Stirling says his first ever driving experience was on his parents’ farm. “I remember taking the chain harrow round. I didn’t think about racing then, I just enjoyed driving, going up a bank we called the cut. I was first attracted to racing when I was fifteen. I used to enjoy reading about Prince Bira (of Siam]. He was a very good amateur.” In August 1945, aged fifteen and eleven months, the young Stirling decided to apply for his driving licence. He expected it to be delayed because of his age, but was surprised when it was processed straight away. The first car he drove on the road was a Morgan three-wheeler, which was waiting for him in the garage for his sixteenth birthday (purchased with £50 he’d made from his equestrian wins and the sale of the Austin 7).
In his biography All But My Life by Ken W. Purdy, Stirling explains how his parents were keen to instil a strong financial awareness in him, which meant that if he wanted something badly enough, he was expected to sell another of his possessions to pay for it. “I was taught that everything is attainable if you’re prepared to give up, sacrifice, to get it. I think my parents gave me the belief that; whatever you want to do, you can do it – if you want to do it enough. And I do believe that. I truly believe it.”
But when he was sixteen his father saw Stirling’s cheque book stub and discovered that his son had put down a deposit for a racing car. “My father was furious,” says Stirling, “he was totally against me wanting to race. He’d had a go at it himself and not got very far.” Alfred Moss confiscated the Morgan for a while and thus made his point. But it soon became clear to Alfred that his son was not going to become a dentist as he’d hoped. Once he realised that Stirling had definitely made up his mind to become a racing driver, he supported him completely, allowing him to enter driving tests and rallies. In March 1947, aged 19, Stirling won the Cullen Cup.
He worked hard even in those early years, firstly as the trainee manager of a hotel in Victoria, learning the full range of jobs, from barman to commis chef. But the long shifts and poor salary meant he had little time at weekends for racing.
His father offered him the position of farm labourer. Stirling agreed and moved back home. It was hard work, but he could now find the spare time he needed to devote to racing.
By 1949, Stirling’s reputation was growing, along with his confidence. In July of that year he raced in his first overseas event at Lake Garda in Italy, and won the 1100cc class by more than four minutes. Even more astonishing was the fact that in practice, he had out-qualified Mario Tadini aboard a V12 Ferrari. But the young Stirling wasn’t being taken very seriously.
Despite having won eleven of nineteen races by 1950 and set a new class lap record at Brands Hatch, his age was against him. Many believed that he would soon burn himself out. He needed to prove himself further. He entered the RAC Tourist Trophy race on 16 September 1950 and surprised his critics by winning the race against the odds, in the pouring rain, even managing to set a new circuit record. He was promptly asked to lead the Jaguar team for 1951. When he woke up the next day – his 21st birthday, not only had he come of age but he was finally recognised as a professional racing driver. Newspaper headlines at the time read: ‘Moss couldn’t be caught,’ and ‘At 21 he’s Britain’s speed-king.’