Sir Stirling Moss 1929 – 2020
By Dave Williamson
Auckland NZ, January 1959: I was riding my bike home from school when I saw a Jaguar saloon steaming towards me. The Jag then drove over to my side of the road, slowed down and stopped. The driver jumped out and walked quickly past me, nodding briefly as he strode up into a private hotel. Gobsmacked, speechless, I was stunned: “It was Stirling Moss.”
Stirling was staying at the hotel with his fiancée Katie Molson and many other notable UK race drivers. I rode home and came straight back with my autograph book. The next day I picked it up from the front desk and every one of the UK visitors’ signatures was there.
Media hype was building to fever pitch prior to the New Zealand International Grand Prix: Stirling Moss was favourite in his Cooper T45. What I knew about Moss was mainly from reading motor magazines back in the 1950s – Modern Motor and Wheels – and watching Movietone News and yes, Moss won the NZIGP that year. Ah, my hero.
Today I believe that each of us enthusiasts has our own clear mental images of Sir Stirling Moss, images formed while watching his amazing career. Most of us have seen, read about, heard of, or maybe even spoken to him. There will be some who were lucky enough to have raced against him.
Moss’s main racing career spanned from 1948 to 1962, when the huge crash at Goodwood destroyed his ability to continue racing in F1 events – at the awareness level he knew he had to be at. He did recommence racing in many other classes, including historic events and the fruitless Bathurst entry in 1976, co-driving with Jack Brabham in a Torana. Following his retirement, Moss remained hugely popular and continued to be involved in sponsors’ advertisements, speeches, and presentations and even shop and building openings. Some of these events happened as he cruised the oceans, first class of course. Stirling always asked for – and received – first class treatment whenever he flew to participate in an event.
In the mid-1980s, via a Jaguar-owning friend, I was invited to Warwick Farm as a guest of the company’s Sydney sales department for a demo-day. Moss was there, talking up the features of the latest model. He invited four people at a time to be driven around for a few laps. I blagged the front seat alongside the master. Stirling spoke with authority about the Jaguar and its great handling as we hurtled around. Again, I was too awestruck to say much except: “Gulp – thank you”.
In 1998 when the Goodwood Revival meetings began, I obtained a press pass which gave me access to special areas and the drivers. During the many following years that I have attended the Revival, I have finally been able to have grown up conversations with Stirling.
In 2000 (then) Prince Charles laid the Royal sword on Moss’s shoulder to bestow on him a Knighthood. Now he was Sir Stirling Moss.
By then I had built a replica of a 250F Maserati steering wheel as a sort of a Moss/Maserati tribute. Purely because I’d seen Moss win the 1956 NZIGP when I was a 13-year old. I took the wheel to Goodwood, in the hope that he might sign it for me. This he did – and with relish. Stirling was keen to learn exactly how I had made it. When I mentioned that I was from New Zealand, this triggered his memory. He spoke happily about the many enjoyable trips to Auckland over the years, saying “I wish I could have had more time to travel around such a beautiful country”.
I reminded him of his first NZIGP win in 1956. He smiled, recalling that his Maserati 250F had developed a fuel leak which almost stopped him finishing, then remembered that Alf (Francis) soon had that sorted. With just eight laps to go, Stirling pitted for Francis to slosh eight gallons of fuel in the Maser’s tank. He still led by almost a minute from Tony Gaze’s Ferrari 500/750S.
By chance we met again later that day in the driver’s club, where we were finally able to sit down and have a long talk. Stirling was a good listener. He was able to quickly understand what the other person was talking about, without interrupting, or talking over them. A very pleasant and amiable man who – provided he had the time – was easy to talk to.
I also met his wonderful wife Suzie, who Moss had known since the 1960s, when he stayed with her parents in Hong Kong during stopovers on flights to NZ and Australia. They married in 1980.
In 2010 Stirling had a dreadful accident, falling into the lift-well in his house in Mayfair, London. In 2016 he was hospitalised in Singapore with a nasty, unknown virus and spent more than four months recuperating there. On his return to the UK, despite top class care from some of London’s top medical people, he was still not well and in early 2018 announced he would withdraw from public life. His website closed and very little was heard of him – until the sad news of his death on 12 April 2020. He is survived by Suzie and his two children, Elliot and Allison.
After a remarkable career of overtaking others, Moss had made his final pass.