Featured The Hillman Minx and Me...and Sir Stirling Moss

Discussion in 'Motorsports' started by Tbear, Mar 21, 2018.

  1. Tbear

    Tbear
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    Hillman.jpg
    The Hillman Minx and Me ... and Sir Stirling Moss.

    It was a bright sun-shiny Saturday, unusually warm for the 29 of November, 1975, a very long time ago indeed. I was over at my best buddy Sam’s house and we were fixing each other’s cars. Sam and his wife owned a blue Datsun 1200 that they rallied and autocrossed. A few months earlier, I had been given, totally FREE, a 1965 Hillman Minx Series III, painted in a bright screaming orange paint with yellow bucket seats … and a completely melted wire harness. With some parts from a Sunbeam Rapier found at a local wrecking yard, the Hillman was going to be my new hot ride! All I had to do was get it running and out of Fort Dix, New Jersey, a piece of cake even if I could only find one color wire, red, to repair it with, which I did.

    Towards the end of that autumn day, the work slowed down and the beer drinking picked up. Sam switched on the radio so we could listen to A Prairie Home Companion on National Public Radio. NPR, as it’s known here in the US of A, is a radio station that broadcasts news and cultural programming … of a somewhat arcane, tweed-jacket-and–pipe nature, which is why we listened to it. It was during the news broadcast at the top of the hour, just before Garrison Keillor welcomed us to the PHC program in his folksy baritone, that we heard that over in England, Graham Hill had crashed his twin engine Piper in a heavy fog. On board were 5 other members of his Embassy Hill Team … and all were lost.

    Sam and I had gone to school together in the late 60’s. We sort of found each other because of our love for small European and Japanese cars and closed circuit racing (Well, there was also this little blonde at school I was interested in … but she had eyes for Sam. Her Dad had a black 1952 MG-TD rotting away in the garage and Sam wanted a shot at getting the car. So he dated the girl just long enough to get the car and pretty much dropped the blonde after he did. BTW … Sam still has the TD.) And … at that time both of us KNEW one day we would race sports cars.

    That Hill was dead came as a huge shock to us because Graham had made it! Graham Hill raced cars during the most dangerous period in motor racing … and he had survived! By 1975 he had retired from the cockpit and was running his own F1 team, a remarkable thing for a fellow who didn’t even start to DRIVE until he was 24 years old. Sam was hit the hardest; Hill had been his favorite driver. At one of the F1 GP’s held at Watkins Glen, Sam had gotten close to Hill, but was too shy to say anything to him … he would never have the chance to speak to one of his hero s again.

    It was a sad drive home that evening. I remembered all the F1 drivers we lost through the 60’s: Clark, Von Trips, Courage, Bandini Rodriguez, Rindt, Siffert, Cevert … the list was as long as it was horrible. Hill had survived … and now, even he was gone. Even though we, the 1960’s low-roller, below-entry-level sports car enthusiasts only knew these men through books, the news and magazines … and going to races to watch them work. They had become part of our lives; we followed their exploits, cheered their victories, and mourned their losses. Sam had a chance to make actual contact … maybe say, “Hey Graham … how’s it going for you today? Love the oars. Remember me to Bette.” … but it didn’t happen.

    I had to do something … but what? I couldn’t very well write to one of these drivers and say something like … “Hey, I love what you do out there and I’m glad you aren’t dead”. I double clutched the Hillman down into second for a bend in the road; every shift was double clutched in those days … and had a thought. Maybe my bright orange Hillman Minx could provide the key.

    You’ll remember, dear reader, that these were the days before the internet. International telephone service was still fairly dodgy even if you knew someone’s telephone number. But the US Postal Service was up and running with legendary reliability. I was going to write a “fan letter”, but I was too cool for that “fan” sort of thing. I had to tie it to something specific, ask a question … get an answer, as if it were. Research. Yeah … this could work.

    I was going to write a letter to Sir Stirling Moss, O.B.E., F.I.E.

    It took a little time to put it all together because I wanted my letter to strike just the right chord. Before I fired up my old Smith Corona upright (no computers in 1975 remember?) I had to do a bit of research … and work up the courage to do the job. I knew that Moss had competed in rallies back in the early 1950’s driving Sunbeam-Talbot 90s for the Routes Group, an auto consortium made up of Simca, Sunbeam … and Hillman. Hell, coming up with his address was a monumental task back in those days. I wish I had kept a copy of what I sent off to England that March.

    A couple weeks later a letter postmarked: Long Beach, California appeared in my mail box. On the back of the envelope in bold type were only two letters: SM

    24 March 1976.

    Dear Ted.

    Thank you for your letter, which made fascinating reading.

    Let me start by saying it’s always nice to hear from a fan, especially when he admits it took courage to write!

    Sir Stirling answered my somewhat trite questions about his time driving for Rootes Group and ticked off some of the competitions he drove in for them … including setting a record by driving through 17 countries in 5 days! He regretted that his letter was so brief, but his time was “taken up at the moment by working as race commentator for C.B.S. T.V. and working in a P.R. capacity fir First National City Bank over here at the Long Beach Grand Prix.”

    He closed, “Once again, many thanks for your letter, and in closing, I would agree that the Sport will be poorer without Graham Hill and to say that his death has confirmed my own fatalism” and sent his very best wishes. He included a card with his picture and a photo of him at the wheel of a W 196 Mercedes. In the upper left hand corner of his embossed stationary appears the crest of the BRDC, the British Racing Drivers Club.

    Moss letter.jpg

    You can’t even imagine …

    So, let’s see here. Sir Stirling Moss, O.B.E., F.I.E., took delivery of my letter at his address in London (England!!), put it into his case and carried the thing all the way from LONDON (as above) TO LONG BEACH CALIFORNIA (USandA)????? And then, while doing real important stuff with real important people, and LOTS of pretty girls, he finds time to write little old nothing ME a letter. And sent an autographed photo card along with it. It's amazing to think somebody like Sir Stirling Moss would take so much time to respond to a fan ... but he did. THIS, as they say, is some pretty heady stuff and it left a huge impression on me.

    envelope moss.jpg

    In retrospect, had I known Moss was going to be in the US, we both probably could have saved half on the postage, but I digress.

    Following his tragic accident in 1962, Stirling Moss retired from competing in motor races and took on the mantle of commentator, spokesman and ambassador for the sport, a job he took, and still takes VERY seriously. I think that it is THIS work that he will longest be remembered for.

    Stirling Moss Sunbeam Rapier.jpg

    The Hillman was not first car I competed in, but I considered it a step up from the somewhat pedestrian VW’s I had been driving. For one thing it was British and had all that countries’ motoring history and breeding going for it. I kept the Hillman for a couple years and it continued to lead a somewhat of a double life, part time daily-driver and grocery getter, part time autocrosser and rally car. The photo at the beginning of this article is of my Hillman watching an SCCA National Race at Lime Rock Park. It did a fairly decent job of getting me around until I holed a piston in on it on a road rally up in New Hampshire. We got a dnf for the thick cloud of white oil smoke that followed it everywhere, but drove it all the way home to New Jersey, almost 400 miles. Looking for something a bit more “sporting” (i.e., somewhat faster), I traded it off as part of the payment toward the purchase of a yellow 1968 MGB roadster. It was a step in the right direction. I rallied and autocrossed that car for years and even “did everything you can do in a car, in that car”, with a nudge and wink to Sir Stirling. Eventually, that MGB became my first racer and it did all right … until I launched it off a dune near T2 at Bridgehampton. It broke my heart, but I stripped it, found another and was back on the track in a month. I did some night races too … and raced on some of the very tracks that so many of my childhood heroes raced on. And yeah … my rides may have been just rusty old Hillmans or MGBs. But to me it was Formula 1.

    It’s now 42 years later. I still own an MGB, a green GT. I stopped racing about 30 years ago, but got turned onto sims about 3 years ago … and love sim racing to death.

    Racing on sims has proven it worth a long time ago. Big time teams, such as Ford, have built sim training centers around their racing cars, where drivers can test and practice without ever having to risk a million dollar car on the track. We all have heard of the many from among our number, especially young people, who have gone from sims into professional driving careers. Sims also provide a unique opportunity for the amateur racing driver to get track time … anytime he wants, something I dearly wish had been available when I was racing. Also, given respectful circumstances, the driver having no experience on a real track whatsoever can compete against professional drivers. Rain, snow or shine, everydamnday of the week.

    Immersion seems to be the current buzzword in computer gaming. There is no doubt that auto racing sims have come a long way and now, given the current 3-D headsets, sims are closer to the real thing than ever. So close to the real thing that some modern professional racing drivers cannot keep from acting like … well, some modern professional racing drivers … while on sims. It only takes a little effort to be a great ambassador for motor racing … and absolutely none to be a total ****.

    Recently I read about a “professional” racing driver, an American, who embarrassed himself by deliberately hunting down and ramming other competitor’s while racing on a subscription-based racing simulation server. According to several accounts, he’s been doing this for a while. After perhaps far too many complaints, he was finally perm-banned. His apology and explanation: “It’s just a game.” Reports indicate that in the days following this he sold his (reportedly) $7,500 sim rig.

    I wonder if this “professional” has any idea how many of the guys he sim-raced against are sitting at kitchen chairs with their equipment bolted to desks, and pedal assemblies steadied by heavy jugs of water … and they’ve apparently been beatin’ his ass too. But I digress yet again.

    In any event, I meant to get him a get-well card the last time I heard he was ill, but … you know. If anybody here sees Sir Stirling Moss, could you please tell him that I appreciate the kind words, held on to the old values, went motor racing … and had a ball.

    And say, Sir Stirling … have you tried sims?

    photocard Moss.jpg

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    Hope you enjoyed this article, leave a comment below and get ready for more from where this came from soon!
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2018
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  2. Paul Jeffrey

    Paul Jeffrey
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    BOOM!

    Welcome to the writing staff @Ted Duncan Jr with this awesome article :)

    Looking forward to reading more soon man, great introduction :)
     
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  3. Alex72

    Alex72

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    Great story, man. Thanks for taking the time writing it. :thumbsup: And congrats getting on the RD team. :)
     
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  4. Sam Smith

    Sam Smith
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    Fantastic read Ted! I look forward to more articles about your racing adventures. No matter how mundane it might have been to you, remember you raced in the golden age of grass roots motorsport. These stories are gold to my generation who have no idea how it was back in those days.
    Great to see another reporter on board at Racedepartment.
     
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  5. FJBH10

    FJBH10
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    Great story, keep an eye out for a crazy fast 'John Smith' on track, who knows haha!
     
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  6. Knoxstar

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    Great story Ted and Stirling is a great ambassador to the sport. I must be close in age to you and started going to Mosport when I was 11. I lived not too far away and would hitch-hike long before I could drive. Ah well, times were different. I have some pics still of my encounters with drivers. Many of them of drivers that perished in accidents at a later date. It was a tough time to be a fan with so many deaths. Like your friend I was too in awe to dare speak to most of them back then. I discovered sim racing in 1999 and let me tell you I'm absolutely obsessed although I don't race on-line much antmore. I'd love to see RD have a 50+ league or at least a few events. Take care, keep writing.
     
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  7. Enthilzha

    Enthilzha
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    Really wonderful article...a truly fascinating and evocative read.
     
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  8. T_rac3

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    A warm welcome and thank you very much for this story. It is exactly what we need now, in this fast moving times, when peoples forget about peoples around them. We must remember these great mans and for those who will become great, they are some beautiful life models.
    Can't wait to read next one :thumbsup:
     
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  9. robt100

    robt100
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    Lovely story Ted. Though the last bit made me feel quite guilty.......
    A friend of mine had actually went to Stirling Moss' home address to interview him a few years ago. He wrote to him and he gladly accepted the offer of the interview and invited him over! From what I remember he spent most of the day with him. The bit that makes me feel bad is he still had his address, but sadly, he passed away in a car accident last year and his wife during her 'clear out' accidentaly threw out the notebook with the address in, otherwise I would have passed it on so you could write again.
    But from what my friend said, he truly is a real gent, with time for anybody if he could.
     
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  10. Stig Bidstrup

    Stig Bidstrup
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    Thanks :thumbsup::)
     
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  11. Jason Mullin

    Jason Mullin
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    You know, this article just really made my morning.
    I sat down with a warm cup of coffee here in the mountains of Tennessee watching the sunrise.
    My usual morning routine includes that and Racedepartment looking for some juicy sim racing news, only to stumble upon this great story.
    Reading it felt like I was having a conversation with a friend as it was warmer than my cup of coffee, I thank you for sharing this story Ted.
     
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  12. Vlad-the-Impaler

    Vlad-the-Impaler
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  13. Vlad-the-Impaler

    Vlad-the-Impaler
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    Great article Ted - it struck a chord as my very first car was a somewhat ratty Singer Gazelle, purchsed in 1968 - the "upmarket" version of the Hillman. It had a walnut facia panel, leather uphostery and Jaeger instruments PLUS twin SU carbs - oh I really thought I was the dogs dangly bits, until I tried to keep it on the road that is!
    It was forever breaking down, rusted faster than you could say, "Jack Robinson", and was in hindsight a total dog...BUT it was my first car and I loved it.
    It lasted only six months before I got rid of it and bought a Ford 100E Anglia - don't ask!!
    Thanks for the article and bringing back some memories.
     
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  14. bsmooth

    bsmooth

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    Not many articles these days actually want to make me read them till the end, but this one did. Truly a gentlemen racer indeed, in a lot of ways he reminds me so much of Clark, and a little of Mark Martin as well.
    I'd love to know what he thinks of Sims, or If he ever really tried one. Might not actually be easy, because in a lot of ways he's probably very a much a "seat of the pants" driver who has to feel the car and what its doing.
    I actually had a Simca 1200S that was also a Roots car as well, that was quite an interesting car as well.
    Great Article and a good read ! Hats off to Sir Sterling Moss.
     
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  15. Jack.A.Lope

    Jack.A.Lope
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    A brief scan flashed up Graham Hill, Sir Stirling Moss and Garrison Keillor, and I knew before reading this article it would be a keeper! Excellent job, sir!

    But as a one-time subscriber to an online racing service who once dealt with a "professional" US racing driver who was a bit of a **** on the track, I wonder if that person was the same "professional" you mentioned i.e. could you or someone else point me to an article that references yours? I was never able to beat the scoundrel I mentioned because he was extremely talented at putting my virtual ass in the gravel!

    I hope to read you again, soon.
     
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  16. Paul Kelly

    Paul Kelly
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    Delightful read, Ted. Thank you for your unique perspective into the "good old days" and Sir Sterling. I too remember the Mosport and St. Jovite times and the very approachable drivers. Pretty good racing too. Keep them missives coming. Glad you've retired that Smith-Corona, not to mention all them Rootes ;-)
     
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  17. Tbear

    Tbear
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    An article found in Road & Track numbered among the source material I used. There are a good number of articles on the matter on the internet. https://www.roadandtrack.com/motors...suspended-from-iracing-for-intentional-wreck/

    I chose not to identify the driver because his name is not important to the story I was telling ... his attitude was.

    Sir Stirling Moss was such a fierce competitor that he practiced running Le Mans starts (!!!) and once cursed a driver at a race for clowning around and making everybody do it twice, but I never heard of him deliberately hunting down and ramming another driver.

    It's just not something that gentlemen do.

    This said, I am aware that there are a good number of pro and very good amateur drivers who compete in Sims and are very courteous and respectful to their fellows on the track. Most of them make use of fictitious user names, so you just never know who it is exactly that you are racing against.
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2018
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  18. Tbear

    Tbear
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    Howdy neighbor! I do the very same with sunrises and cups of coffee here in the mountains of North Georgia! Thank you for the very kind words. Hopefully we can keep having these conversations!

    Ted
     
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  19. Kevin Bradley

    Kevin Bradley

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    Really enjoyable read, Ted . Thanks for posting.
     
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  20. Fantasma

    Fantasma

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    Excellent article Ted! What a nice experience to have a response from Sir Stirling Moss. Congratulations, I´ll be waiting for your stories avidly.

    Alex Mansilla
     
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