In 1950 I tried hard to persuade Jaguar, who had begun to campaign their beautiful XK120, that they should give me an opportunity in the classics like the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Tourist Trophy. The TT was a really demanding event, run over 320 miles of the Dundrod circuit in Northern Ireland.
Word came back from team manager Lofty England that, while they accepted that I’d shown speed in Formula 3 racing, I was too inexperienced to be entrusted with one of their cars – the implication being that I would probably crash, bringing Jaguar unwelcome publicity.
Tommy Wisdom got to hear of this: he was a well-known journalist and driver, and because of his influence he’d been able to acquire one of the first production XK120s. Tommy had made a private entry for the TT, and when he heard I wanted a drive he gallantly stood down and made his car over to me.
On race day the weather was appalling: relentless rain, a gale blowing down marquees, and the spectator areas a sea of mud. Because there was a big field of cars in each class, down to the little MGs and HRGs, lapping the traffic in the spray on the narrow road was quite hairy at times.
The race lasted three hours. I took the lead on lap 2, and by the end I was over three miles ahead of the works Jaguars. That made a point to Lofty England, so it was a very important victory for me. At the post-race party that night Bill Lyons, the autocratic Jaguar boss, sat me down and got my signature on a works contract for the following year. They had exciting plans to produce a competition version of the XK, the XK120C – soon abbreviated to C-type.
Tomorrow: Signing for Mercedes-Benz and meeting a man called Fangio
This is an extract from Stirling Moss: My Racing Life (£50) which is available from all good book retailers and direct from Evro Publishing, www.evropublishing.com