Sir Stirling Moss, who passed away 12th April 2020 at the age of 90, was widely regarded as the best-ever British racing driver and one of the greatest worldwide. Although never World Champion, his record of racing success in Grand Prix (today’s F1) and Sports Car racing over a ten-year period 1951-1962 remains unsurpassed.
Moss competed at a time when driver and crowd safety had nothing like the supreme importance they have today and each year’s racing was punctuated by a death toll amongst drivers and spectators, (infamously the tragic death of over 80 people at the 1955 Le Mans 24-hour race) .
His skill and professionalism enabled him to survive those dangerous times, although his career was ended in a near-fatal crash at Goodwood in 1962.
Moss lived to race and raced to win, but unlike some of his hell-raising contemporaries, his approach was entirely serious and professional. He was a teetotaller who believed in rest and preparation rather than partying before a race.
Whilst he regarded racing as a serious business, he was a true sportsman. The outstanding example of this latter quality was his support of fellow driver Mike Hawthorn in the latter’s near-disqualification from winning the Portuguese Grand Prix of 1958. Despite having a rather brittle relationship with Hawthorn, Stirling’s willing support handed his rival not only the Portuguese victory, but as a result, the 1958 World Championship. (Hawthorn won by one point over Moss). Ever since, Moss has been frequently described as “the greatest driver never to have been World Champion”.
Sir Stirling had a long connection with the Maidenhead area, beginning with his family’s move to Bray when he was aged two. His parents were patrons of the irascible and eccentric Donald Marendaz, who built his Marendaz Special cars at the Cordwallis Works in Maidenhead. Both parents successfully competed in Marendaz cars in the 1920s and 1930s.
The family lived for many years at the now long-gone House of the Long White Cloud in Monkey Island Lane, Bray. Stirling and his sister Pat (later a successful rally driver in her own right) played on the Thames riverbank and generally “messed around in boats”.
In 1956, as an already world-class driver, Moss renewed his relationship with Maidenhead by joining Tony Vandervell’s Vanwall racing team as lead driver. Vandervell Products’ Cox Green factory was a world leader in the manufacture of Thinwall bearings as well as the development centre for the Vanwall racing car engines.
Stirling went on to win the 1957 British Grand Prix at Aintree in a Vanwall – the first GP victory by a British driver in a British car since 1923. He went on to win the Italian GP in 1957, thus achieving Tony Vandervell’s long-held dream of “beating those bloody red cars”.
1958 saw Vanwall win the World Manufacturers’ Championship thanks to the unbeatable performances of Stirling and his Vanwall team colleagues.
By the time of the Maidenhead Heritage’s 2015 Exhibition on Maidenhead’s Motor Industry (including Vanwall and Marendaz cars), Sir Stirling, although invited, was by then no longer fulfilling public engagements, although he sent kind wishes for its success.
Sir Stirling Moss made a hugely important contribution to Motor Sport and to Maidenhead’s history and will be sorely missed by us all. “We shall not see his like again”.
Robert M Cooper
April 14, 2020