Stirling Moss’s antics on the Monte-Carlo Rally were a far cry from the flat-out drama of the Mille Miglia. But still his three successive attempts on the world’s most illustrious rally between 1952 and ’54 should never be overlooked – especially as he finished a remarkable second at his first attempt.
At the Goodwood Revival last weekend, Autocar tasted a small morsel of Moss’s rally experience when we drove the car – suitably nicknamed ‘Monte’ – that he hustled to sixth place in the middle year, 1953. Sixty-eight years later, here we were, four-up and feeling immense pride in taking our place in a huge parade of Moss-related cars gathered to celebrate his life, at the first Revival to take place since his death last year at the age of 90.
Stirling’s younger sister, Pat, became the more prominent rally driver in the Moss family, but before his Formula 1 career really took off in the mid-1950s ‘The Boy’s’ Monte exploits and those on the gruelling six-day Alpine Rally added lustre to his growing ‘all-rounder’ status. On the Alpine, run each July, Moss notched up a hat-trick of penalty-free runs, making him one of only three drivers to earn a Coupe des Alpes – or Gold Cup. Beside the 1955 Mille Miglia win and his roster of heroic F1 and sports car successes, it’s a relatively unheralded but still significant achievement – especially as the 1954 rally, run in unseasonal and atrocious weather, was so tough it actually made him cry. Not the sort of behaviour you’d expect from stiff-upper-lip Stirling Moss.
The rallying adventures were instigated by Norman Garrad, head of the modest competition department at Rootes Group, of which Sunbeam was a part. Moss accepted £50 to have a crack at the Monte and beyond the fee was drawn by the strict discipline imposed by the rally rules that mandated accurate average speeds over outright pace in those days. He loved a competitive challenge whatever shape it took and never did anything half-heartedly, which perhaps explains that second place in 1952.
On each occasion, Moss chose to run three-up, considering the weight a worthy compromise for the extra manpower he might need to manhandle his Sunbeam out of ditches in the event of any misdemeanours. His crew was made up by Desmond Scannell of the British Racing Drivers’ Club and John Cooper. Not that one, the other one: journalist for The Autocar. And it’s that link that led today’s definite article-less Autocar to be invited to drive the delightful ‘Monte’ at the Revival.