Not long after Sir Stirling Moss took to the stage at Chelsea AutoLegends in a leafy corner of south London today, a heavy and rather persistent rain shower rolled in.
I’m not sure that many of the show visitors who had gathered to listen to him speak even noticed, let alone cared. Everyone was paying rapt attention to Moss, who remains an absorbing raconteur even as he approaches his 82nd birthday – now less than a fortnight away.
Every aspect of the Englishman’s career has been turned over in detail, but the stories bear up to repeat telling. Here are a few of the highlights from Moss’s chat on the stage:
On his decision to retire from racing, aged just 32, in light of the head injuries that left him a coma after a major crash at Goodwood: “I was too early making the decision [to retire], but going back and not being competitive was not something I would have liked. Jim Clark was coming along by then - our careers overlapped – and I could see the writing on the wall and thought I’d better get out.”
On the possibility of racing a Ferrari F1 car if he’d not had his accident: “In 1961 I went down to see the old man [Enzo Ferrari] and we’d made our peace, because back in 1951 I’d vowed never to race for his team after he shafted me over a test. We kissed and made up and he told me he would supply whatever cars I wanted. I told him I wanted a 156 for F1 to be run by Rob Walker and a Ferrari 250 GTO in BRP [British Racing Partnership] colours. He agreed and that’s what would have happened.”
On switching from professional motorsport to historic racing: “The biggest shock was that they don’t pay you for it. I was used to getting paid to race and when I started in historic racing I suddenly found it was costing me a lot of money.”
On stopping racing for good mid-way through a practice session at Le Mans earlier this year: “It was really quite easy. On the circuit I realised that if I tried to go as fast as I needed to in order to be competitive, I was going to scare myself – and I don’t like being scared.”
What makes this 16-time grand prix winner so engaging is the honest, matter-of-fact manner with which he deals with the highs and lows of his motor racing career. There is a great deal he could teach today’s crop of Formula One stars.
Motoring journalist Simon Taylor, who did a fantastic job of interviewing Moss at AutoLegends, described him as 'possibly the greatest living Englishman’.
I’d agree that he’s definitely on the shortlist.