My search for Stirling Moss
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
The Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb is one of the oldest motorsport events in the world. Since 1905 it’s been held in the same location and everyone from weekend cruisers to Juan Manuel Fangio has tested themselves against the country road weaving its way up a hill just outside Malvern.
Now it is my turn to drive it. Poised at the starting line, surrounded by moustached men in orange boilersuits (volunteers, but passionate fans of all things automotive), I find first gear and wait. A short countdown before the flag drops, and I’m off. Ripping past the crowds of spectators, I struggle to wipe the embarrassing grin off my face. At the top of the hill, I pull up behind a white Reliant Scimitar in the race car park and take in the almost cartoonishly gorgeous vista. This is what tourists imagine Britain looks like.
I’m on the track because of Sir Stirling Moss, the racing driver who died in 2020. Moss lived a full life but left it with the unusual moniker of being the greatest driver never to win a World Championship. I’ve come to Worcestershire to pay my respects at the event where it all started for him. In 1948, aged 18, Moss, a curly-haired boy from Berkshire, tried to enter his first-ever race. His application was put in the post near his home in Bray and promptly returned to him – the event organisers rejected his submission, which arrived late, and said they “didn’t know who he was”. The Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb was that event. After that first failed application, later that year he returned in a Cooper-JAP 500cc, and promptly won his class. He went on to win again, setting the fastest time – and the world of motorsport had its first glimpse of a future star: in 2021, the event unveiled a blue plaque to celebrate him and his achievements.
I’ve been developing a movie about Moss for some time and as a great lover of an “origins” film, I have been intrigued to discover where it all started. Moss’s automotive journey began on the rough paths in and around his family’s farm in Bray – his father leased Long White Cloud House until moving the family to Tring in Hertfordshire, where he bought a property called White Cloud Farm. It was at the original White Cloud that Moss bought himself the eccentric Morgan 3 Wheeler. Legally it’s a motorbike, so he could drive one at 16, but Moss, being a chancer, got behind the wheel at 15.
I’m also racing in a three-wheeled vehicle, the most recent iteration of the car that Moss himself owned. The one I am driving is called the Morgan Super 3. It has the same steampunk energy, albeit one with the engine now encased inside the machine; it’s also lighter than most Morgans, the brand’s traditional ash-wood frame having been swapped for one made from aluminium. The interior is simple and clean, it suggests vintage authenticity that feels evocative and cool while also being modern with a USB port, heated seats and digital screens. The original, perilously dangling motorbike engine has been replaced with a more conventional Ford car engine. It is perky and loud and, as the car weighs little more than a packet of crisps, it’s thrilling to drive.
Driving the Super 3 into the paddock at Shelsley Walsh, early on that Saturday morning, I like to imagine I feel somewhat like the teenage Moss. No, I haven’t been driven there by my parents (and they certainly don’t have a Rolls-Royce, as Moss’s did), but I find the atmosphere intimidating to start with, as the teenage Moss must have done. Not for long, however: the spectacle of the Super 3 draws crowds and soon I am surrounded by Morgan enthusiasts, petrolheads and Stirling Moss fans.
As for my performance, well, as the new Super 3 – much like the old 3 Wheeler – isn’t strictly race legal, it means I’m not allowed to be officially timed (the good people at the event have let me have my turn all the same). I like to think I made a sterling effort, though, and am suffused with a warm glow when one of the boiler-suited men gives me a respectful nod as if to say, “Not bad, young man, not bad.”
The Morgan Super 3 is available to order from £41,995