After taking part in races and sprints, Moss made his debut in 500cc, after having bought a Cooper-JAP in 1948. He quickly made his mark in motor-driven machines, but that was not enough to persuade Jaguar to offer him a place in his team for the fearsome Dundrod Tourist Trophy in 1950.
Tommy Wisdom entered Moss in his Jaguar XK120 instead, after which Moss beat the field – including the factory Jaguars – in appalling conditions. He became Jaguar’s team leader in sports car racing soon after.
Although he never won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Moss became the best sports car driver of the 1950s, his victories in the 1955 Mille Miglia (for Mercedes), the 1958 and 1959 1000 km Nurburgring and the 1959 tourist trophy (all for Aston Martin) remain among the best performances in endurance competition.
Moss had to wait longer to succeed in single-seaters. Rejected by Ferrari, it spent several seasons in non-competitive British machines before the impressive 1954 in a Maserati 250F – bought by father Alfred and manager Ken Gregory – was enough to persuade Mercedes boss Alfred Neubauer to sign it for 1955.
Moss played the lineup to teammate Fangio in F1, but was generally the fastest in sports cars and won his first F1 world championship victory at the British Grand Prix at Aintree, leading a Mercedes 1-2 -3-4.
Moss was runner-up in the world that year, a position he would repeat in 1956 (with Maserati), 1957 and 1958 (both with Vanwall).
It was his defeat in 1958 to Mike Hawthorn of Ferrari, despite four wins against Hawthorn, that changed Moss’ vision for the championship. It became less important to him.
Subsequently, he was happy to play the role of the underdog, the Coopers race and then the Lotuses led by the privateer Rob Walker. It was in Walker’s Lotus 18 that Moss clinched the most famous of his victories, beating the most powerful Ferrari “Sharknose” 156s of the 1961 Monaco GP in unrelenting driving.
Moss was also a pioneer – marking the first success in the world championship for a rear engine car (Cooper, 1958 Argentine GP) and the only F1 victory for a four-wheel drive car (Ferguson, Oulton Park in 1961) – and proved to be capable of rallying, where his sister Pat was also a master.
Having been the undisputed best in the world for four seasons, Moss had identified Jim Clark’s growing threat in late 1961 and decided that he needed equipment parity. There was agreement on the table for Walker to drive a Ferrari in F1 when Moss suffered an unexplained accident at Goodwood on Easter Monday 1962.
The accident left Moss in a coma and, after several months of recovery, he returned to find that his great powers had been affected and decided to retire.
He nevertheless remained an integral part of the sport, appearing in all kinds of roles, including commentaries. There was even a brief comeback for Audi in the 1980 British Touring Car Championship, but it was mostly being Stirling Moss, happy to talk about his career, share his enthusiasm for motorsport and discover the current scene.
He has also participated in historic events and, even after having permanently hung up his helmet at Le Mans in 2011, he was a regular at meetings such as the Goodwood Revival. A tough character, he survived by falling into an elevator shaft at home, but retired from public life following an illness in 2016-2017.
The fact that Moss was never a world champion remains an indictment of the championship and the point systems in place at the time rather than any failure by Stirling. For many people, it was motor racing, perhaps its first big star, and almost certainly the greatest all-rounder of all time.
Motorsport Network extends its condolences to Lady Moss, an avid supporter of Moss for so many years, as well as to friends, family and many Stirling fans.
Recorded in December 2019, Autosport editor Kevin Turner and commentator Ian Titchmarsh discuss the career of Sir Stirling Moss …