Pat Moss never became a household name, unlike her brother, Stirling Moss. The Formula 1 legend once said that women lack the balls – literally and metaphorically – to challenge the best men in motorsport. But he made an exception for his sister. In the 1950s and 60s she was the world’s leading female rally driver and blew all of her opponents – men included – off the track.
Pat was born in 1934 into a family obsessed with driving. Pat’s father competed in the Indianapolis 500 in 1924 and her mother drove ambulances during the First World War and also raced cars in trial events. Big brother Stirling taught her to drive when she was eleven. But Pat’s first love was horses, and she found her first driving lesson boring. At the age of eight, she won a string of pony events, competing against her brother.
Pat’s interest in motor racing started at the age of seventeen, when she started competing in her own Morris Minor, but ‘thrashed it a bit’ and sold it, together with a half share in a horse, to buy a Triumph TR2. Her first success came in an Austin Healey in 1958, when she finished fourth in an endurance rally in Liège, the first time that a woman had finished in the top 10. In that year she also met Swedish rally driver Erik Carlsson, whom she married five years later.
Together with co-driver Ann Wisdom, Pat won the European Ladies’ Rally Championship winner five times and continued to race with the men throughout the 1960s, including winning the Sestriere Rally in 1968. Ann had been an office clerk but took sick leave to compete in her first rally with Pat. When she was rumbled – her boss saw her photo in a motorsport magazine – she left the office for a life of racing. Much of their success was in Mini Coopers. At first, men laughed at the “two women in a funny little car.” But soon they got used to Pat beating them.
Although Pat was fiercely competitive with her brother, she never took up circuit racing because she thought it boring: ‘You go round and round like a mouse in a wheel and unless you make a mistake there’s no shock.’ Not that she made mistakes often, and when she did, it wasn’t with good humour. Once, when ahead of husband Erik in a rally, she crashed and ended up upside down. More concerned about her car than herself, she carefully removed the screws that held the windows in place. She was removing the final screw when Erik saw her, jumped out of his car and smashed the window to save her. Her response involved screaming and plenty of colourful language!
Pat later co-authored a book – The Art and Technique of Driving – with Erik, and continued competitive rallying into the early 1970s, by which time she’d given birth to a daughter and managed only occasional appearances. After she retired, Pat lived on the Moss family farm where she indulged her interests in gardening and cooking, both of which she performed with a cigarette hanging from her lips. But she still found room in her garage for an original Morris Minor. Shortly before her death, she incurred a speeding fine while towing a horse-box.