You’d think by now – in his 86th year, and 53 years after he stopped racing – we’d know all there is to know about the career of Sir Stirling Moss OBE. But where Britain’s indefatigable motor sport legend is concerned there’s always a new story to tell, a new picture from the album to share, some new aside to make about his liking for ‘crumpet’.
Which is of course a very good thing because you can’t ever get enough of Sir Stirling, and that means, yup, you guessed right, there’s a new book out on the great man. Stirling Moss: My Racing Life (Evro Publishing, £50) is in all good bookshops from 1 May.
It’s even better since starting tomorrow Goodwood Road & Racing is serialising excerpts from the book. You will be able to read a bite-size chunk every day for a week or so, right here on GRR…
The publication date’s significant: it’s exactly 60 years since Stirling and Denis Jenkinson rewrote Mille Miglia history in their Mercedes-Benz 300SLR, a race Stirling describes in the book as the greatest win of his career. It’s also a victory that will be celebrated in fine style at this year’s Festival of Speed.
There is – of course – much in this book that many will know already. It’s not the first book on Stirling, and of the extant ones many such as Doug Nye’s are first class. But there’s plenty in here that’s new, including some particularly fine private-collection photographs that we, anyway, haven’t seen before.
There are some wonderful stories and brilliant anecdotes. The tales pour forth in Stirling’s own words, put on paper by his chum Simon Taylor, the journalist and broadcaster. But the book is dominated by the photographs, each with more a mini story alongside it than a paltry caption. The result is a book that draws you in quicker than Stirling will whip off his shirt on a warm day.
My Racing Life doesn’t set out to be a compendium of all his cars, or all his races, or his complete autobiography. They have all been done. It is instead lots of cars, lots of racing – and lots of life, too, much of it involving the opposite sex and lots of it involving Goodwood, both in period and in latter years.
In terms of the cars and the racing, all the biggies are covered. The 1955 Mille Miglia, being the first Brit to win the British GP, the Coopers, Vanwalls, Jags, Astons and Maseratis. Dicing with Fangio, missing out to Mike Hawthorn for the championship by one point, Rallying with Sunbeam and record-breaking at the Salt Flats with MG. Winning in Ferraris, Coopers and Lotuses for Rob Walker.
Some of the races were truly heroic. He would never say that himself, and his words are modest, but you can see in so many of the photographs of his oil-stained face under that white Herbert Johnson crash hat just how much he put into winning, and what it meant to him.
As he says: ‘All I ever wanted to do was race cars.’ It was something he succeeded at like few others, not merely in terms of race wins but in sheer number of races run (up to 62 a year) and the amazing variety of cars driven (around 84). ‘I didn’t go to the gym. I kept fit by working out in as many cockpits as I could.’ He didn’t like them all though; he is scathing about some of the cars he drove.
And life? Well, there’s loads of that. As a teenager he had a Morgan Three-wheeler but swapped it for a TB-series MG Midget: ‘It was more weatherproof than the Morgan, and therefore a better proposition for taking girls out. My life-long interest in crumpet had already begun.’
Many of his girlfriends feature in the book: ‘I will always remember Sylvia with great fondness, because she first taught me what life was really about. However, I also remember a difficult moment when Mum came home unexpectedly while I was in the middle of one of her lessons.’
He has a fine mind for detail, doubtless helped by the daily diary he kept and the ministrations today of the ever-present Lady Susie (‘we work together as a team, always’.) He knows, for example, that the 19-year-old Moss won his second-ever circuit race (and first at the new Goodwood circuit) in 1948 by a margin of 9.4 secs. Heavens, he even remembers who was on the bill at the BRDC’s 25th anniversary dinner in 1952 (Edmundo Ros and his Rumba Band in case you were wondering).
One thing he doesn’t remember: the crash at Goodwood in 1962 that ended his career, and almost his life.
He recalls driving to the circuit from his hotel in Chichester in his company Lotus Elite but then not much else until he woke up in hospital six weeks later when, characteristically, the first thing he asked the doctor was if his ‘old man’ was all right.
In the book he speculates on the cause of the crash but the reality is that no one really knows why his Lotus left the circuit at St Mary’s and hit the earth bank head on, folding up around him but mercifully not catching fire.
He does believe however that when he returned to Goodwood a year later to test a Lotus 19, only to declare that he was retiring forthwith, he was acting a little prematurely.
‘If I had resisted the pressure of everyone who was clamouring for me to make up my mind, and maybe given my brain another year to heal, that decision might have been different,’ he says.
GRR loves him just as he is – heroic and human in equal measure, and this book does a fine job of celebrating both.
Stirling Moss: My Racing Life (£50) is available from all good book retailers and direct from Evro Publishing, www.evropublishing.com
Don’t miss part one of our exclusive serialisation…
STARTING ON GOODWOOD ROAD & RACING TOMORROW!