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Peter Giddings Racing

Return of the Maestro

My commute to London that. morning in June 1959 seemed to take longer than usual. Nevertheless, and despite the growing anticipation of the exciting day ahead of me, I still enjoyed my smoked kippers, along with toast, thick cut marmalade and tea served to me aboard the crack 'Brighton Belle' express.

My carriage, reminiscent of a bygone Victorian age, had the distinctive, yet not unpleasant, odour of horse hair, with which the seats were stuffed, and which occasionally forced itself through to prick back to alertness anyone trying to nap.

In front of me, laid out on a starched linen table cloth, was my silver electroplated breakfast ware and an ornate lamp straight out of the drawing room. All around was elegance and reserve; from the drawn lace curtains, to beveled mirrors, and the English countryside scenes executed in marquetry, and inset into polished mahogany walls.

Despite the apparent antiquity of my transport, to make Victoria Station in the hour, an average of 60 m.p.h. had to be set. Thus, Crawley, Haywards Heath and Gatwick flew by, and the impression of speed, to which I was already captive, was a stimulating one.

Finally, with the pre-announcement of Clapham Junction and Battersea, I readied myself for the melee of sharp business elbows and umbrellas through the ticket barrier, which could somewhat be avoided if one got to one of the carriage doors first, and carefully half-unlatched the massive brass handle catch. Then, while the British Railways Pullman was slowing to a halt, one could leap on to the platform - much to the annoyance of the porters, not to mention the less agile commuters still on board - and sprint for the green iron gates which, having passed through, I always felt, that once again I had truly arrived in my favorite city of London.

For exercise, I would half-walk, half-jog, with heavy briefcase in hand, up Buckingham Palace Road to the Palace itself, always checking to see whether or not the Queen was in residence, simply by looking for the presence of a Union Jack on the flagpole. Watching out for the traffic around the fountain, I would cross over into Green Park and thence to Dover Street and my office near Piccadilly.

As I came out of the park, I looked to my left to where I would be walking later on that morning to an ingeniously converted mews cottage to meet a man I knew very well - but who knew nothing of me.

There had been occasions at the Goodwood motor racing circuit, where I worked weekends every summer as a timekeepers assistant, that I had practically rubbed shoulders with Stirling Moss and he had, unknowingly, already set for me many standards and goals.

My regime across Green Park and back every day was part of an exercise program begun when I had learnt from an article about Moss that fitness and quick reactions were the essentials for his competitive motor racing edge - besides which, it seemed to me that looking as fit and wiry as he always did, was surely an important part of his success with the opposite sex, and many a time I had enviously caught sight of him in the west end of London, nattily dressed, with some gorgeous young lady on his arm.

I had already read everything about Moss that I possibly could. His graduation from a Morgan three-wheeler (I compromised on a BSA version) to BMW 328 to Cooper 500, resulting in that incredible first, and probably best, season of all in which he entered fifteen events and won eleven.

I, like his many other fans, respected and admired his allegiance, whenever possible, to British racing green; his incredible feats with the dumpy, under-powered, quasi-single seater HWMs, and his frustration with the awe-inspiring 16 cylinder BRM - preferring to sit and wait for it to be repaired rather than accept Ferrari's offer of a drive.
The world championship has never been the sole yardstick of a racing driver's greatness. However, it is clear that had Moss driven for Ferrari, he might now have two, possibly three, world championship trophies to add to his existing silverware, the combined weight of which is conservatively estimated at 300 pounds !

Knowing that Moss appreciated promptness, I arrived at his home a few minutes early. I was a good negotiator and my company had the rights to some exceptional Swiss dictating and hi-fi equipment. We wanted his endorsement - he wanted our product.

Nevertheless, I was a little in awe, and wondered whether Moss would display any of the aloof impatience for which he was somewhat, although perhaps unfairly, known.

My fears were groundless, and in no time at all we were talking electronics, and most exciting of all - motor racing. Once Stirling had apparently sized me up, I was taken on the grand tour, and I was struck by the youthful pleasure of the man showing off his achievements and gadgets to me, as if for the first time, whereas in fact many others had received the same impressive demonstration.

In his bedroom he twiddled with some controls by the side of the bed and from the ceiling descended a television. Further adjustment on the control panel altered the angle of the set. Another button was pushed and he told me that his bath was now being run, and that he had chosen the degree of heat. He then asked me if I had left my car in his garage, and upon hearing that I had walked to his home, he adjusted another control which confirmed that only his Mini Cooper was parked there, and therefore his secretary was out in her car.

In his bathroom, across the doorway, he had stretched a bar from which he did his chin ups.

We finally settled in Stirling’s office and on a shelf behind his head, sat a model of a Maserati 250F. This was all I needed to get the conversation back to my favorite subject and I was fascinated to hear that this particular racing car was rated by him as perhaps the most enjoyable one that he had ever driven. Not over-powerful, but superbly precise and driveable; an Italian thoroughbred; glorious with its multi-riveted fuel and oil tanks; aggressive, yet graceful. What difficulty I had concentrating on my work that day, and when I left him, I was on cloud nine!

Some time after this I was back at Goodwood. Stirling had been entered in a metallic blue and white Ferrari 250 Scaglietti short wheel base Berlinetta by Messrs. R. Wilkins and R. R. C. Walker. This was the 25th Tourist Trophy Race and that day, in August 1960, was a memorable one for me, and many others

In between practice, I was able to sneak away from my timekeeping duties and examine closely the Ferrari. It was the most beautiful racing coupe I had ever seen, and the scream of its engine was pure animal.

There and then I determined that I, too, would own and race a lightweight competition Ferrari SWB Berlinetta, just like Stirling successfully did on that day. It took a long time, but I finally achieved that goal.

Two short years after that exciting race, I was again at Goodwood, the scene of Stirling’s first ever circuit success way back in 1948. It was Easter Sunday and driving a Lotus, he was well up in fourth place when, on the 9 th lap, a gear jammed. Stirling’s race number was missing from my lap chart for several minutes while his mechanics fought to free the box.

A delay of only five seconds can, of course, ruin a driver’s chance of a place; let alone one of almost five minutes. Nevertheless, Stirling’s Lotus roared out again, now several laps behind Graham Hill.

Then I started to really sit up and tingle with anticipation, shaken, as Stirling began to drive like a man possessed. “New record,” one of my colleagues tersely muttered, as Moss quickly gained ground on Hill.

And then, without warning, it happened - through Fordwater into slow and tricky St. Mary’s, Moss’ Lotus failed to make the turn.

Sitting in my cramped quarters atop the pits, I felt my throat tighten as Goodwood’s accident officer , followed by a couple of his observer assistants, rushed in to collect the large tube cutters. I glanced inquiringly at Mr. Ebblewhite, the chief timekeeper - and it seemed as though our stop watches would drag to a halt; so fearful and oppressive had the atmosphere become. Nervously, I looked behind me towards St. Mary’s corner. Thankfully there was no pall of smoke, the most dreaded result of any motor racing accident. The St. Johns Ambulance Brigade were on the scene, together with the chief medical officer and some of my other friends who, like me, volunteered their time to work as course marshals, observers and so on, in order to taste and touch as intimately as possible their chosen sport.

But now as the news trickled in, it all seemed a little meaningless. “He is trapped in the cockpit;” “there are head injuries;” “legs look bad;” “one eye could be damaged.”

A friend, who was at St. Marys told me afterwards that while Stirling's car did slow somewhat, though not enough, it just went straight on into that very solid earth bank. Why did he not spin the car out of trouble, and more mystifying yet, why did he not decelerate correctly coming into the bend, as he had done hundreds of times before, in dozens of other races?

Like thousands of other motor racing friends, I refused to believe that Stirling Moss would not be back for more - after all, he had dumbfounded the medical profession before ... why not again? But finally, after many weeks, we all grudgingly accepted, with shocked reluctance, his announced retirement.

The media explained it in a variety of ways: “brain damage”; “a partial loss of sight,” “poor hand and foot coordination.” In reality, Moss, through intensive physical therapy and the sort of grit and determination that won him many an apparently hopeless race, had eventually overcome these handicaps.

What really caused him to make the decision was the fact that for the first time in his racing career, he was unable to graphically play back the accident in his mind and account for it, as driver error, steering failure, oil on the track, loss of braking, or whatever. Thus, the dilemma was … had he experienced a momentary loss of concentration, a sudden freezing of his finely honed senses and reactions, or had the accident itself and the injured unconscious result, blotted from his mind completely the circumstances? With no answer to this, Moss simply stopped racing.

Still, it was inconceivable that Moss had lost the art of racing to win, and over the subsequent years I searched my motoring magazines for news of his re-entry into the sport; but other than the odd low-key rally, and false rumour ... nothing.

Despite pinching myself quite hard, I could not wake up from my incredible dream; simply because I was not asleep; nor was I on “Fantasy Island”. This was the present; this was reality; yet it was nostalgia at its very best.

As the excited, voluble French commentator was reminding me, it was June 10th, 1978 and inconceivably, Stirling Moss was competing in yet another race, this time at the Le Mans circuit, scene of the second round of the FIA European historic championship. The anticipation of this race had been quite delicious.

This was going to be no demonstration - rather a no holds barred battle of superbly prepared historic racing machinery, driven by some very fine drivers indeed.

Favored as race winner was Willy Green, a driver of great talent and courage who, on several occasions, had matched, and even beaten the original lap records set by the D Type Jaguars and Maserati 250Fs in their day; on circuits little changed over the years.

Then there was Martin Morris who started racing in the late fifties with a vintage Bentley that had once been a break down lorry replete with crane. Subsequently he had beaten just about every record in the history book with his ERA, yet had done equally well with cars of more modern vintage, such as his Alfa 33/2.

Today Green was driving the JCB owned and entered D Type Jaguar that had four years previously shown me a clean pair of heels at the Watkins Glen Grand Prix meeting. I was driving my Ferrari 250 MM Barchetta and could only manage second place.

Morris was also D Type mounted, which car also had recently visited the U.S.A. having a very spirited race at the big Laguna Seca event.

Over the last few years there has been some suggestion in the British media that perhaps these top historic car drivers have the same abilities and prowess of the Hawthorn, Fangio, Moss and Collins of yesteryear, and many a heated debate to this effect has taken place over a warm pint of beer at the local pub.

Patently, no one was going to give an inch!

Anthony Bamford, “Mr. JCB” and enthusiast extraordinaire, had instructed his drivers Moss and Green to “race to win”, besides which it was just not in Willy Green's character to concede anything - and certainly not to the great Moss. Driving the 1957 Le Mans winning Jaguar D Type, Willy was determined to repeat history, and to reach the checkered flag first.

Stirling Moss, by the same token, from the “drop of the green” demonstrated that he had lost none of his competitive edge, and driving his beloved 250F, cannily stalked Green for seven laps, the Maserati's 20 year old Borrani wheels straining, as he steadily improved upon his 4 min. 49 second practice best, to a race record of 4 min. 36.7 seconds - 108.25 mph!

As if in acquiescence to history, all of the very fast Lister Jaguars, except for one dropped out and now we were watching Stirling Moss, the filling in the sandwich between the two D Types. And then it happened, with the same anticipatory tingle, first felt years before at that never to be forgotten Goodwood meeting, Moss became, once again, a man possessed, and somehow out-braking Green into the infamous - and now very slippery - Arnage bend, shot into the lead.

Through the subsequent curves, Green pushed the D Type to its limit and beyond, in a desperate effort to take back the advantage that he had proudly held for the whole of the race - but it was to no avail. Coming through the Esses, the D Type cried enough, spun and then spun again in an attempted last recovery.

To the jubilation of us all, Moss, once again, took the checkered flag!

There was hardly a dry eye as the victorious Moss stood to attention on the rostrum as the British National Anthem was played in celebration of his first ever win at Le Mans.

And so the full circle was turned, and Stirling had vindicated my belief and that of countless other enthusiasts around the world.

Subsequently, a fellow motor racing enthusiast, summed it up rather succinctly: “You didn't really think that he had forgotten, did you ?”

No, Stirling, I really didn't - not for one moment.