My trip to Italy with Sir Stirling Moss | Thank Frankel it’s Friday

10th June 2022
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

As I write this, but not as you read, I am sitting outside a villa on the north east coast of Corfu, looking across the Ionian Sea as the sun rises behind the coast of Albania, just two miles away. Technically I am on holiday, though in reality I am of course working. It’s called being a freelance journalist with stories to write and commitments to honour. Not that I am complaining: I love writing this column, the freedom it gives me and, out here, the licence it provides to let my mind wander.


This time it has wound back a fraction over a decade.

It is May 2012 and I am in a check in queue at Stansted for a RyanAir flight to Bergamo in northern Italy. And there is perhaps nothing too remarkable in that. Except that in the queue ahead of me is (not yet Sir) Patrick Head while behind is the ethereally unflappable Lady Susie Moss and her husband, the 82-year-old and very definitely already Sir Stirling Moss, who is in an heroically bad mood. When it comes to bravery, racing a 100-year-old car around Goodwood is a walk in the park compared to telling Stirling Moss he has to stand in a RyanAir check in queue. We are saved once airside only when Susie plunges into her bag and produces a piece of plastic that somehow get us all into a posh lounge.

We are en route to Brescia where Stirling will meet the 91-year-old Norman Dewis (not yet OBE), 60 years almost to the day since they took part in the 1952 Mille Miglia in the same C-Type Jaguar that had won Le Mans the year before. They are already believed to be the oldest surviving Mille Miglia crew. Our purpose is to make a film about that event, and the reason for their participation in it, of which more in a moment. After that, Patrick will take another C-Type of equal significance to the story (for the Mille Miglia car sadly no longer exists) and take part in the annual retrospective ride around Italy, because his dad used to own it.


We arrive in Brescia and head to the Ca’ Noa hotel where the two old team-mates meet in the lobby. I step to one side as these two old heroes greet each other with an unaffected warmth I find rather emotional. Stirling is a little stooped after so many crashes and bashes but both are on terrific good form for their age. Stansted already seems like a rapidly fading nightmare.

We go straight into town where the two old heroes sit in the C-Type and are promptly mobbed by press and public alike. It’s hot, humid, cameras flash, microphones are thrust in front of their faces and I can see Stirling getting flustered. Thanks perhaps to the head injury that left him in a coma after his Goodwood crash in 1962, his memory is not what it once was. Norman, by contrast, is in his element and he tells and retells the story of how he and Stirling entered the 1952 race to prove the concept of the disc brake, which had worked on aircraft but hitherto never successfully on road cars. Jaguar wanted the most gruelling event possible knowing that if the discs could survive that, they’d survive anything. Norman made it clear that if he was going to be in the passenger seat, it was on condition that Moss, and no one else, did the driving. Some vote of confidence in a 22-year-old lad.

They did incredibly well in a car designed to go fast down the Mulsanne, not around Italy, and were lying third (Norman thought possibly second) after 850 miles when they went around a corner only to find a rock in the road even Moss could not avoid and which duly broke the steering rack. Once repaired, Norman drove the car back to Coventry…


With the PR work done, we go to the start where Stirling and Norman drive the C-Type up onto the famed ramp. Though not the Mille Miglia car itself, this is the machine in which later that year Stirling won at Reims, the first ever race victory by a car wearing disc brakes. The crowd goes mad, while the two elderly racers tell each other rude jokes and cackle like schoolboys. They are completely unfazed by it all. The flag comes down, Stirling drives off the ramp and accelerates hard up the road ahead, just like old times. Except 200 yards down the road, he pulls over and hands the car to Patrick who we’ll not see again for the next three days.

We, being me, the C-Type’s owner, Stirling, Norman, Susie and the film crew retire to the Ca’ Noa where I expect the boys to want only a light bite before bed. They’ve been on the go for hours, have a combined age of 173, and must be absolutely exhausted.


I underestimated them. We go first to the bar, then the restaurant and by midnight are all somewhat plastered. Stirling, so seemingly hesitant in public, is a completely different person when relaxed in company he likes and trusts. Now it is he and not Norman who holds court, telling stories of the great drivers he knew – Hawthorn, Collins, Ascari and Behra among countless others – and how he felt responsible for Jaguar losing at Le Mans in 1952 before the race had even started. Alarmed by the speed at which Caracciola’s 300SL Merc had come past on a long straight during the Mille Miglia, Stirling told Jaguar they had to find more straight-line speed. His demand led to radically revised bodywork for the race, and the retirement, through overheating, of the entire works team.

It turned out that the last men standing that evening were Norman and I, me turning down his offer of one last gin & tonic just after 1:00am, but not before he’d told me just a little about his other life, the life he never discussed in public, as a turret gunner during the war in the slow and vulnerable Bristol Blenheim bomber. He talked objectively, not personally, because the chance of me having any grasp of what he went through was precisely zero, but it was an astonishing moment nonetheless. The following morning, I appeared for breakfast at 8:00am, very much the worse for my evening revelries and probably looking somewhat dishevelled, to find Norman eating like a horse, immaculately turned out in blazer and flannels, having already been up for hours completing his morning exercises.


And it occurred to me then, as it does once more today, that these men were made of different stuff. Both were true heroes who put their lives on the line again and again and again, one to defend his country, the other to pursue his passion. Both had found themselves in situations they had not expected to survive yet somehow both did. And now both have gone.

In my heart I knew there was never going to be another opportunity to do what we did in Brescia in 2012. Throughout my time there with them I had this sense that this was important, unrepeatable. They were never together in Italy again. But if the boys felt the same way, there was no sign. They just spent their time hooting with laughter, enjoying a busman’s holiday and not taking any of it too seriously. And rightly so, for compared to what they’d done 60 years earlier, it wasn’t serious at all. For me though, it was one of the most special moments of my working life. And I miss both of them to this day.

  • Sir Stirling Moss

  • Norman Dewis

  • Mille Miglia

  • Thank Frankel it's Friday

  • Jaguar C-Type

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