On this day in... 1958

19th January 2017
Henry Hope-Frost

Thanks to fuel-regulation changes ahead of the penultimate season of the first decade of World Championship Grand Prix racing, there were no BRMs or Vanwalls on the grid for the opening race in Argentina. 

It meant that just 10 cars – still the fewest entries in a World Championship race – made the trip to compete in the stifling heat of Buenos Aires. Six Maseratis, entered by five different teams, and three works Ferrari 246 Dinos were joined by one diminutive, British-built Cooper T43 with its Coventry Climax engine in the back.

And at the wheel of what would soon prove to be a very significant machine was World Championship favourite Stirling Moss. Released for the event by full-time Vanwall employer Tony Vandervell, the Englishman, already a winner with Mercedes, Maserati and Vanwall, took up his place in the Cooper run by privateer enthusiast Rob Walker.

Qualifying gave reigning World Champion Juan Manuel Fangio, in one of Scuderia Sud Americana’s two Maserati 250Fs, his 29th and final career pole position. He eclipsed the two Ferrari 246s of Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins (who clocked an identical 1m42.6s, 0.6s adrift of Fangio) to line up at the head of the field.

Due to the heat, the 400km race was reduced to 313km – the equivalent of 80 laps of the Buenos Aires circuit. And this would prove pivotal to the outcome…


Making a lightning start from fourth on the grid was Jean Behra in Ken Kavanagh’s Maserati. The Frenchman would lead the opening lap before being caught and passed by Hawthorn. Poleman Fangio took up his place at the front on lap 10, while Moss, who’d qualified only seventh, had quietly and efficiently worked his way up to second.

With the reduction in race distance, Moss and his Rob Walker crew had an ace up their sleeves. They figured that the lightweight Cooper could, with a deft touch from Moss, go the full distance on one set of tyres. And that would mean there would be no need to make a lengthy pitstop to remove the four-stud wheels.

Without alluding to the plan, Moss kept the number 14 Cooper circulating at a suitable speed and hit the front just before half-distance once all the big cars had made their stops. Rivals eventually cottoned on to what was going on and upped the ante, too late to catch the ailing Cooper.


Maestro Moss nursed the car home with wrecked tyres to take a superb and unexpected victory – the first for a rear-engined car in the World Championship. Four of the five points-scoring finishers all managed 80 laps, Moss’s closest challenger – Luigi Musso’s Ferrari – less than three seconds behind.

The writing was on the wall, though, although not everyone could read it on that hot day in 1958. Moss duly returned to Vanwall for the remainder of the season and with three more wins finished a single point behind Hawthorn in their battle for the crown, but it would be the last year in which a driver in a front-engined car would win the title.

The rear-engined revolution that started in Argentina on that hot January day would soon become the norm.

Argentinian GP, 1958

1. Stirling Moss (GB) – Cooper T43-Climax, 80 laps

2. Luigi Musso (I) – Ferrari 246, 80 laps

3. Mike Hawthorn (GB) – Ferrari 246, 80 laps

4. Juan Manuel Fangio (RA) – Maserati 250F, 80 laps

5. Jean Behra (F) – Maserati 250F, 78 laps

Photographs courtesy of LAT

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