Sir Stirling Moss: Still Stirling stuff

He retired from racing in 1962, but the veteran driver is on full throttle. Sean O'Grady hangs on tight

I was surprised to find that Sir Stirling Moss, a living national treasure, has something in common with a mere mortal like me: "I much prefer having a small car and driving the arse off it."

Which he then proceeded to do, with me as passenger, in a Smart ForTwo. We took it round the handling track at Mercedes-Benz World, at the old Brooklands circuit in Surrey. He pushed it, but Smart stayed out of trouble. He hasn't lost his touch.

Stirling had come to pick up a new Mark 2 Smart for himself and Lady Moss: "The understeer's almost gone, the steering's jolly nice and it's great improvement – but when they make a manual, that'll be fun." I'm not sure, however, that Smart will abandon its idiosyncratic semi-automatic gearchange. We emerged from the Smart with a whiff of warm rubber in the air.

For me, it was more disconcerting to meet someone who retired in the year I was born. Stirling, now a sprightly 78 years of age, last raced in 1962, retiring after a nasty accident cut his career short at 32.

Competitively, that is. He keeps himself busy on the historic rallying scene. A few years ago, for example, he relived his 1955 win in the Italian Mille Miglia endurance race in a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR.

"I'm the only old fart who does it. It keeps me young and it keeps me happy".

He's charming and unselfconscious, and probably the last public figure to use the magnificently 1950s term "crumpet". He has a genuine fondness for Lewis Hamilton – "Lewis stands out because he dresses nicely and looks the part" (just like Stirling!), though he disapproves of Hamilton going to Switzerland.

He also thinks the problems with Alonso would have been better if the latter had accepted a formal number two status, just as he did with the great Juan Manuel Fangio in the 1950s. Then the chances of finishing your career alive were below 50 per cent and "I never drove a car with an advert on it."

Stirling hasn't lost what he calls "the bravado of youth". So if you're a copper who sees a Smart with that distinctive number plate being driven briskly round London, you too can say: "Who do you think you are, Stirling Moss?"

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