Stirling Moss: Rally Driver by Vic Quayle

Stirling Moss: Rally Driver by Vic Quayle

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He was one of the greatest racing drivers the world has ever seen, and he died earlier last year at the age of ninety. He was so famous in the 1950s and 1960s, that when traffic cops pulled over a ‘boy racer’ for some speeding indiscretion, the admonition would usually start with a rhetorical, ‘who do think you are? Stirling bleedin’ Moss?’ In those days, racing drivers were all-rounders, often entering a number of races at one meeting, in different types of car, including saloon, sports, single seaters and GT, and Moss was an exponent in all of them, and a superstar. What is less well-known is his career as a rally driver, and Vic Quayle has written a book about exactly that, documenting his entrée into this genre, starting with the Daily Express 1,000 Mile Motor Rally in 1950, in which he shared the drive with the dashing young racing driver Lance Macklin in a borrowed Aston Martin DB2. The book does not divulge how the pair faired, although one can only guess that they did not do well. His next big rally was the Monte Carlo in 1952 in a works Sunbeam-Talbot 90 MkII, with co-driver John Cooper, Editor of Autocar, and Desmond Scannell as navigator, who was the General Secretary of the BRDC. Remarkably, they finished second to Sydney Allard, in a car of his own manufacture, by a tantalising four points, and could have scooped the first prize, had they not incurred penalties for driving too slowly between checkpoints! 

His next rally was a couple of months later, and is of great interest to me, as my dad was Stirling’s navigator in his own XK120 fixed-head coupé. The event was one of the toughest in the European calendar, utilising the most difficult of the passes and routes used in the Monte and the Alpine rallies. Charbonnières-le-Bains is a mere dozen kilometres from Lyon, but it is 2,500km the long way round. I remember dad saying afterwards that being driven by Moss on all sorts of terrain and in all kinds of weather at speeds in excess of 100mph was something he would never forget. When he was allowed to take the wheel, to give Stirling a chance to rest, he was ticked off for driving too fast. Quayle calls Gregor Grant a racing driver, but he was, in reality, the founder and Managing Editor of Autosport, Britain’s motor sporting weekly, and he wrote up his account of the rally in his magazine.

Moss competed in three Montes, three Alpines, two Tours de France, two Daily Express Rallies and the East African Safari, co-driving with his brother-in-law, the Swedish supremo, Eric Carlsson, who had married Stirling’s sister, Pat, herself winner of the European Ladies Rally Championship no less than five times. After his life-threatening crash at Goodwood on Easter Monday, 1962, driving a Lotus Climax 18, he gave up motor racing, and rallying fulfilled his need to drive competitively. Having been in the Safari, he, and two others, embarked on an ill-advised venture in an ill-prepared Mercedes 280SE with an amount of ill-planning, that it veered towards the catastrophic. This was the UDT World Cup Rally in 1974, which involved a drive from London, through Europe and across the Straits of Gibraltar to North Africa, then across Morocco, Algeria, Niger, into Nigeria, and back across the Sahara to Tunisia, and a finish in Munich. Their German car literally fell apart in the middle of nowhere, and they had to be rescued from the desert. After that, Moss entered in a number of ersatz rallies, called Pirelli Classic Marathons, which were competed in by professionals, ex-rally drivers and racers alike, such as Roger Clark, Bobby Unser, Paddy Hopkirk, Gijs van Lennep and Timo Makinen, so there was a competitive edge to what would otherwise be a sort of classic parade. Add Stirling Moss to the list and one has an impressive Who’s Who of motor sport. These were the last events Moss entered, apart from, incongruously, lawn mower racing.

Mr Quayle has controversially included the 1955 Mille Miglia, and even provocatively poses the question, ‘But what has this got to do with rallying?’ at the start of the chapter. It was actually a thousand mile road race around Italy north of Rome, starting and finishing in Brescia, with cars being set off at one minute intervals. It was undoubtedly Moss’s greatest racing achievement, averaging a whisker under 100mph for just over 10 hours, so it would be pernickety to object to its inclusion. When my dad competed in the Mille Miglia, firstly in 1956, then in the last one held in 1957 in a Lotus XI, he was helpfully informed by Stirling that about 10km after the start, there was a level crossing with a precipitous drop on the other side. He said that he had bottomed his Maserati 450S there on a practice run, and dad’s Lotus had even less ground clearance than his big Italian monster. ‘It’s near a town called Pericolo,’ he added, breezily. Dad did not have the heart to disabuse him.

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