As you know, Stirling Moss and I never drop names. Stirl, his wife Susie and I were discussing this at his house in Mayfair a few years ago. If you’re reading this column because you think it’s really part of the business section or you are a younger reader whose parents have failed in your education, Sir Stirling Moss was probably the greatest racing driver that has ever lived or will ever live.
He was also sexist, homophobic and incredibly patriotic.
I wrote at the time that his favourite part of the world was Tasmania, his favourite race the Targa (“the finest I’ve ever done”), his “number one driver” was Wolf Blass Chardonnay and his number two driver was Norman’s port. Stirl liked a drink and it was doing him good. He survived near-fatal smashes and household accidents like a fall down a lift shaft at his Mayfair home, remaining in better physical and mental shape than most of us until recently.
His official career spanned 14 years from 1948. During that time, he entered up to 62 races a year, not counting hill climbs, speed trials and rallies in 107 kinds of cars. He won 212 races out of 529 — including 16 Grand Prix — partnered Juan Manuel Fangio in the Mercedes Silver Arrows F1 team, won the Nurburgring 1000km three times, was a serious rally driver and at 81 was still competitive in historics.
It’s important to understand that, unlike today, the cars they raced in then were narrow-tyred, mega-powered, incredibly dangerous beasts. And racing was incredibly dangerous. In the 18 years between 1952 and 1970, 32 drivers died during Grand Prix races in crashes that were insanely gruesome. Drivers expected to die. As F1 driver Denny Hulme said: “We didn’t know any better in the old days. Now we’ve got the most incredibly hygienic circuits you have ever seen. Some people criticise them. They say it’s terribly boring motor racing. Yes, compared to the old Nurburgring it is … but it’s better than going to a funeral every Tuesday morning.”
Stirling was the first racer to become a brand.
But like some rare human beings, Stirl transcended the sporting stereotype. As Charles Jennings, the author of Burning Rubber: a chequered history of Formula 1, writes: “Moss was consummate. He was adaptable, highly professional, not a great boozer and knew the rules backwards. He was a complete driver and a completely modern driver. He was nerveless too”. In 1958, after his steering column snapped at 250km/h, Stirl drove his Maserati over the banked corner at Monza, rolling into the dirt below. He scrambled out and mused: “Well if this is hell, it’s not very hot, or if it’s Heaven why is it so dusty?”
That night in London, all those years ago, Stirl was telling us the story of his Shelby GT350 he raced in the 1992 Targa with navigator, Lady Susie, sitting beside him telling him what to do. He had earlier survived a head-on in a factory-supplied Falcon while he was surveying the course and a fine from a Hobart judge. He placed first in class and 20th overall. Soon after the rally Stirl sold the car for $50,000. As he told it, a couple of years ago, he got a call asking if he would appear on stage with the auctioneer selling his Mustang. Stirling agreed, Carroll Shelby joined him and the car sold for $1.2m. The world’s greatest racer cried.
Now, talking about car auctions, get excited, because you only have four more sleeps to bid on a money-can’t-buy Porker package at auction. The package includes the last-ever 991 generation 911 to be made at Porker’s Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen factory; a 911 Speedster Heritage Design Chronograph (watch) including a strap made in the exact same cognac leather as that applied to the interior of the sports car and a silver winding rotor that mirrors the car’s unique wheels; a personal, behind-the-scenes tour of the Porsche Weissach development headquarters — including experiencing the test track — on a one-to-one basis (keeping 1.5 metres apart) with Dr Frank-Steffen Walliser and Andreas Preuninger, heads of the 911 and GT model lines; and a one-of-a-kind book illustrating the assembly and completion of the last 991, including photographs and an original sketch by the Speedster design team.
The car is being donated by Porker Cars North America. RM Sotheby’s are doing the online auction. The auction closes at 1.00pm EDT on Wednesday, April 22. The 911 Speedster is offered without reserve, selling to the highest bidder. Want the package? Go to rmsothebys.com/en/auctions/0020.
Because I know you are hot for auction info of any sort, last Friday, on the 50th anniversary of the Fab Four’s break-up, LA’s Julien’s Auctions sold Paul McCartney’s handwritten lyrics to “Hey Jude” for $1.4m, or nine times estimate. A vintage Ludwig brand bass drumhead bearing The Beatles logo used at the Cow Palace Arena in San Francisco on August 19, 1964 sold for $317k, while a floor-standing brass ashtray used by Ringo Starr, who asked to have it at the band’s Abbey Road recordings in the 1960s, brought $50k.
For those four readers, including my two sons, following the progress of our upcoming TV show, we have confirmed a new segment: Coopers Cooking Bread Corner. It’s hosted by reader Kevin Cruickshank and sponsored by Tooheys. Kev tells us he has just made loaf No 2 (see last week) using Coopers Orange Label Mild Ale. The result? Delicious, says Kev modestly. I told Kev 3.5 per cent alcohol wouldn’t be suitable for our viewers and for the show he should only use Sparkling Ale with 5.8 per cent.
Of course one member of the team who won’t be getting a gig on the show is our night business editor, Peter O’Donnell who, after I sent the above photo into the office, asked: “Just for the caption, you’re the short old man on the right? Wouldn’t want to get it wrong!”