Wednesday, February 08, 2006

"Stirling Moss" by Robert Edwards - Book Review

Stirling Moss - by Robert Edwards

The highlights of the Moss legend are well enough known: The Mille Miglia victory in 1955. His win in a private Lotus against the then-dominant sharknose Ferraris at Monaco in 1961. His speaking out against the disqualification of his rival Mike Hawthorn, at Rheims in 1958, thus ending his own world championship campaign. The fact that he is widely regarded to be the best driver never to win the world driver's championship. Two of the finest journalists in motorsport, Nigel Roebuck and Mike Lawrence, would go further and identify him as the best of the lot, a contentious claim which Moss himself, who has always regarded Juan Manuel Fangio as the yardstick by whom all shall be measured, would never have agreed with.

However, as someone born some sixteen years after the Easter Monday crash which ended Moss's career, there was much that I did not know about his life and his racing career. This book does an excellent job of filling in some of the gaps. I may have been well aware that John Cooper built the first post-war rear wheel drive car to win a race, but I had no idea that Moss had been the man at the wheel. Nor of the extraordinary nature of that victory, against much stronger oppositon. Equally, while I knew that Moss had raced sports cars, I didn't know he had won the world sports car championship. Edwards' description of Moss's win at the Nurburgring in an Aston Martin in 1958, after his journeyman team mate had lost time hauling the car out of a ditch, illustrates a victory every bit as remarkable as any he achieved in an Grand Prix car.

He also succeeds in giving a flavour of the man himself which, refreshingly reads neither as hagiography nor as an affirmation of what the author describes as "the cliche that genius is necessarily flawed. It is interesting, also, to discover the root of Moss's animus with Enzo Ferrari - a simple matter of an early verbal agreement not honoured. He didn't think much more of Colin Chapman either, to judge by his remark that "I believe in God insofar as I don't believe its fair that I should be killed because a wheel falls off a car built by some ****** like Colin Chapman."

What the book is not, and does not pretend to be, is a blow-by-blow and race by race account of Moss's career. On the whole, Edwards' approach of instead describing selected races in considerable detail works well, and makes for a very readable account, even if on occasion, you find yourself thinking "wait a minute, when did he start driving for HWM?". There is, usefully, a full list of his race results as an appendix to the book (though it omits his early 80s British Touring Car comeback, something Moss himself is said to now regret).

If I have any complaints, they are firstly, that the book is too short, and would benefit from a little more detail and secondly that, like so many fans of historic motorsport, Edwards falls into the trap of needlessly denigrating the modern sport. In one place, he implies that nowadays, money is the only factor which dictates how a driver progresses and that this had somehow once not been the case. And yet in his own book, Edwards makes quite clear that Alfred Moss's purchase of a Maserati 250F for his son played a vital role in getting him noticed in F1. Say what you will about the likes of Monteiro and Albers, but neither have gone so far as to purchase their own car! The truth of the matter is that in one respect, Grand Prix racing hasn't changed all that much - poor kids from the slums in Sao Paulo or Calcutta don't and never have become F1 drivers. Money has always been necessary and it has never been enough.

I can't say whether this book will be of interest, or provide any new information to afficionados of 1950s motorsport, or diehard fans of Stirling Moss. Personally, though, I found this a highly enjoyable, informative read and enough to encourage me to go hunt down his other motorsport biograghy, his tale of the severely disabled, and very successful racing driver, Archie and the Listers.


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