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A trident tribute to Sir Stirling Moss and all the wonderful and weird cars he endorsed

2020-05-17 16:25

Ferdi de Vos

suzuki_stirling moss

Image: Suzuki UK

Italian automaker Maserati has paid homage to Sir Stirling Moss, the British racing legend who died on April 12 at the age of 90, with a unique prototype of the Maserati MC20. This is the Trident brand's new super sports car, with a design echoing that of the Maserati Eldorado, the iconic single-seater driven on its debut in Monza in 1958 by Moss at the "Trofeo dei due Mondi".

Fittingly, Maserati chose May 13 to unveil this tribute car, as there is no doubt that his victory in the Monaco F1 Grand Prix on May 13, 1956, at the wheel of the Maserati 250F stands out in his illustrious career. 

Moss, who recorded 16 victories in 66 starts in Formula 1 Grand Prix racing, is one of the most successful drivers never to have won the world title. He came within a whisker of the crown numerous times and is known as the "king without a crown". 

Through this MC20 prototype with Stirling Moss's "signature", Maserati commemorates one of the greatest names in the annals of world motorsports, who wrote some of the finest pages in the Modena brand's racing history. 

Maserati_ Eldorado_250F_Proto MC20_stirling moss

Image: Maserati

However, while Sir Stirling's notable victories and outstanding races have been lauded far and wide, little mention has been made of the interesting, wild, wonderful, and (sometimes) weird road cars Moss was involved with - either by personal ownership or by promoting and endorsing them.

The versatile Moss competed in many road-going rally cars before the accident at the 1962 Goodwood Easter Monday races that prematurely ended his racing career. In 1952 he drove a Humber Snipe for the Rootes Group and, paired with John Cooper, completed the Monte Carlo Rally in an impressive second place overall in a Sunbeam-Talbot 90. In 1954 he won the Monte overall in the same model car.

He also accepted some unusual promotional opportunities. In 1952 he drove a Jaguar XK120 non-stop around the banked Montlhéry circuit in France to establish new international endurance records by averaging over 160km/h for more than 72 hours and also breaking the four days' record, the 15000km, 10000 miles, and 10000km records.

Stirling Moss with LWK 707 Jaguar XK120.

Image: Jaguar

The Moss-inspired Cortina Coupe

Shortly before the career-ending crash in 1962, Moss commissioned perhaps the most fascinating of his road car ideas. What makes it intriguing, is that Moss himself conceived the concept – a comfortable, yet fast, four-seater GT fastback coupe with reasonable fuel economy and an attainable price. It was also to be based on a production model to keep servicing costs down.

He approached Ogle Design of Letchworth to shape the car, and using a contemporary Ford Cortina 1500GT, designer Tom Karen converted the sketches into the final road car. Harold Radford Ltd of London created the distinctive coachwork for what would become known as the Ogle Ford Cortina GT Coupe. 

Moss himself first presented the car to the public at the 1963 Earls Court Motor Show. It was registered 'SM 7', and he used it as his personal transport for many years. Only one other example was made, and both cars have survived up to now.

With his racing career cut short, Sir Stirling maintained a high-profile public presence and carefully started to promote and endorse car and motor sport-related products. This led to another interesting project, when in 1968 Suzuki – then an unknown car manufacturer outside of Japan – approached him to help promote its Fronte SS 'Kei' car in Europe. 

suzuki_stirling moss

Image: Suzuki

Suzuki and GM

Together with TT motorcycle race winner Mitsuo Itoh, the pair in April 1968 drove two Fronte SS cars on a high-speed journey along the 750 km Autostrada del Sole that runs from Milan to Naples in Italy. With the small vehicles with 360cc engines, they maintained a respectable average speed of 122.44km/h over the distance.

The Suzuki project led to another exciting promotion with GM – an "officially approved" Stirling Moss version of a very un-Moss-like car; the Chrysler Valiant VG Stirling Moss Special, built in Australia. 

Limited to just 100 cars, this special derivative was effectively a luxury version of the VG sedan with a reworked Hemi six-cylinder engine. Moss featured in TV and print advertisements for the launch of the eponymous limited-edition model in 1971.

The next year Sir Stirling promoted another quirky product – a new British city car based on the Mini called the TiCi (pronounced 'titchy' to refer to its diminutive size).

Designed by Anthony Hill, Moss joined a tour of London landmarks with two tiny TiCi models and a bevvy of beauties. A total of 40 TiCis were built.

TiCi, stirling moss_maximum mini

Image: Maximum Mini

The GM link was still strong, and temporarily lured Moss out of motorsport retirement in 1976, nearly 15 years since his near-fatal accident at Goodwood, to compete in the Bathurst 1000 race, driving a Holden Torana with Sir Jack Brabham. They did not finish the race.

The Audi connection 

Then, in 1980 it was announced that Sir Stirling would 'formally' return to motor racing, sharing an Audi 80 touring car with Martin Brundle. While his on-track performances were mostly disappointing, the Audi marketing team exploited the full potential of his name to promote the latest Audi 80, using him on TV, in print ads and for public appearances.

audi ad_stirling moss

Image: Audi AG

Besides the limited edition Valiant, only two other cars became 'officially approved' Stirling Moss-branded vehicles – both having a direct link with him, and both with his personal blessing. 

Of these, the limited-production Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren Stirling Moss is undoubtedly the most famous. It was built to honour the legendary Mille Miglia victory of Moss and Denis Jenkinson in a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR in 1955. Only 75 of these special SLRs were made.

Launched in 2009, the SLR Stirling Moss features an open 'barchetta' coachwork with no windscreen or roof and is about 200kg lighter than a standard SLR.  With a supercharged 5.4-litre AMG V8 engine it can attain a top speed of 350km/h and accelerate from 0-100 km/h in 3 seconds. 

Another famous marque he raced for was Lister, and back in the 1950s, the Lister name was as synonymous with racing as Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and other well-known brands – thanks to the performance of the Lister Knobbly racers at Goodwood in 1954, Silverstone in 1958 and Sebring in 1959.

mercedes-amg-gt-silver-echo-hommage-a-sir-stirling

Image: Mercedes-Benz/Daimler

Moss lent his name to a special version of the modern Lister Knobbly continuation car: the Lister Knobbly Stirling Moss Edition. Limited to only ten units, made its debut at the 2016 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. Each is priced from a staggering R22.4-million at current exchange rates, and six of the ten are apparently still available.

Moss has personally owned and driven some interesting cars (for more information read the article by Gary Axon here) and many of these vehicles – whether road or race cars – live on to remind us of his exceptional talent and his love and fascination for cars and all things mechanical.

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