Bloody Heroes: Stirling Moss Part 1

If you have even the faintest interest in cars or motorsport you will have heard of Stirling Moss; of the 529 races he entered during his racing career, he won almost half, with 212 victories between 1948 and 1962. Often described as “the greatest driver never to win the World Championship”, he won 16 Formula One Grands Prix competing against the likes of Juan Manuel Fangio and Alberto Ascari, some of the greatest drivers in history. He was the most successful English Formula One driver until 1991, when Nigel Mansell overtook him in terms of victories, and to top it all off, Stirling Moss also holds the all-time record for completing the Mille Miglia, a feat described as the “most iconic single day’s drive in motor racing history”.

Like his younger sister, Stirling was an extremely talented horse rider when he was younger, but it was clear from early on that he was eager to get behind the wheel. Stirling was also obviously of sound judgement and stable mind (pun intended), as horses are never to be trusted. Using the winnings from horse-riding competitions, Stirling paid the deposit on a far superior form of transport in the shape of a Cooper 500 racing car in 1948. In his new Cooper, Moss’s talents soon became obvious with wins at both national and international levels, but it wouldn’t be until the eve of his 21st birthday that he would win his first major international race. At the wheel of a borrowed XK120, Moss took home gold on the Dundrod Circuit in Northern Ireland in the 1950 RAC Tourist Trophy. Moss would go on to win the race six more times, in 1951 in a Jaguar C-Type, in 1955 in a Mercedes-Benz 300SLR, in 1958 and 1959 in an Aston Martin DBR1, and in 1960 and 1961 in a Ferrari 250 GT.

In case you hadn’t realised yet, Moss was pretty handy with a race car, and by 1953, Mercedes were beginning to cotton on to this fact. The Silver Arrows’ racing boss, Alfred Neubauer, had been in talks with Moss’s manager about the possibility of him joining Merc’s Grand Prix team. At the recommendation of Neubauer, Moss bought a Maserati 250F for the 1954 season. However, reliability issues plagued the Maserati, which meant that Moss failed to score highly in points, even so, he still managed to qualify alongside the Mercedes frontrunners numerous times, demonstrating his driving prowess to Neubauer. The Italian Grand Prix at Monza sealed the deal, with Moss leading the race ahead of Fangio for 68 laps before the Maserati’s engine failed. Immensely impressed, Neubauer promptly signed Moss for the 1955 season.

1955 was a big year for Stirling, as he kicked things off with his first Grand Prix win during the British Grand Prix at Aintree, leading a 1-2-3-4 finish for Mercedes. This was big for Moss, not only because it was his first win operating in the top tier of motorsport, but also because it was the first time he beat his team-mate, arch-rival, and mentor, Fangio. Later that year Moss would win the RAC Tourist Trophy, the Targa Florio, and most impressive of all, the Mille Miglia.

 

At the age of 25, Moss drove one of the four Mercedes 300 SLR racing cars that had been entered by the manufacturer to compete in the 1955 Mille Miglia. Based on the W196 Grand Prix car that he had tested the year before at Hockenheim, the SLRs featured an aluminium space frame chassis paired to an eye-meltingly gorgeous magnesium-alloy body. Much of the drivetrain was shared with the W196, featuring the W196’s fuel-injected 2.5 litre straight 8 engine, which had been bored and stroked to 3 litres and boosted to 310 bhp. The result of Mercedes’ efforts is what has to be one of the most beautiful race cars ever made—just take a look for yourself.

The stage was now set for Moss to stun the world with one of the most spectacular displays of endurance and skill ever performed by a human being. We’ll be covering the 1955 Mille Miglia in the next part of this series, so be sure to check back for the next instalment of Bloody Heroes.

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