Motor racing," said Stirling Craufurd Moss, the handsome, bony-cheeked lad on the opposite page who at 26 is one of the world's great racing drivers, "isn't one of the arts, but I think it's as near to art as you can get, mechanically. There's a kind of poetry of motion to it, a feeling of rhythm, of perfect balance. When I was a kid, I used to enter a lot of steeplechase races—my sister Pat did too, and the balance between driver and motor, to my mind, is very similar to that between rider and horse.
"I suppose people race because of the terrific challenge involved. You try to conquer something—like climbing Mount Everest. But speed itself isn't the great stimulation. After all, speed's a relative thing—you can get as much thrill spinning at 20 miles an hour as you can get going a hundred on a straightaway. It's really the acceleration that's important. There's what I call the exhilaration of acceleration—and usually it comes when you're going around a corner. One of my most exhilarating experiences was in my first race in a Mercedes, in Argentina last January—when I opened the accelerator while cornering and could feel that the wheels were at their absolute limit of drift and I came within one foot of the side of the road. It is a fantastic experience, when you feel you've reached the absolute speed you can get with the absolute wheelspin."
It is an experience, incidentally, that Moss has enjoyed with satisfying regularity during the past year. In the season just ended he finished second only to the great Juan Manuel Fangio of Argentina in the world Grand Prix standings. The two, Moss supposedly not yet ready, Fangio the master, were each other's principal competition, even though, as drivers for Mercedes, they were teammates. Moss beat Fangio four times, once in a Grand Prix event and three times in sports car races. The first and greatest time was last May, when Moss became the first Englishman ever to win the Mille Miglia, racing his sports car over the tortuous, twisting 1,000-mile Italian course at an incredible 98 mph clip, a new record.
Out of his car, Moss hardly slows down. During a recent visit to his office, the walls of which are plastered with pin-ups of scantily clad starlets and pictures of Jaguars, Coopers, Maseratis and Mercedes-Benzes, he moved restlessly about the narrow room as two secretaries batted away furiously on typewriters. Occasionally he brought his lithe-muscled, quarterback frame to a halt behind one or another of the girls, to scan—in a quick, executive moment—the letter she was writing. "We get over 8,000 requests for photographs a year," he said to his American visitor. "We're Stirling Moss, Limited—became a limited company in January '51 and we're equipped to handle anything from a pin to a steam roller. Right now, it's only motor racing—but later on, it might be anything.
November 14, 1955
"People are much more enthusiastic about racing in England than in the States, you know. The spirit's different. In America you have chiefly Indianapolis and dirt tracks and you can understand why amateurs don't want to race there. We have more opportunities to race here and there's not much difference between a professional and some amateur who spends every spare shilling on cars. Last year, there were over 10,000 competitors' licenses issued in England."
A phone rang. Moss signed to a secretary to take the call.
"Oh, cracky!" he said to his visitor. "We'll never have a chance to talk. Look, let's get out of here and have a cup of tea."
He moved quickly out through the narrow doorway and onto the roof. The office is a kind of modest penthouse above a small building on William IV Street, in downtown London. On the first floor, Moss flipped open a door. "Is Pop here?" he asked a girl in a white nurse's uniform.
"No, Stirling, not yet."
He shut the door. "That's my father's office. At least, one of them. He's a dentist and has eight surgeries scattered around town. You really ought to talk to Pop—he's president of the British Racing and Sports Car Club and, you know, he raced at Indianapolis back in '24 and '25, in a Fronty-Ford. The 'Racing Dentist,' they called him. He won 15th place the first year. And ask him to show you that picture of himself taken with Henry and Edsel Ford, Barney Oldfield, Cliff Durant, the Chevrolet brothers—practically every famous, old-time American automobile figure is in it and it's a collector's item."
A young man in a hurry, Moss skittered across the street, his visitors panting behind him through the rain, and led the way into a Lyons Tea Shoppe. Seated at a corner table, Moss began sipping tea, in the quick, intense but not nervous motions that mark almost everything he does. Then he leaned back, carefully fitted a cigarette into a silver-and-black holder and lit it up.
"Racing, for me," Moss said, "brings the satisfaction of doing something really well, and with rhythm—such as you get from dancing or doing a really nice Christy in skiing. But the sense of great danger, the element of risk, is important too. That's what makes racing so climactic."
Moss dipped one of those sodden-crusted Lyons sticky buns into his already cold tea. He bit into it slowly and thought awhile. "If you feel too strongly about the element of risk," he said finally, "you just don't race. One thing—the more experienced you get as a racer, the more you appreciate the dangers involved."
His voice lightened determinedly. "Oh, I suppose I've had my share of prangs [British slang for accident]. Once, in 1950, outside Naples, I burst a tire on an HWM and jackknifed into a tree. I broke my kneecap and smashed my face, losing a lot of teeth. But mostly, I just keep losing teeth—and that's where my father comes in handy. He's fitted me out with plates and I always carry half a dozen spares around with me.
"My father wanted me to be a dentist too, but I just didn't have the brains. Then he tried to detour me into the hotel trade and farming. We have a place up in Tring—it's 200 acres and has 550 pigs and lots of cows. But I disliked farming intensely—you have to get up at 6 a.m. and put a warm hand on a cold udder. That was not for me, old boy!
"I guess all I ever wanted to do was drive. It's kind of an obsession—and I've spent my whole life around racing cars and racing talk. Even my mother used to race. She drove a Marendaz in the '20s. And this year my sister won her first race in an MG.
"As kids, Pat and I went with my parents to race meetings all over the country. I had my first car at seven—a battered old Lancia which I ran around the farm. Then I got an Austin Seven, which cost $60. I stripped it down to make it look like a racer. Just before my 18th birthday, my father helped me get a Cooper 500 and I started entering hill climbs. My first was Prescott. The whole Moss family went there as a team. We used a horse box from the farm as carry van and the old family Rolls as tow car.
"The Cooper arrived just the day before we left. I couldn't practice, but I managed to place fourth. Then I took eight firsts in my next eight hill climbs. Still we lost money, because the prize money was so awfully low then. At Prescott you get ¬£10 for winning, but it costs ¬£5 to enter.
"Pop and I decided to give me another year, to see if I could get onto a works team and make a go of it financially. In '49 I bought a special dual Cooper—one that takes either a 500-or 1,000-cc engine. Then I went over to the Continent, where the tempo's faster. I had a chance to see the big international stars in action—Fangio, Ascari, Farina and the rest. Towards the end of the year I got my first professional drive—that was when John Heath built his two-seater HWM. It had an Alta engine and was adaptable for either sports or racing events. That was the nearest thing England had to a Grand Prix car at the time. The HWM helped me in 1950 to get what every professional driver needs—a factory drive. That was for Jaguar, in their XK120 sports car."
Moss pushed aside the remnants of his cold tea and led the way back through the rain to the office. The atmosphere at Moss, Ltd. was still decidedly high-pressure. The secretaries were typing away and through the other door Ken Gregory, Moss's manager, could be heard in earnest conversation.
A phone rang and Moss hopped to it. Then the other one rang, and he was straddling both phones concurrently, like a circus driver mounted on two frisky horses. "Right-ho, old boy!" he chattered into the one phone. "I shouldn't worry if I were you. Just send your photographer over tomorrow morning." And, "That's lovely, just lovely, old bird," he purred into the other. "The 300SL has arrived! I'll test-run her right away. I'm leaving for Germany the day after tomorrow."
"Old boy" turned out to be an anxious local magazine editor and "old bird" the manager of the local Mercedes garage.
Manager Gregory, a slender, dark-haired man of around 28, came in with two fans. They were introduced, looking properly awed, given photographs and sent on their way.
"Racing fans are a very special breed, Stirling said. "But it's the ones who have the cars that pose the biggest problems. They're always asking you to take their cars out—they expect you to just pull the stick back and take off! It's a funny thing, though, you can learn a lot explaining things to an amateur."
The talk turned to Mercedes, the German firm for whom Moss won his finest victories this year to gain second place in world standings.
"For years," he said, "I always insisted on 'driving British'—and I still want to drive British, if I can. But it's in Grand Prix racing that you make your reputation, and Britain's not in a position, unfortunately, to race real Grand Prix cars. We were tops in the 500s and there was Jaguar, of course, for sports meetings—but no British company had succeeded in building a first-rate Formula One racer. If you smash a Cooper, you only smash up 500 quid—but a racer, like Merks, with tooling and so on, costs over ¬£40,000.
"In 1953, Ken went around to see Alfred Neubauer, the Mercedes racing director, to see if he'd give me a drive. 'Let's see what your boy can do with a Grand Prix car first,' Alfred said. So that was when we went out and bought a Maserati and raced her privately. We figured her to be the best Formula One car to have a chance against Merks."
Moss did so well nipping after Fangio and the others that Alfred let him try a test-run last December at the Hockenheim motorcycle track—the first British driver to sit in a Mercedes since 1939. After that drive, Mercedes signed him to a contract.
"Neubauer's like a mother hen," Moss said. "He sees you get to bed on time; and if anything gets in your eye, he'll run you right off to the doctor. They have been wonderful people to drive for, because they're very painstaking and will do anything to please you. The first time I drove the Formula One, I suggested they remove the antiroll bar—they'd lose 12 pounds in weight that way. Some cars need it, like your American cars with their soft suspension—but not the Mercedes. Alfred did it straightway. Then, in Argentina, after a trial run, I happened to mention that the brake was good, but I thought it needed a bit more pressure. He didn't say anything, but next morning there was a servo motor attached to the brake.
"With fast cars, you need stamina and very quick reflexes. You've got to be able to anticipate danger—the faster the car you drive, the faster you have to develop this sense of anticipation. I keep fit with water skiing, jujitsu, table tennis, lots of swimming and plain, old-fashioned physical training exercises. And I get lots of sleep and do very little smoking—I limit myself to five cigarettes a day, always in a filter. Also, no alcohol."
Moss looked at his watch and jumped to his feet. "Look, old boy, I'm going to try out a Mercedes 300SL—it's the first to arrive in London. Would you like to ride along with me?"
Moss's car, parked on the street outside, seemed rather an incongruously average one for an international racing star to be driving. "It's a Standard Eight, with a Ten engine," he explained. "I use it to run around town. I've also got a 220 Mercedes, for trips."
He careened off down the Strand, through clusters of Austins, Humbers, Bentleys and other Standards, driving with expected expertness—but also, great impatience, as if the car were part of himself and he wanted no interference, mechanical or otherwise.
He swung wide and fast around onto Waterloo Bridge, and a bobby gestured warningly at him.
"I guess he doesn't know who's driving," said his passenger.
"It doesn't matter—in London. British police just couldn't care less who you are. I've had my share of summonses. It's not like on the Continent or Argentina, where a racing driver's like a movie star. In Buenos Aires, the police expect you to drive in traffic like you were in a Grand Prix; small boys and bobby-soxers come up and kiss you; and taxi drivers challenge you to race down the main streets!"
The 300SL was waiting in a small suburban garage. "Pretty thing, isn't she?" he said, patting the low, gray coupe, like some steeplechaser feeling the flank of a Thoroughbred horse.
The doors flipped upwards, like a pair of butterfly wings; and, in a moment, the car was blasting along gray, factory-lined roads that resembled the outskirts of Chicago. "I don't know what idea you can get of my racing style—but you'll notice, I sit fairly far back in the seat, with my head back and my arms straight out. I model myself after Farina's style. When I race, I always dress in white, because I think a racing driver should look as smart as any player at Wimbledon; white leather boxing boots, white nylon coveralls and nylon socks."
He stopped for a red light, then rocketed off with great but frightening dexterity, leaving lesser mortals in their lesser cars plodding far off in his exhaust. "You know, most people think races are won by speed alone. But actually, you win them by your mastery of driving around bends and corners. As far as I'm concerned, the straight's only a road connecting two corners.
"The trick is to start round a corner using as little power as possible, so you'll be able to have more horsepower available coming out. Like this." He moved his hands and feet very quickly and the car began swaying out along a wide, wide arc, mounting up speed as it swept sharply around an intersection—and just skimming around an unsuspecting Hillman that, until a moment before, had been far ahead.
"That's the four-wheel drift. I don't know if you had a chance to notice, but I came in fairly normally—then, I put the brake on just the moment before we got into the bend. And, just before she started to break away, I accelerated hard and held her in the drift. It does call for a bit of throttle work."
Moss cornered again. "Driving is a little like bullfighting," he said. "Personally, I hate bullfighting. But the way a racing crowd can build up excitement is incredible—just as in the bull ring. The movies like to show lots of pile-ups. That doesn't do the sport any good. Actually, a racing car is the safest car in the world. Of course, when you push it to its absolute limit, there is a risk to it—we may as well face that. But when you drive, you have to have the courage of your convictions. Otherwise you don't drive."
He waved goodbye. His passenger took a slow cab home.