A young man in a hurry, Moss skittered across the street, his visitors panting behind him through the rain, and led the way into a Lyons Tea Shoppe. Seated at a corner table, Moss began sipping tea, in the quick, intense but not nervous motions that mark almost everything he does. Then he leaned back, carefully fitted a cigarette into a silver-and-black holder and lit it up.
"Racing, for me," Moss said, "brings the satisfaction of doing something really well, and with rhythm—such as you get from dancing or doing a really nice Christy in skiing. But the sense of great danger, the element of risk, is important too. That's what makes racing so climactic."
Moss dipped one of those sodden-crusted Lyons sticky buns into his already cold tea. He bit into it slowly and thought awhile. "If you feel too strongly about the element of risk," he said finally, "you just don't race. One thing—the more experienced you get as a racer, the more you appreciate the dangers involved."
His voice lightened determinedly. "Oh, I suppose I've had my share of prangs [British slang for accident]. Once, in 1950, outside Naples, I burst a tire on an HWM and jackknifed into a tree. I broke my kneecap and smashed my face, losing a lot of teeth. But mostly, I just keep losing teeth—and that's where my father comes in handy. He's fitted me out with plates and I always carry half a dozen spares around with me.
"My father wanted me to be a dentist too, but I just didn't have the brains. Then he tried to detour me into the hotel trade and farming. We have a place up in Tring—it's 200 acres and has 550 pigs and lots of cows. But I disliked farming intensely—you have to get up at 6 a.m. and put a warm hand on a cold udder. That was not for me, old boy!
"I guess all I ever wanted to do was drive. It's kind of an obsession—and I've spent my whole life around racing cars and racing talk. Even my mother used to race. She drove a Marendaz in the '20s. And this year my sister won her first race in an MG.
"As kids, Pat and I went with my parents to race meetings all over the country. I had my first car at seven—a battered old Lancia which I ran around the farm. Then I got an Austin Seven, which cost $60. I stripped it down to make it look like a racer. Just before my 18th birthday, my father helped me get a Cooper 500 and I started entering hill climbs. My first was Prescott. The whole Moss family went there as a team. We used a horse box from the farm as carry van and the old family Rolls as tow car.
"The Cooper arrived just the day before we left. I couldn't practice, but I managed to place fourth. Then I took eight firsts in my next eight hill climbs. Still we lost money, because the prize money was so awfully low then. At Prescott you get �10 for winning, but it costs �5 to enter.
"Pop and I decided to give me another year, to see if I could get onto a works team and make a go of it financially. In '49 I bought a special dual Cooper—one that takes either a 500-or 1,000-cc engine. Then I went over to the Continent, where the tempo's faster. I had a chance to see the big international stars in action—Fangio, Ascari, Farina and the rest. Towards the end of the year I got my first professional drive—that was when John Heath built his two-seater HWM. It had an Alta engine and was adaptable for either sports or racing events. That was the nearest thing England had to a Grand Prix car at the time. The HWM helped me in 1950 to get what every professional driver needs—a factory drive. That was for Jaguar, in their XK120 sports car."
Moss pushed aside the remnants of his cold tea and led the way back through the rain to the office. The atmosphere at Moss, Ltd. was still decidedly high-pressure. The secretaries were typing away and through the other door Ken Gregory, Moss's manager, could be heard in earnest conversation.