Mercedes-Benz racing driver Sir Stirling Moss turns 85
- Legendary victory at Mille Miglia 1955 in Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR racing car with co-driver Denis Jenkinson
- Successful in the 1955 Formula 1 season in the Mercedes-Benz W 196 R Silver Arrow
- Today close ties with Mercedes-Benz Classic as a Brand Ambassador
Sir Stirling Moss is an exceptional motor racing talent. In the 1955 season, the Brit started out for Mercedes-Benz, racking up wins in the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR in sports car races and in the Mercedes-Benz W 196 R in Formula 1.
“We would like to wish Sir Stirling Moss many happy returns on his 85th birthday. His victories in a Mercedes-Benz at the Mille Miglia and in the British Grand Prix rank among the crowning moments of the 1955 motor racing season,” says Michael Bock, Director of Mercedes-Benz Classic and the Customer Center. “They are dazzling highlights in the career of the then young English racing driver.” Moss notched up his first Formula 1 win in the W 196 R Silver Arrow in Aintree and along with co-driver Denis Jenkinson, at the Mille Miglia in 1955, set the best time ever achieved in the Italian 1000-mile race: 10:07:48 hours, equivalent to an average speed of 157.65 km/h.
If Stirling Moss had followed his parents’ wishes, the Englishman born in London on 17 September 1929 and raised in Berkshire would not have been sitting in the silver-coloured racing car from Stuttgart in 1955, but in a lecture theatre: their son was meant to become a dentist, according to the wishes of Alfred Moss – himself one of London’s leading odontologists – and his wife Aileen. Yet, Stirling dreamt of a career as a racing driver. This vision was also inspired by the respectable successes of both his parents on racing circuits in England and North America as well as in rallies and driving skills competitions.
Moss’s first encounter behind the wheel of a motor car came on the family’s farm when he was just six years old. He obtained his driving licence thanks to a special permit at the tender age of 15. By then, he had long decided he wanted to become a professional racing driver. In 1948, Moss bought a Cooper 500 racing car and took part in his first race in the British 500 cc formula (Formula 3). He was assisted by the German mechanic Donat Müller who was working on the farm as a prisoner of war. Moss competed in 15 races, taking the chequered flag in twelve of them. It was the lightning start to an international career.
Pioneering a professional approach to motor racing
In 1949, he was already racing in Formula 2 as a member of the British H.W.M. works team, winning the Madgwick Cup in Goodwood in a Cooper T9 on 17 September. He became British Formula 2 champion in 1949 and 1950. The 20-year-old racing driver was not only making his mark on the track: Moss was one of the first professional drivers at the time to take on a manager who would look after his engagements and fees. As such, the Briton became a pioneer in making motor racing a professional sport. In 1950, Moss took the Tourist Trophy in a privately owned Jaguar XK 120, beating even Jaguar’s own works racing cars. The next year he would head up the Jaguar team.
In 1953, his manager Ken Gregory approached Alfred Neubauer, the racing director of the former Daimler-Benz AG, to ask about the possibility of taking on Moss. Neubauer had certainly heard of the Brit, but the team line-up had already been fixed for the return of Mercedes-Benz to Grand Prix racing for the 1954 season. Moss’s racing successes also appeared too fresh for Mercedes-Benz to expect a string of results over an extended period.
So Moss entered Formula 1 in his own Maserati 250 F in 1954. The private team “Equipe Moss” would later become “Stirling Moss Limited.” Among his triumphs in 1954 was third place in the Belgian Grand Prix. And at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, Moss got into a thrilling head-to-head duel with Manuel Fangio, the top driver at Mercedes-Benz: Moss held onto the lead, 10 seconds ahead of Fangio, right up to the final twelve laps; then an oil line on the Maserati broke; the fault would put him hopelessly down the field. Fangio won, but paid Moss the ultimate tribute, declaring Moss the actual winner of the race. Despite his limited options as a private driver, Moss finished the season in equal 13th place. The English fans cheered him on throughout his victories, and a wax figure of the 25-year-old racing driver took pride of place at Madame Tussaud’s waxworks museum in London.
Moss meanwhile gained a reputation for thrashing his racing cars. Yet for the Brit, the competition car was primarily a powerful tool that allowed him to cross the line as fast as possible. In the next season, this tool would bear the Mercedes star and be painted silver. The talented British racing driver had made a strong impression on Alfred Neubauer. After a series of successful test drives, in December 1954 Neubauer signed him up to the Mercedes-Benz works team for the 1955 season. Back home, Moss was heavily criticised by certain sectors for having joined a German racing team – and the most successful of the time to boot. The public’s disapproval did not sway the ambitious racing driver though, and he signed up for a total of 17 races in the W 196 R Formula 1 racing car, which proved so successful in 1954, and in the new 300 SLR racing car.
Moss made his Formula 1 debut in the W 196 R at the Argentine Grand Prix on 16 January 1955 where he took the forth place together with Hans Herrmann and Karl Kling. The highlight of the season was his victory at the British Grand Prix in Aintree on 16 July, ahead of his teammate Juan Manuel Fangio. In two other Formula 1 races in 1955 (Belgian Grand Prix, Dutch Grand Prix), Moss crossed the finishing line 2nd behind Fangio and finished the season 2nd in the drivers’ rankings.
The British racing driver was, however, truly in his element in 1955 when at the wheel of the 300 SLR racing car developed specially for this season. Mercedes-Benz was still using the W 196 R chassis fitted with the 3-litre engine from the 300 SLR (W 196 S) for the Buenos Aires Grand Prix on 30 January 1955. The 300 SLR then made its premiere at the Mille Miglia from 30 April to 1 May 1955. Moss won the 1000-mile race with his co-driver Denis Jenkinson in the best time ever set in the Mille Miglia. Moss also won the Tourist Trophy in Dundrod (Northern Ireland) and the Targa Florio in Sicily in the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR.
Moss brought home the World Sportscar Championship in 1955 for the Stuttgart-based brand. Yet, Mercedes-Benz withdrew from active motor racing after this successful season, and the British racing driver continued his career with other racing teams – initially at Maserati. In the ensuing years, Stirling Moss drove racing cars for teams such as Vanwall, Cooper, Porsche, Aston Martin, Ferrari, Lotus and B.R.M. He consistently showed himself to be a world-class driver who notched up numerous victories and excellent finishes in Formula 1 and sports car races.
Following a serious accident in the 100 mile race in Goodwood on 30 April 1962, Moss retired from racing aged 33. At the time, the Brit could look back on his racing achievements, including 222 victories in 495 races in which he took part in no less than 84 different car models. This versatility underscores the immense prestige which the English motor racing legend enjoys as one of the best racing drivers of his day. Stirling Moss, who was knighted by the Queen in 1999, also maintained close ties with motor racing even after the end of his racing career.
Moss became involved in particular as a Mercedes-Benz Brand Ambassador and eyewitness of one of the most dazzling eras in motor racing history at Mercedes-Benz Classic events.
Successes of Sir Stirling Moss with Mercedes-Benz
Formula 1 season 1955 with Mercedes-Benz W 196 R
Argentine Grand Prix (Buenos Aires), 16 January 1955
4th place (with Hans Herrmann and Karl Kling)
Buenos Aires Grand Prix, 30 January 1955
(Formula-free race, W 196 R with 3-litre engine)
Belgium Grand Prix (Spa-Francorchamps), 5 June 1955
Dutch Grand Prix (Zandvoort), 19 June 1955
British Grand Prix (Aintree), 16 July 1955
1st place and fastest lap
Formula 1 Driver’s World Championship for the 1955 season
Sports car races 1955 with Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR (W 196 S)
Mille Miglia (Italy, Brescia–Rome–Brescia), 30 April – 1 May 1955
1st place in overall classification
International Eifel Race (Nürburgring), 29 May 1955
Runner-up in overall classification
Swedish Grand Prix (Kristianstad), 7 August 1955
Runner-up in the sports car race
International Tourist Trophy (Dundrod, Northern Ireland), 17 September 1955
1st place in overall classification (with John Cooper Fitch)
Targa Florio (Sicily), 16 October 1955
1st place in overall classification (with Peter Collins)
8 September 2014