Elliot Moss looks a size or two larger than his famously trim old man, but the resemblance to Sir Stirling was uncanny as he stood arm-in-arm with Sir Jackie Stewart and Damon Hill on the grid at Goodwood. They were gathered earlier this month in front of a stunning and large collection of Moss-related cars to pay an emotional tribute to Stirling at the first Revival to take place since his death aged 90 last year – although he was surely there in spirit.
Ahead of them all sat the glorious Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR, its number 722 bold in red across its nose confirming that here for one last time was the most important (and surely most valuable) historic racing car in the world. For it was in #722 that Moss and his navigator – short, bearded, bespectacled journalist Denis Jenkinson – conquered the 1955 Mille Miglia in a little over 10 hours, at an average speed just a shade under 100mph. Counting up the landmark Moss performances in Formula 1, sports cars and beyond would be the work of many pages, but for many people (this writer included), that win, captured so colourfully by Jenks’ famous report for Motor Sport, is the beacon for his status as the greatest.
Silent in retirement
There had been talk that Sir Lewis Hamilton would be on hand to drive #722 at Goodwood, and as wonderful as that would have been, it was better that the seven-time Mercedes-powered World Champion stayed away. Hamilton’s star power would likely have taken some of the shine away from the car, and instead it was far more fitting that mechanic Gert Straub took the wheel.
He may not be a household name, but Straub has served Mercedes for 47 years and for most of them has carefully tended to this most famous of racing cars. At Goodwood he drove it one last time with Stirling’s beloved wife, Lady Susie, sat beside him for a tear-stained goodbye to a wonderful car and an even more wonderful man. The next day, Straub too entered the world of retirement.
But what a shame that Mercedes is choosing to mothball #722 in its Stuttgart museum for now and forever after. Its rasping straight eight will be silent and never tingle another eardrum, because the car has been judged too valuable to be risked as a moving museum piece. Yes, it’s very special – but that’s exactly why it needs to be preserved as a living specimen, rather than a fossil, so that new generations can fully understand why it matters so much and why Moss making the best of it over 1000 miles around Italy all those years ago was so magical. It won’t be anywhere near as potent sitting silent in a museum forever after.
A ray of sunbeam