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Imagine looking in your mirrors and seeing Stirling Moss right up your chuff, that familiar white-dome peaked helmet and goggles, face set in grim determination, as you’ve seen in a thousand photographs. He’s behind the wheel of a dark blue Formula 1 car, its signature white nose stripe and number seven roundel looming large each time you snatch a glance. Your ears ring to a Coventry Climax song, but it doesn’t sound happy. It’s coughing and spluttering, so Stirling blips the throttle to keep the song in tune. Grand Prix cars were not built to go so slowly.
Yes, I felt a bit of pressure as I drove the camera car for our latest cover photo shoot. Thanks to help from RM Auctions, the HSCC and MotorSport Vision, we had organised to reunite Sir Stirling Moss with one of his favourite and most interesting racing cars: the four-wheel-drive Ferguson P99 Grand Prix car, in which he scored a very special victory in 1961. When he crossed the Oulton Park finish line to clinch his fifth Gold Cup, Moss became the first – and only – man to win a Formula 1 race in a car with four driven wheels.
I’d always had an ambition for Motor Sport to run this story. But it was one thing to reunite Stirling and the car (he has driven it before in recent years); I never expected to get him back to Oulton Park as well.
And yet somehow the stars aligned themselves to allow it all to come together. RM is selling the car at its Battersea auction on October 27 and had approached me to feature it in our next issue. It just so happened that the timing coincided with the HSCC’s Gold Cup historic meeting – at which that man Moss was down to race his OSCA.
It had seemed so unlikely, a logistical nightmare – but it really looked like it was going to come together. Sure enough, once P99 owner Jamie Sheldon was told Moss would be up for driving the car at, of all places, the circuit where he’d written a special chapter in history, consent was a given. So the boys from Calbourne Garage brought the car up from the Isle of Wight, Graeme White at the HSCC reserved a garage and we were all ready to go. Even the sun was shining (good for photos, even if rain would have been more fitting for 4WD!).
The only problem was that such photo shoots are usually conducted at quiet mid-week test sessions. This time, we would be in the gaze of a large race-day crowd and had strict instructions to limit our time with Stirling and the Ferguson to one single lap. Our run was taking place as part of a lunchtime demo at the Bank Holiday Monday meeting and the pressure was on to keep to schedule.
Photographer Matt Howell is an old hand at this sort of stuff, but even he was nervous. As you will read in Gordon Cruickshank’s excellent story, we briefed Stirling on what we needed (no waving to the crowd until the photographer has got his shots) and waited patiently for our 1.15pm window. As the lunch break began I drove Matt’s Ford Focus into the pitlane, he opened the tailgate and made himself comfortable.
The Calbourne boys fired up P99, Stirling gingerly eased himself into the car and off we went.
Now, when you have a mad snapper hanging out of the boot appealing for a race car to run just a couple of feet away from his face, you don’t try to do these shoots at speed. In every magazine, car-to-car photo shoots are conducted at 30-40mph. I was under orders from Matt to keep it slow and smooth – just my style!
But for Stirling, it wasn’t so easy. As we left the pitlane at the exit of Old Hall the Ferguson stuttered and Stirling spread his arms, as if to say ‘what can I do?’ This car had broken down on him once before, at Monaco. If it happened now, we wouldn’t get our cover shot and the reunion would have been for nothing.
Thankfully, our 80-year-old hero cured the cough with a couple of throttle blips, the P99 picked up and we headed down the Avenue on our way to Cascades. Matt breathed a sigh of relief and started shooting.
As you can see from our cover, the lap ended happily. Matt bagged the shot we needed and after one of the slowest laps in Oulton history, I peeled off into the pitlane to allow Stirling a quicker run where he waved to the enthusiastic crowd and got properly reacquainted with the old girl.
Reuniting Stirling Moss with the experimental Ferguson in which he stunned Oulton Park in 1961 was a special day, for all of us involved. The result is Gordon’s story, the centrepiece of an issue also featuring Fangio, Jenson Button and Lunch with John Fitch (what a fascinating man and what an incredible life, by the way). I hope you enjoy it.
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