On April 12, 2020 we lost one of the greatest racing drivers and Britons in Sir Stirling Moss aged 90. In a quite remarkable life in which Moss cheated death a few times, he crossed paths with Ian Fleming and inspired a short story that would find life again in Anthony Horowitz’s novel Trigger Mortis.
Ian Fleming’s TV treatment “Murder on Wheels” involves James Bond saving Stirling Moss from agents of SMERSH, who hope to sabotage an auto race and bump him off while he raced at the Nürburgring circuit in Germany. In the story, James Bond rode to the rescue, or rather drove to it, this time driving a Maserati. He is trained to drive the Maserati by a female racer to tackle the course and he eventually, defeats the agent by making him lose control of his vehicle and saves Moss life. [In Trigger Mortis, Horowitz replaces the character with Lancey Smith, who is based on Moss.]
Fleming wrote “The whole brunt of this episode is, of course, borne by the motor racing. Stirling Moss has, in fact, provided me with the two crash manoeuvres as described and there is little doubt that he and Mr. Vanderwell, who designed and owns the Vanwalls, would co-operate in the filming.”
Corinne Turner, Managing Director at Ian Fleming Publications Ltd. told ALR, “I had the pleasure of talking to him [Moss] about Ian’s script, Murder on Wheels, when we were working on Trigger Mortis with Anthony, and it is one of the highlights of my time with IFPL.”
The pair first met in 1956, when The Sunday Times asked them along with Godfrey Smith to attend the London Motor Show in Earls Court for a piece called ‘Three Men at the Motor Show’ published on October 21, 1956. All three men gave their opinions about the best in show that ended with this exchange:
FLEMING: If you could have your pick of the cars, what would it be?
MOSS: I’ll have an Aston Martin DB 2.4 saloon if you’ll quieten the engine a trifle. Off-white and silver-green.
SMITH: I’ll have a Continental Bentley.
FLEMING: An Austin 105 Station Wagon for me. Elephant’s-breath grey.
MOSS: One thing we do agree on, then. We’re all going to go on driving British.
Fleming did manage to get an Aston into the pages of Goldfinger in 1959, the only time literary Bond drove an Aston Martin, “a grey DB Mark III from the secret service pool with headlights that change colour, a reinforced bumper, a radio receiver and a Colt .45 in a secret compartment.
And in real life, Moss famously did drive an Aston Martin – the DBR1. The “most important Aston Martin ever produced” and one of five ever produced to race at Le Mans, the one Moss drove sold for £17.5m at Sotheby’s in California in 2015.
It is testament to Moss that he is the only real-life celebrity mentioned in any of Fleming’s work. But Moss’ biggest 007 moment came in 1967 with his brief cameo performance in the spoof Peter Sellers Bond movie, ‘Casino Royale’, playing a chauffeur. “Follow that car!” he was instructed.
In a full circuit moment, Moss wrote the introduction for the majestic ‘Bentley Edition’ of Casino Royale in 2013. Sir Stirling Moss comments: ‘When it came to cars Fleming really knew his stuff… he must have known that the fabulous pre-war Bentleys won at Le Mans four years in a row from 1927-30.’
About the Bentley, he wrote:
The Bentley had a lot of power, so you would have been able to use the accelerator quite a bit, but like any fast car of the period, it would have been difficult to stop.
When you read the car chase scenes in Casino Royale, it’s clear Fleming has a feel for the car for what it took to drive one fast.
‘Bond drove it hard and well and with an almost sensual pleasure,’ the book says, and you can imagine Fleming on those clear, open post-war roads, doing just the same.
– Sir Stirling Moss, 2013
Moss did not waste a drop of life and indeed, shared much in common with James Bond. We will miss him.
The Times obituary for Godfrey Smith, future editor of the Sunday Times notes that “His first job after Oxford was as personal assistant to Lord Kemsley, owner of The Sunday Times. In 1956, he was appointed news editor, where he got to know Ian Fleming, who was the foreign manager. When Fleming’s first James Bond book, Casino Royale, was published he gave Smith a signed copy. Among his reporters was John Pearson… They were to become lifelong friends, with Pearson always referring to Smith as ‘the Guvnor’.”
[Featured imaged by Tim Hain]