‘Who do you think you are — Stirling Moss?’ a genially menacing traffic cop would ask a hapless motorway transgressor. At the peak of his popularity as the most successful English motor-racing driver, Moss personified the glamorous daredevilry of racing at top speed.
Richard Williams, the author of this sympathetic, exhaustive anatomy of an international sporting hero, part-time playboy (‘chasing crumpet’) and ultimate family man, is a veteran sportswriter for national broadsheets. He has also written critically acclaimed books, including one with the wonderfully comprehensive title A Race with Love and Death. This new portrait of Moss is based on close acquaintance with all sorts of people involved in motor racing, and on research enriched by access to Moss’s diaries, notebooks and scrapbooks.
Between 1947 and 1962, as a professional racing driver, in cars of 108 different marques, Moss achieved 212 victories in 529 races (a fortune in prize money) and kept records of the dates, tracks, cars and most important rival competitors, which Williams now passes on. Obsessive fans of Formula 1 will no doubt be enthralled by this statistical account.
Moss was born in London in 1929. ‘It was thanks to a grandfather’s decision in the 19th century,’ says Williams, ‘that his branch of the Moses family of Ashkenazi Jews, transplanted from Germany to London, became known as Moss.’ Moss’s Scottish mother named him Stirling in commemoration of William Wallace’s victory against England at the Battle of Stirling in 1297. In Williams’s public-relations-savvy opinion:
‘Stirling Moss’ was perfect, a crisp dot-dot-dash cadence, distinctive, resonant, memorable. Easy on the tongue and with a headline-friendly surname in the bold type of tabloid newspapers.