“On an old abandoned airfield, mighty craft of days gone by stand the challenge to the future, on the land as in the sky. Time goes by and as it passes, knowledge grows and standards rise.”
Especially in light of their passing, it’s imperative to recollect on the youthful days of our automotive heroes. Before every racing legend was larger than life, he or she was a fresh-faced driver entering the established ranks of motorsport, sharing the starting grid with a veteran keen on further cementing their legacy. That dynamic is on full display in this slice of FIA history, where we see the intersection of 28-year-old Stirling Moss and 46-year-old Juan Manuel Fangio as they battle for the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1957.
The everlasting gentleman that he was, Moss held the “Maestro,” Fangio, in high regard despite vying for position against each other as drivers within the FIA World Sports Car Championship. The 12 Hours of Sebring would prove to be a sweeper for the duo representing the Maserati factory team, with Fangio (along with co-driver Jean Behra) and Moss (Harry Schell co-driving) claiming first and second overall while taking the pole position in their respective classes.
After this race, Fangio would go on to secure his fifth and final driver’s championship before retiring from grand prix racing in 1958. Maybe it was boredom—he had been knocking down repeat wins, including his second consecutive win at Sebring in this clip—or maybe it was the friends of Fidel that eventually wore him out, after his kidnapping at the hands of the revolutionaries earlier that year. Either way, he had managed to outlive most of his compatriots by the time he hung his leather-rimmed goggles to retire in his home country of Argentina. (Maserati would also end its factory racing efforts due to a combination of shrinking budgets and rampant danger, notably the death of a dozen people during the 1957 Mille Miglia, including Ferrari’s Alfonso de Portago and Edmund Nelson.)
What’s really interesting to see here though is not just a snapshot of our favorite drivers, but also the relatively friendly atmosphere of the event. Both Moss and Fangio were presented the keys to the XP64 Corvette SS development car, something of a teaser by Zora Arkus-Duntov in an attempt to bait them as pilots. Fangio churned out a new lap record while Moss also broke the previous record, though a few tenths short of the Flyin’ Argentine. While in their own cars, Corvette SS drivers John Fitch and Piero Taruffi wouldn’t ever put down such a lap time.
“I’d like to be remembered as a racer,” he told Hagerty’s Jeff Peek in 2012. “Because racing and being a racer are two different things. If you are a real racer … it’s built into you that you’re fighting someone, and you take every benefit that you can.”
You got your wish, Sir Stirling.