'50's Drivers

from a late 1950ies appraisal


FEW MEN have followed any profession with the singleminded devotion that Britain's Stirling Moss has shown in his quest for speed. Local legend has it that Moss decided to become a racing driver at the tender age of nine and, from that time on, never made even the slightest effort to learn anything else. There may be more than a little truth in this because Moss's first important race (at Goodwood, 1948) brought him a first-place prize of 20 guineas (about $100 at the then-existing rate of exchange) and launched him on his life's work.

That first year of racing ended slightly "in-the-red" but Moss was then, incredible though it now seems, an inexperienced youth of 18 and still had much to learn. Two years passed in much the same fashion, but with experience and prize money both on the increase, while Moss acquired a reputation as a "comer." Then, in 1950, an invitation from HWM gave Moss the opportunity to move out of the free lance category and become a real professional, with a place on an established team. The job with HWM was a rare break for Moss as it gave him his chance to drive in Formula 1 events. Most of 1950 was spent on the Continent, where the HWM was completely outclassed, but was popular with crowds because of the spirited driving shown by the men on the team. Moss collected two things while a member of the HWM organization: a vast amount of experience, and his first trip in an ambulance. It has been said that "you never know how good a driver will be until he crashes and finds how much it can hurt." It is very significant that Moss was back in a racing car less than two weeks after leaving the hospital.

The British Tourist Trophy, an event dear to English enthusiasts' hearts, must be counted as Moss's first major victory. The T.T. is held late in autumn, which is the time of year when English weather, always inclined to be wet, can be at its soggy worst. Torrential rain and gale-force winds made for one of racing's "stickyest wickets" in many a year. Moss was having his first race in a large sports car, a Jaguar, and it was very important to him that he make a good showing-even under such adverse conditions. Showing more aplomb than most of the old-timers were able to muster up under such appalling weather, young Stirling not only won the race, but set a new record for the course. To realize the full import of what he had done we must remember that the XK-series Jaguar had just been announced and that this outstanding victory was of considerable benefit to Jaguar and, less directly, to Stirling Moss. Later in the year, after Moss and Leslie Johnson had averaged 107 mph for 24 hours, the official recognition of Britain's. powers-that-be came to Moss and he was awarded the British Racing Driver Club's Gold Star and the Richard Seaman Trophy for the best overseas performance of that year. Success had come and the apprenticeship was over.

Quite apart from the monetary prizes collected in the course of winning the British T.T. was a much more valuable victory; it was this performance that brought Moss an invitation to join Jaguar as its number one driver.

Another offer came inviting Moss to tryout for a spot with a racing organization that was then in its infancy but which had, because of the unusual nature of its cars - already captured the fancy of every English enthusiast. That firm is, of course, British Racing Motors - which had at that time, spent the better part of one million dollars trying to humble the mighty continental teams. Practice trials went well, Moss demonstrating to the men from Bourne that he could cope with the potentially fatal subtleties of over 500 bhp and more than a quarter turn of backlash in the steering. Eventually, BRM signed the great J. M. Fangio as number one driver and Moss was taken on in the number two spot.

Unfortunately, the BRM was, like love, a sometime thing and the potentially fast V-16 engined cars never realized their theoretical promise. In fact, they often were withdrawn even before a race started and it was a rare day when any of them finished an event. Such dismal results left Moss with plenty of time and energy for forays into Formulas II and III. He finally contracted with BRM for Formula 1, ERA for Formula II and Kieft for Formula III, while retaining his place as top driver for Jaguar in the sports-car division.

It was while driving these completely different cars that Moss acquired the versatility and style that have become his trademark. His association with Fangio left him determined to possess real polish - an attribute absolutely essential to success in the difficult Formula 1 category.

The rest of the Stirling Moss career is almost too well known to mention. Although he is a completely loyal Briton, Moss reluctantly went abroad for a car worthy of his talents. Maserati was lucky enough to sign Moss and he stuck with them until Mercedes, at the prompting of his old teammate Fangio, asked him to come with them.

Misfortune has been heaped upon Moss in his brilliant career for, until the retirement of Fangio, he had to run second to that great man. Now that Fangio is a spectator, the jinx that has plagued Moss from the very first has returned in full force. There is little doubt in anyone's mind that Moss is the best driver in the world, but his unbelievably bad luck always has robbed him of the title. It would seem that fate intends to keep him an uncrowned champion forever.

Mechanical failures have removed him from virtually every race counting toward the Driver's Championship, while he has easily won all of the others. It is a matter of some interest that when his chances of winning the title seemed to have disappeared, his personal gremlin departed too. Moss's victories include almost every event in the world and only the Driver's Championship remains.

Moss 1

Moss 2

Moss 3 - Moss Now

Moss 1958

Moss 4

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