, Jean Behra was the same. Nowadays I think Alonso is bloody brilliant. I think Kimi would be up there too if only McLaren could give him the right equipment.”

Was there ever an equivalent to the Schumacher ruse in Stirling’s day? “Absolutely not – the other drivers wouldn’t have let anyone get away with something like that. I’ve raced against lots of tough drivers who would stake their claim to a piece of road. Jack used to like putting a wheel on the grass when you were close behind, to try to throw stones in your face. But Schumacher was so blatant: with TV and telemetry nowadays, he must have known everybody would work out what he was doing.”

Pitlane fire at Goodwood in 1959

Moss helped Aston win ’59 WSC at Goodwood, after a huge pitlane fire

Before flying to Vienna, Stirling was at Goodwood to test the new Aston Martin V8 Vantage road car. His Aston and Goodwood connections are strong: his TT victory in 1959, which clinched the World Sportscar Championship for Aston over Ferrari, was achieved after his DBR1 caught fire during a refuelling stop. He took over another Aston and drove for 4hrs 36mins of the six-hour race, caught up the lost time and won by half a minute. But for Stirling, the interesting comparison was between the new V8 and the short-wheelbase 250GT Ferrari, with which he scored his sixth and seventh TT wins at Goodwood. “D’you know, boy, I was doing the same lap times in the Vantage as I did back then in the Ferrari. Didn’t half feel quick. Surface is a bit better now, of course, but I was just about flat through Fordwater.”

Throughout his career, Moss exuded confidence. Racing was very dangerous then, and many of Stirling’s friends were killed in the heat of battle. Was he ever frightened? “Yes. You were always aware of the consequences of something happening. I was nervous about my well- being, I suppose. But I can’t remember ever having an accident because of driver error. My Spa accident” – when his Lotus lost a rear wheel at 140mph, and he broke both legs and crushed three vertebrae – “if that had been my fault I would have given up there and then. But it was a Chapman failure, so it was acceptable.

“The Mille Miglia was one of the most frightening experiences of my life. In a way, it was like driving through the Monaco tunnel, where you can’t see the exit of the corner until you’re past the apex, but all the time, for 10 hours.
“But when I was racing I was never scared that I wouldn’t give my best. I always felt confident in my ability. I don’t think I was big-headed – I would have hated to be that – but I just felt I could beat the others. I always rather liked starting from the back of the grid and coming through, I liked being the underdog. I loved to drive English cars because you felt like a green gladiator fighting the red lions. Patriotism doesn’t matter nowadays, but it mattered to me.”

We talk of team managers, and Stirling remembers Rob Walker with huge affection – a good friend and a wonderful patron. Tony Vandervell was “a tough old bugger, but his heart was in the right place”, and Stirling grins at the memory of the ferocious Aston Martin boss John Wyer. “He would never praise anybody. So when he said something like, ‘Maybe under the circumstances, Moss, you didn’t do too bad a job’, you really felt good!”

Stirling Moss at Goodwood in 1962

The fateful race: Moss in his Lotus at Goodwood in ’62

A year and a week after the Easter Monday accident, he went back to an empty Goodwood and tested a Lotus 19. His times, on a damp track, were competitive, but he felt that the automatic flow of driving a racing car on the limit had gone – he was having to think consciously about each command to steering and pedals.

“With hindsight, I did that test too early. My accident and the aftermath had stirred up a lot of interest, and I felt I owed it to the press and the public to make up my mind. After my previous accidents I’d always come back to racing very quickly” – unbelievably, after that horrifying Spa accident, he won a race seven weeks later – “but after Goodwood, I didn’t give myself enough time to heal myself mentally, get my concentration back.”

Other regrets? “I never raced in the Indy 500. I would have loved all that bulls**t. And I’m sorry, we could never go flat out at Le Mans, like they can now. A really hard race for 24 hours would be something: but in my day you had to cruise to preserve the car. Actually, with the Mercedes 300SLRs in 1955, [Alfred] Neubauer didn’t set us any limits: it was down to us. I’m certain Fangio and I would have won. We had a big lead when the call came from Stuttgart at 1.45am to withdraw because of poor Levegh’s accident.”

Stirling Moss next to his Audi Touring Car in 1980

At 52, Moss returned to race an Audi in the ’80 BSCC, a move he later regretted

Stirling also wishes he hadn’t been persuaded, at the age of 52, to take up touring car racing in the British Saloon Car Championship. He signed a two-year contract to drive for Audi alongside Martin Brundle.

“It was the biggest mistake of my life. I’d never raced a front-drive car before. I’d never raced on slicks before. And the standard of driving was appalling. If you finished a race without damage to all four corners of your car, you weren’t trying hard enough. It wasn’t my style, and I didn’t enjoy it.”

So, out of those 529 races, which ones stay with him? “The Mille Miglia win was the most important to my career, I suppose. But I think my best race was probably Monaco 1961. The shark-nosed Ferraris were dominant that year, and I was in my old four-cylinder Rob Walker Lotus. I put it on pole, but at the start the Ferraris got ahead on sheer power into St Devote, and it took me 14 laps to get past them. I just had to go flat out everywhere the whole way, precision all the time, no errors. I won by 3.6 seconds.” What he modestly doesn’t mention is that his race time for the 100 laps was exactly 40 seconds more than his pole lap, multiplied by 100. In other words, including getting past the Ferraris, he averaged 0.4sec slower than pole, on every lap, round Monaco, for nearly three hours…

Stirling Moss in the 1961 British Grand Prix

Moss’s last British GP in ’61, he was disqualified after his car received assistance on track

He was also quietly pleased with the 1961 Silverstone International Trophy. Run in driving rain, it had a full field including Brabham, Clark, Hill, McLaren, Surtees and the rest, and provided a good opportunity for Moss gamesmanship.

“I always liked racing in the wet, reading the road, and I discovered a patch of slightly grippier surface, off-line, on one of the corners. So while Brabham and Co were on my tail I deliberately got it wildly sideways on that corner, and then caught it on the grippier stuff and motored on. I was kind of selling them a dummy. In my mirrors, I saw they’d backed off, thinking: if he’s having that much trouble I’d better take it easy here.” By the end of the 233-mile race, Stirling had lapped the entire field.

He dislikes today’s emphasis on championships and points. To him it was always the race that mattered. “I felt, the most important race I can ever do is the race I’m doing now. Today, I can win. Today, I can lose my reputation. Today, I can die. Big race, small race, that was what I was going for. I’d rather lose a race driving fast enough to win it, than win a race driving slow enough to lose it.”

When he had his Goodwood accident, it was in a minor race. He’d lost time with a long pitstop, and had no hope of catching the leaders. But he was racing flat-out, as usual – trying to lose that race fast enough to win it. Stirling’s life is different today, but he’s still flat out. The philosophies that made him a great racer, and a fine sportsman, still govern his life. Between 1948-62, he made racing better by taking part. And, in his way, he’s still doing that.

CV: Sir Stirling Moss

Born 17/09/1929, West Kensington, England

1948 Wins British F3 Championship and is one of Cooper’s first customers

1949 Wins Madgwick Cup for F2 cars in Cooper T9

1950 Wins British F3 again, co-drives Jaguar to average 24-hour speed record, first international race win in
RAC Tourist Trophy at Dundrod

1951 Wins events such as RAC Tourist Trophy and Goodwood International

1952 Second on Monte Carlo Rally, takes on more speed records, wins various events elsewhere

1953 Takes Jaguar C-type to second at Le Mans, wins the Alpine Rally and the Silverstone International Trophy for touring cars. First talks with Mercedes…

1954 Wins Alpine Rally again, first non-American to win Sebring 12 Hours, first F1 points-scoring podium finish

1955 Takes most important win in Mille Miglia for Merc, as well as Targa Florio. Moss wins British GP on way to second in F1 championship in first season at Mercedes alongside Fangio

1956 Second again in F1, taking victories in Monaco and Italy, also wins Nürburgring 1000Kms

1957 Breaks five records on the Bonneville Salt Flats in a purpose-built MG EX181, wins the long-distance Pescara GP on way to second in F1 once again, this time in a Vanwall. Finishes second in Sebring 12 Hours

1958 Second in F1 for the fourth time, driving both a Cooper and Vanwall during the year. Moss won four GPs but it wasn’t enough for the title. Wins Nürburgring 1000Kms again, and other events including another RAC Tourist Trophy success

1959 Wins British F2 title for Rob Walker Racing, Moss rallies from tricky start to F1 season with wins in Portugal and Italy to finish third, also second in British GP. Further success in Nürburgring 1000Kms and Silverstone International and Tourist Trophy. Moss helps Aston to WSC title success, too

1960 Moss’s famous Monaco victory, driving for Rob Walker Racing, gives Colin Chapman his first Lotus win. Injured in practice at Spa, but returns to win the US GP l 1961 Moss takes what he considers his best win in dominant fashion at Monaco in an underpowered Lotus, and wins damp German GP. Good enough for third in F1. l 1962 Moss crashes his Lotus heavily in the Glover Trophy at Goodwood. In a coma for a month before beginning a long journey back to fitness

1963 Moss retires from racing after a test in a Lotus 19, realising he has lost several tenths of pace. Continues with broadcaster career that he had begun during 1962

1974 Moss dabbles in the odd race in the intervening years, including foray in the London-Sahara-Munich World Cup Rally, retiring his Mercedes in the Sahara

1976 Moss shares a Holden Torana with Jack Brabham at the Bathurst 1000, retiring after it was hit from behind and suffers an engine failure later on

1979 Shares a VW Golf GTI with Denny Hulme at Pukekohe’s Benson & Hedges 500 race

1980-81 Moss makes a true racing comeback in the BSCC with a factory backed Audi deal alongside Martin Brundle. Moss later admits to regret over the decision

2011 Moss officially confirms his retirement at the age of 81