One of Formula 1’s most charismatic racers and perhaps its first ambassador, Sir Stirling Moss epitomized the machismo, the glamour, and the daring needed to succeed in those perilous days.
Active between 1948 and 1962, Moss rose to glory without delay and won 212 of his 529 races. He began hillclimbing at the age of 19, won his first event, and was racing internationally by the age of 21. With daring and bravado that characterized so many of those brave post-war racers, he suffered serious accidents and setbacks but remained a fixture of the sport until his end.
During his heyday, Moss tried anything he could get his hands on. Touring cars, GT cars, Formula 2 cars, and rally cars—especially if they were British—all interested him. Moss drove in as many as 62 races in a year and drove 84 different marques over the course of his racing career.
Some of his greatest victories came in sports cars. Moss was the first non-American to win the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1954. He was also a masterful rally driver. Perhaps his most distinguished victory came at the 1955 Mille Miglia, where he completed the thousand-mile race in ten hours and seven minutes.
Averaging one-hundred miles per hour through the perilous Italian countryside could be attributed–at least partially–to his mental fortitude. Some could be credited to improvisation; once his brake pedal snapped and he had to scrub speed with a triple-digit drift. And perhaps some of that was possible thanks to a combination of stimulants used by World War II pilots, as given to him by Juan Manuel Fangio. How times have changed.
In Formula One, he won sixteen races including the Monaco Grand Prix. He was runner-up four times, and according to Enzo Ferrari, “If Moss had put reason before passion, he would’ve been World Champion many times.”
He also lacked the ruthlessness of modern drivers. In an act of sportsmanship not often seen in F1, Moss helped contest his great rival Mike Hawthorn’s disqualification, which caused him to lose out on the 1958 title by a single point.
Unfortunately, his chance at a title came to an end after a horrendous accident at Goodwood in 1962. After four weeks in a coma, Moss regained consciousness but suffered partial paralysis. “So I was paralyzed for six months, then got over that, and that was it,” he once said with characteristic grit. Though his mobility eventually returned to him, he realized he’d lost some of his instinctive control and decided to hang up his helmet—ostensibly, anyways.
Moss continued racing in vintage events throughout the rest of his life, but captialized more on his image and charm than his skills in the seat. Moss helped bring racing to a wider audience with his commentary and regular appearances in the media. He was sex symbol with outrageous humor, a regular subject on television shows, and even made a cameo in Casino Royale. So ingrained was he in popular culture that it became common practice for British policemen to pull speeders over, lean in the window and ask: “Who do you think you are, Stirling Moss?”
For a racing hero, there aren’t many better commemorations than that.
Sir Stirling Moss passed in the early hours of Sunday, April 12th in his Mayfair home (London, England) with his wife by his side.