It is hard to imagine one motor race having such a big impact on the public. The Jaguar victories at Le Mans were reported in all the papers and there were even comments in the Commons I’m told, but Moss’ record-breaking win in the 1955 Mille Miglia took the country’s attention for weeks.
I was eight at the time but can still remember an uncle of mine giving me a copy of Motor Sport magazine which carried Dennis Jenkinson’s fabulous report on it. He rode shotgun in Moss’ 300SLR, being the first, they said, person to use pace notes in a road race. It certainly was a factor in the winning time being a record for the race, one that stood unbeaten in the next two years, after which the race was canceled.
Here is the Moss/Jenkinson 300SLR, resplendent with the start time of seven twenty-two am. It is just as easily identified by the twin fairings. The car, of course, had two occupants unlike others where the driver was on his own. Below is Fangio’s car, with just the one fairing. It would have had a cover over the passenger seat for better aerodynamics.
Moss became a hero, and a hero of mine. I followed his exploits, read up on his past glories with the help of an indefatigable librarian, whom I regret not thanking sufficiently. My family would supply me with press cuttings, taken from someone else’s papers as we were poor and could not afford such luxuries.
The Mille Miglia is no more but there is a 1000Miglia Storica, an annual event for cars which have taken part in the real race. The video is a bit on the long side but is a bit on the good side as well.
One uncle, by marriage, was ‘rich’. He was a dentist and used to send me his old copies of Motor Sport, which I had to return when read for the entertainment of those awaiting his belt-driven drill.
I tore a picture of a 300SLR from one copy, which I stuck to my bedroom wall. It was the car I always promised myself that one day I would ride in. I somehow knew I’d not drive it. I also had a picture of the car below, and for good reason.
I saw him race a few times, the most memorable instance being at Brands Hatch in the Redex Trophy. He was driving a blue Scagliatti-bodied short-wheelbase Ferrari 250 GT (#2119GT for us nerds), surely one of the most beautiful cars ever made. The picture above just doesn’t do it justice. It looks lovely stationary, but when on the move it is stunning. In the hands of Moss, going around Clearways in a drift, it is awe-inspiring. But the day of the race was so much more for me.
My father had a pre-unit 650 Triumph motorcycle onto which he had grafted a sidecar he had designed and built himself. It had sliding doors and could seat two adults in fair comfort, the cushions being garnered from old trams that were then being dismantled for scrap in Charlton. The charge of 1’6d was felt to be a bit over the top by my father.
I was riding pillion as my father accelerated along the A20, it being fairly clear of traffic after the perpetual traffic hold-up at Swanley. The road was downhill towards the junction with Death Hill as was. My father saw Stirling Moss exiting the Farningham public house so did no more than ride into the car park, then somewhat more extensive than it is now.
Moss was probably the most famous British sportsman of the time. That year he won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award. I had conversations with teachers about him. He was as near to royalty as you could get without being German.
So it came as a surprise to me, and more so to my father, to find that Moss did not, as expected, walk towards his car – an Aston I think – in company with a man I think was Rob Walker. Moss, much to the obvious irritation of his companion, turned towards us and by the time my father had removed his crash helmet was by the bike and pointing to the chair. He asked:
“That looks very clever. Did you make it yourself?” For over five minutes he was taken around the chair, shown the sliding doors, the sunroof, the little boot, the clever little window at the side so the passenger could attract the attention of my father, and the rather useful milk bottle rack in the front passenger footwell.
Tour over, Moss turned to me and we had a chat. I told him we were en route to Brands to see him drive the Ferrari 250. Moss told my father to see the chap on the gate of the paddock and we would be shown around. Off Moss went, through the respectful crowd that had gathered by then, and got into a rather nice looking green car.
At Brands my father told me that for Moss it was a very important race and not to get too upset if he’d forgotten to arrange our tour. But when we got to the gate a very pleasant chap presented himself to us and showed us around the paddock, taking us behind the tents and such and pointing out famous drivers and others.
No wonder I’ve remained a fan of motor racing since.
When I told the lads at school that I’d met Moss, they didn’t believe me. So it was that good.
My abiding memory is of Moss, the Ferrari leaning over to its left, exiting Clearways and giving us audio delight as he accelerated along the top straight.
I saw Moss some years later, around 1977, at the Elephant and Castle queuing for plumbing bits at a factors. Despite the fact that everyone else studiously ignored him, I felt I had to go up to him. I told him of our last meeting and how pleasant he’d been to us. He seemed pleased to be told. I said my father would be happy I’d been able to thank him.
He’s still famous of course, and everyone at the Silverstone Classic recognised him when he drove a Maserati through the paddock.
He drove the beautiful D-Type Jaguar, every boy’s dream car in those days.