Following qualifying for this year’s Le Mans Legends Race, British idol Sir Stirling Moss announced his retirement from motor sport – following a career which has spanned more than 60 years!
The 81-year-old was due to take part in the 45-minute race driving his own 1961 Porsche RS 61 alongside co-driver Ian Nuthall. However after much deliberation the Englishman opted not to take part and instead hung up his helmet for good.
Although he would never capture the Formula One World Championship, Moss has been dubbed by many as the finest all-round racing driver in the history of motor sport – winning races in numerous classes and over many various distances.
In an interview published on his very own website, the Englishman described his 1955 Mille Miglia triumph as his best ever race. However in this edition of Memory Lane it is fitting to look at another memorable moment in his career, the 1958 Argentine Grand Prix – a race which made history in more ways than one.
Heading into the 1958 season Moss had signed a deal to compete in the Formula One World Championship with the Vanwall team. This year would be his eighth appearance in the sport and having already finished second the year before the London-born driver was gunning for that elusive first championship.
To compliment his commitment to Formula One, Moss also agreed to drive in various sportscar events for Maserati and Aston Martin as well as in Formula Two for Rob Walker Racing. Furthermore Moss would be allowed to compete with Walker in any Formula One event which Vanwall did not enter – something that was exactly the case in Argentina where Vanwall and fellow British outfit BRM did not enter.
Following pressure from oil companies, who believed that the cars would be better using ordinary pump fuel to increase advertising opportunities, the Commission Sportive Internationale (CSI) ruled that all commercial fuel would be compulsory for 1958. Consequently this led to competitors adopting the use of 100-130 Aviation fuel, a move which hampered BRM and Vanwall who would be forced to modify their engines.
Such changes meant that both teams would not be ready for Argentina, allowing Moss to happily enter with Rob Walker’s privately run Cooper-Climax.
However, even with the promise of the Ferrari and Maserati works teams and a whole host of privateers, the event remained in jeopardy as race officials struggled to raise significant prize money.
Once these issues had been finally overcome, the race would finally go ahead on a sweltering day on 19 January. From the onset of the weekend Moss knew that his car would be considerably down on power compared to the Ferrari Dino 246 and the Masterati 250. However as soon as he arrived on Argentine soil the Englishman would have an ace up his sleeve – thanks largely to the other new rule imposed by the CSI which reduced the minimum race distance to 300 kilometres (or two hours).
Although Dunlop had advised that the hot conditions would mean that tyres would not last more than halfway (40 out of 80 laps) Moss and his team were determined to last the distance and set about trying to outwit their opponents, even before the action commenced on track.
The major sticking point behind this decision was the design of the Cooper’s wheel tethers, which comprised of four-stud attachments rather than the single knock off spinner more commonly used at the time. As a result a pit stop for tyres would take around three minutes – virtually taking Stirling out of the running from the get-go. Therefore, as he explains in All My Races, a book written alongside Alan Henry, it was decided that the team would take the gamble and set out to fool its competitors into thinking they would have no other choice but to stop. This meant berating to rivals in the paddock, emphasising that his chances would be slim as he would not be able to last the race on a single set of tyres.
Thus the stage was set for Moss and Rob Walker Racing to dupe their competitors and snatch victory from nowhere. Nevertheless this master plan would take a lot of luck as well as careful and clever driving from Stirling.
Subsequently Moss would only complete two laps in practice, setting a time two seconds slower than pole man Juan-Manuel Fangio – placing him seventh out of only a ten car field.
Therefore, from the outside world it it appeared as though the Grand Prix would be a closed battle between Fangio and Jean Behra in the Maserati cars and Peter Collins, Luigi Musso and Mike Hawthorn in the Ferraris. However Moss was a man on a mission and would put his tiny Cooper in to the thick of the battle right from the off.
Straight away Collins would find himself out of contention, suffering a driveshaft failure as he engaged the clutch on the line. Meanwhile Behra had shot through to the lead on the first lap, only to lose out to Hawthorn on the second tour and then team-mate Fangio a few laps later.
As Hawthorn and Fangio continued to swap positions at the front, Moss began to work his way up into the lead battle, passing Musso and Behra before slipping past the second placed Ferrari as the race neared its halfway point.
Such was the pace of Moss that Fangio continued to push his Maserati hard, setting a blistering time of 1m 41.8 second on lap 30 which would not be bettered. However the Argentine could not keep this pace up and two laps later disappointed his local supporters by having to relinquish the lead.
Up until this point Moss had been carefully preserving his tyres but had also been forced to drive the race without a fully operational clutch, after his car became jammed in second only to free up after a stone had found its way into the interlock mechanism.
As Fangio limped into the pits on lap 35 Moss would now find himself with minute lead, as fading oil pressure had cost Mike Hawthorn precious time in the pits and Jean Behra had spun away any real chance of putting up a fight.
By this stage Moss’s strategy was fully underway with his rivals content to sit back, believing that he would have to stop. The team also played its part in enhancing this charade by hanging out pit board messages as Stirling drove past, which appeared to signal a countdown to an imminent stop.
Such was the success of this manoeuvre that Moss’s rivals did not realise that they had been duped until around 10 laps from the end when Musso and Hawthorn, now running a comfortable second and third in their scarlet cars, were ordered to pick up the pace.
With the bit between his teeth, Musso began carving his way into Moss’s 33-second gap, increasing the pressure on the leader who was now starting to badly struggle. After the tread had disappeared, Moss could soon see the white breaker strip which warned him that his tyres would soon be running on their canvas. As his rubber continued to disintegrate all around him Moss began to use as little steering as possible, mounting kerbs and on to the grass to limit the wear.
Despite all of the problems in the closing stages Moss duly made it across the finishing line to victory, around 2.7 seconds ahead of the charging Musso with Hawthorn completing the podium around 12 seconds behind.
In what was one of the most remarkable results in the history of the sport, Moss and Rob Walker Racing had out foxed the bigger factory teams to score an unlikely triumph. The result was even more significant as it was the first win for a privateer entry, the first for the Cooper Climax and all-importantly the first ever triumph for a rear-engined car – which thereafter quickly became the norm for design in the sport.
What’s more Stirling Moss had done it all wearing an eye patch after frolicking around with then-girlfriend Katie Molson, something which he himself believes would have prevented him to race organisers had knew of his plan!
Stirling would return to Vanwall for the remainder of the championship where he would sadly fail to capture the crown, losing to Mike Hawthorn by a single point.
Despite this, the memory of Moss’s driving and his attitude to racing continues to evoke strong memories for those who witnessed him in his prime as well as stir the imagination of those who were not around to see him compete.
As shown by his drive in Argentina and his other great achievements, the Englishman will continue to be spoken in high regard for many years to come.
Happy retirement Sir Stirling!
The 1958 Argentine Grand Prix
Date: 19 January
Weather: Hot and Sunny
1. S. Moss (Cooper-Climax)
2. L. Musso (Ferrari)
3. M. Hawthorn (Ferrari)
4. J.M. Fangio (Maserati)
5. J. Behra (Maserati)
6. H. Schell (Maserati)
7. C. Menditeguy (Maserati)
8. P. Godia (Maserati)
9. H. Gould (Maserati)
10. P. Collins (Ferrari)
Lang M. Grand Prix: Vol. 1 (Haynes, 1981).
Moss S. & Henry A. Stirling Moss: All My Races (Haynes, 2009).