In the world of auto racing, Sir Stirling Moss is a mythical figure who pulled off a seemingly superhuman task: winning the Mille Miglia — a brutal, thousand-mile lap around the rural roads of Italy — in only 10 hours, 7 minutes and 48 seconds, averaging a staggering 97.96 mph. His record stands to this day, revealing the magnitude of Moss’ pluck. After all, he pulled off the feat without electronic assistance like GPS, traction control, or anti-lock brakes, relying solely on his natural instincts and the course directions from his navigator, Denis "Jenks" Jenkinson. On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Mille Miglia, we caught up with the 85-year-old Moss at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in Florida to hear his thoughts on speed, risk, and the glory days of flat-out racing.
What drew you to racing?
When I was 15, I read a book by Prince Bira [Bits and Pieces], and I thought what a wonderful life he must have, going to all these fabulous European circuits. And that’s what got me into it.
Racing was dangerous back then. Did that ever concern you?
One of the reasons I went racing was because it was dangerous. When you’re young, 20 years old or so, you do stupid things. Some of us choose to drive cars, others choose to fly, or whatever it is. From my point of view, I enjoy the ingredient of potentially being a bit scared. It’s difficult to explain if you haven’t tried it.
How about modern racing, which is far safer than it used to be? How do you keep it interesting?
Each of the 32 [or so] buttons in an F1 car is doing something. I always feel that is lessening the driver input. I don't think buttons should be allowed. I think motor racing would be a lot more exciting if it did away with downforce and wings. It’s not a safe sport. Bull fighting is not a safe sport. That’s what I found so exciting about motor racing; it was dangerous. If you had sufficient ability, you could cope with it more than the next man. The whole idea of racing is to be unsafe and get away with it.
Speaking of danger, what was it about the Mille Miglia that scared you?
The trouble with the Mille Miglia is that no matter what you do, you don't know what corner is coming; you’ve got to go into every corner realizing you might be going too quickly. It was the only race that frightened me. It was pretty nerve wrecking, really.
Tell me about #722, the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR you took to victory.
To me the 300 SLR was a work of art, a remarkably strong car. To take a car like that and race it a thousand miles, to have that balance when you’re driving at 130, 140 miles per hour and drive it on the throttle, it’s just fantastic. The thing that always staggers me about the 300 SLR is that it’s such a big car but it handles so well.
You’ve personified cars before — do you think of cars as people?
Well, they’re all girls as far as I’m concerned.
What kind of girl was #722?
She was the best. I think it’s most certainly the best sports car ever built anywhere in the world. All cars have a heart and a body and can be good, bad, or indifferent, just like women. You find a good one like I’ve got, and you keep her in the garage.
Do you enjoy driving fast on the road?
Now I go much slower on the road because it’s dangerous and you can lose your license. You have to take it to the track. I had a motorcycle but I never got into it; I rode a motorbike for convenience, but it never interested me.