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Friday, 31 December, 1999, 00:10 GMT
The epitome of speed

On the limit: Stirling Moss in typical form

"Who do you think you are," asked the traffic policemen. "Stirling Moss?"

It was supposedly a familiar scene in 1960s Britain whenever someone was stopped for speeding in an E-Type Jaguar or an Aston Marton.

And while it probably was not as common as legend has it, the story says something about the way Moss's name seeped into the national consciousness.

The young Moss heads for stardom in 1954
He was the epitome of speed, as well as the famous fearless British bulldog spirit.

Like other British heroes who ultimately finished second, including newly-knighted knight Sir Henry Cooper, it did not harm Moss that he never won the world drivers' title.

Four times he was runner-up in the championship, three of them to the legendary Argentinian Juan Fangio and once to Britain's Mike Hawthorn.

"I was a racer, sometimes to the point of driving stupidly," he once admitted. "I lost a lot of races because I drove harder than I should have or needed to."

Stirling Moss
1929 - Born West Kensington, London
1948 - started racing at 17 years of age
1951 - Grand Prix debut
1955 - Runner up to Fangio in Drivers' Championship for first of three successive years
1958 - Mike Hawthorn beats Moss by one point
1962 - retires from Formula One after 16 Grand Prix wins
Drove 84 makes of car to 222 victories in 506 races
It was the horrific accident that effectively ended his career at the highest level which confirmed his place as a national hero.

On 23 April 1962 he tried to overtake Graham Hill at 100mph around Goodwood's raking Fordwater Bend.

Moss's Lotus Climax inexplicably ploughed straight into an earth bank, leaving him so badly injured he lay unconscious for 32 days and was paralysed for six months.

The nation waited for daily bulletins, as he slowly came around, to utter the words: "I'll race again."

But he soon accepted that at 32 his serious racing career was over. He was lucky that his life had not also been similarly curtailed.

"It just wasn't there any more," recalls Moss of his ability and determination.

Exhausted with team manager Tony Vandervall in 1957
"A lot of drivers can race to get points or to finish, but I could never do that.

"I wanted to win and I wanted to race. When I came back I suddenly found myself thinking about where to brake.

"The simple process of driving instinctively had gone and I knew it was useless."

A souvenir of the accident - a twisted steering wheel - hangs on the wall of Moss' study to this day, although he can remember nothing about the day itself.

With Fangio, the man who denied him three world titles
Since then he has sealed his legendary status, continuing to race in veteran events, and forging a new career as a lecturer and attending corporate functions.

The 70-year-old can still be seen in London, weaving through rush-hour traffic on his scooter, but he is not much of a fan of modern motor racing.

"No longer a sport, just an interesting business run by some big companies," is his view, while recalling his own motives.

"I've always admitted I went into motor racing for the crumpet rather than the money," he added.

"We were in a glamorous sport and travelled the world. There were always plenty of girls who fancied a little affair but did not want to get into anything too lasting or heavy. That suited me."

His long-term personal relationship turned out to be third wife Susie, with whom he had a 19-year-old son Elliott, while there was also a daughter, Allison, by a previous marriage.

But he was also romantic about his love of speed, and it is for this that he has been awarded this latest honour.

Sir Stirling Moss: Now 70 years old
"It's been a wonderful surprise for me. I'm honoured and very proud," he said upon receiving the award as he cruised the Caribbean.

"It's been so difficult keeping the secret because you just want to tell everyone. I'm very grateful for the measure of success I have had in my career."

Moss traced his appeal to the patriotism he showed.

"I chose to drive British cars whenever I could and was tremendously pro-English. It's the best country in the world," he said.

And he admitted that today's Knighthood meant more to him than any of his 16 Grand Prix victories.

"I have no regrets about not winning the title. It was something I wanted very much but Fangio was the best driver in the world. This honour, however, is the acceptance of the British nation and that means more to me."

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Links to other Sport stories are at the foot of the page.