Peter Wind­sor on Stir­ling Moss

F1 Racing - - CONTENTS - PETER WIND­SOR @PeterDWind­sor

As ill­nesses go, it was clas­sic Stir­ling. One minute he was in pre-Christ­mas Lon­don, din­ing with friends at the Royal Au­tom­bile Club and rush­ing around in his Re­nault Twizy, the next he was in Sin­ga­pore, prior to a cruise, and feel­ing a bit off-colour. At the time of writ­ing, he’s still there, which is a worry, but hope­fully there’s light on the hori­zon. It was only last week that he and his wife, Susie, were re­mind­ing me that Chardon­nay is Chardon­nay, wher­ever you drink it…

Which made me think that I’ve al­ways been a Stir­ling fan, but it’s only over the past few months that I’ve come to re­alise ex­actly how big a role he has played in my life – and how much of a trea­sure he is to motorsport in gen­eral.

He was amaz­ingly help­ful to me when I was start­ing out as a jour­nal­ist in the 1970s, and I was struck then by the in­ten­sity of his ev­ery­day life. He was mo­tor rac­ing per­sonied, yet for Stir­ling there was noth­ing more ur­gent than beat­ing the trafc and at­tend­ing to the wa­ter pipe that needed to be re-tted in one of his Lit­tle Venice ats. He’d zip over to the plumbers, buy the new part, race over to El­gin Man­sions and do the work him­self. Mario An­dretti would be win­ning some­where with a Lo­tus 78; Stir­ling would be ratch­et­ing a boxs­pan­ner in a tiny North Lon­don bath­room.

We’d chat about mo­tor rac­ing, of course, but not at any great length: there wasn’t time. I’d ask him about Fon de Portago, Peter Collins or Tony Brooks, but the an­swers would be short and to the point. Of far greater im­port was the im­pend­ing trafc build-up around Hyde Park or the cost of the new park­ing me­ters on Cur­zon Street.

Stir­ling bought his house as a bomb-site in 1963 and de­signed it to what would then have been called ‘space-age’ stan­dards. The TV that rose from the foot of the bed; the heated toi­let seat; the shaft that runs ver­ti­cally from liv­ing room to kitchen, fa­cil­i­tat­ing the sup­ply and de­par­ture of TV din­ners; the closet with its re­mote-con­trolled hang­ers; the hid­den speak­ers. That was Stir­ling, way ahead of his time. He was also one of the rst men in Lon­don to buy a video tape recorder; I re­mem­ber star­ing at it while he showed me the re­verse, pause and fast-for­ward func­tions.

I was so im­pressed that I spent ev­ery­thing I had on a sim­i­lar unit (a Philips). I couldn’t wait to try it but sud­denly re­alised that Stir­ling had a colour TV, while I was still us­ing my black-and-white Sony. I rang him with trep­i­da­tion:

“Stirl, do you think the video recorder will work with a black-and-white TV?”

“What?” he cried in dis­be­lief. “Only a **** would have a black-and-white TV!”

I drove up to Sil­ver­stone with Stirl when he was due to test his BTCC Akai Audi in 1980. He took the coun­try roads from the A40, up near Ayles­bury and his old fam­ily home near Tring. We were in a man­ual Audi and so I spent most of the time watch­ing his per­fect hand-foot co-or­di­na­tion as he heel-and-toed down for the round­abouts and slower cor­ners. He sat with his arms slightly bent, shoul­ders re­laxed, both hands hold­ing the wheel.

Later, dur­ing the lunch break at Sil­ver­stone, Stirl took me for a run in the BTCC car. There was no ex­cess steer­ing wheel move­ment; there was no ten­sion. Ev­ery­thing was calm and very, very pre­cise, even when he was bal­anc­ing a slide. We ac­cel­er­ated out of Beck­etts and down Hangar Straight.

“Blast!” he said sud­denly. “There’s a bar­rier up in the mid­dle of Stowe,” (which in those days was a very fast right-han­der).

“Hang on. Should be okay. I think we can just squeeze through…”

At 190km/h, po­si­tioned on the left-hand­side of the road, the bar­rier ap­peared to be solid. Then, as the cor­ner ap­proached and Stirl be­gan to nesse the car to the cen­tre of the track, I could see a gap start­ing to emerge by the left-cen­tre of the bar­rier – or be­tween the two bar­ri­ers as they ob­vi­ously now stood. He then braked hard, icked the steer­ing a lit­tle, changed down to third and straight-lined it through the gap… The tiny gap. We were prob­a­bly do­ing 150km/h. Many great driv­ers would have done this; many driv­ers to­day would be able to do it. This was Stir­ling Moss in re­tire­ment, though,

sup­pos­edly well past his prime. On the fol­low­ing lap, he slowed for Stowe and I was able to mea­sure the clear­ance: half an inch ei­ther side of the mir­rors.

I asked him dur­ing the drive back to Lon­don about his thoughts on the art of driv­ing – about what he con­sid­ers to be the fac­tors that dis­tin­guish the best from the very best.

“Oh, it’s all in the brak­ing and the set­ting-up for the cor­ner, old boy. Any­one can bal­ance a slide from apex to exit. The skill is in short­en­ing the cor­ner with your en­try, but keep­ing the car ab­so­lutely bal­anced and sta­ble as you do so. I saw few driv­ers who could do that. Fan­gio ob­vi­ously. And Brooks.

“Of course, it all comes down to the tightrope – walk­ing the tightrope. It’s all about bal­ance and feel. And what’s the point, old boy, if the tightrope’s only three feet from the ground? There has to be a penalty if it’s go­ing to mean any­thing to any­one.”

In time, and thanks largely to Good­wood’s Lord March, the mo­tor rac­ing world re­dis­cov­ered Stir­ling Moss. In 2000, he was made a Knight. He backed off (per­haps by about ve per cent) from his full-throt­tle life. Then, one day in 2010, by ac­ci­dent, he fell down the lift shaft in his house.

I vis­ited him in hospi­tal a cou­ple of days later. Sir Stir­ling conrmed that this had in­deed been one of the big­gest shunts of his ca­reer – big­ger than Spa, 1960, and not too far away from Good­wood in 1962.

I looked at the plas­ter and the splints – but then no­ticed the bruises on his arms.

“What hap­pened there?” I asked. “Did your arms catch some­thing as you fell?”

“Oh no, old boy. I re­alised that if I was to have any chance at all I would have to put my el­bows out and rub them against the side of the shaft and try to slow things down that way. Bit like a para­chute. Seems to have worked. Doc says I was very lucky to sur­vive…”

Cheers, Stirl. And yes. Chardon­nay, please.


Ever the pace­set­ter – on track and at home – here, Stir­ling adds the win and the fastest lap to pole po­si­tion at the 1955 Bri­tish Grand Prix

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