Al Moss an interesting life

The lineup for the start of the October 15, 1950 race at Carrell Speedway

Moss drove his MG TC from Sedona, Arizona and back again to enter a Concours at Paramount Ranch, California in 2005.

(Photo Ginny Dixon)

When you say “Moss” to motorsports aficionados, the name, “Stirling,” or “Sir Stirling” comes to mind. But for those who collect, restore or refurbish classic cars, it’s just as probably “Moss Motors.” Al Moss established and developed the company that became the largest supplier of classic and sports car parts. When many older cars would have had to be scrapped because repairs were impossible without parts, Moss came to the rescue.

Al bought a new MG TC, the car that initiated the sports-car era, in 1948. That same year, he opened his own shop in Los Angeles specializing in MGs and other foreign iron. In 1950, he started importing Allards and became the first Allard distributor on the West Coast. In addition, he became the first Roots (MG, Austin-Healey, etc.) dealer in Los Angeles. In 1952, he closed his shop to all makes other than MG and moved his operation to Santa Barbara. In 1963, he sold the shop and devoted all his time and effort to the parts business, specializing in British cars. Al sold Moss Motors in 1977 and retired in Santa Barbara. He moved to Sedona, Arizona in 1977 where he enjoyed the climate (cars and tools don’t rust) and gorgeous views.

But sports cars weren’t just a business for Al. Early on, he became interested competition. “One reason,” he told me, “is that I read about rallies and trials taking place in England.” So late in 1948, Al organized the first rally in Southern California going from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara. The following year, he entered his MG in races organized by the California Sport Car Club (then independent; not a part of the SCCA until 1962) at Carrell Speedway, a 1/2-mile dirt oval in a Los Angeles suburb. Never among the front runners, Al was usually a cautious driver. The very first post-war road race in Southern California took place on April 16, 1950 in Palm Springs. Al entered a Hillman Minx. The next race was held at Santa Ana that in June. Moss entered a Sunbeam Talbot. I can’t find any records that tell how he did in either one.

Al acquired the first Cad Allard (J-2) on the West Coast and entered it in the first Pebble Beach on November 5, 1950. Although entered as the driver, Al talked Michael Graham into taking the wheel. In a 12-lap preliminary race, Graham took the lead in the first lap and was never passed. In the main event—The Pebble Beach Cup—Graham was running second when he had to make a 2½-minute pit stop to replace a thrown fan belt and burst water hose. In trying to catch up, Graham set the fastest lap of the day. Nevertheless, he couldn’t catch Phil Hill, who won in his XK120 Jaguar. (All seven Pebble Beach races are detailed in my 2005 book, Pebble Beach Remembered.; 800-289-3504).

On February 25, 1951, Al entered and drove his Allard at Carrell Speedway. It rained cats and dogs the night before and the dirt track was a sea of mud. The first event was the “Trophy Dash.” Al made a bad start because he didn’t have his transmission in first gear when the flag dropped. Nevertheless, he was able to take third behind winner Phil Hill in his Alfa and Bud Satcher in his special. The main event was a 60 lapper. Al took the lead at the start, but over-corrected in the first turn. “The Allard front end bit into the mud,” he said, “and I executed three of the most spectacular flips ever, the car landing upside down with me trapped underneath. Luckily, I escaped serious injury.” Henry Manney visited Al in the hospital and said that he looked up while in his Crosley Hotshot at the car flying through the air and thought, “Hmm, DeDion rear end; must be Moss in his Allard!” Afterwards, Al told me that this ended his racing career. “I discovered too late, that racing was against my religion,” he said, “I am an orthodox coward!”

Because Al’s shop specialized in repairing MGs, he did business with Gough Industries, the importer. At the time, Ken Miles was the Service Manager at Gough, so Al and Ken became friends. (Miles, of course, became world-famous during the sixties driving for Carroll Shelby). Ken authorized Al’s shop as the first MG Service Dealer which enabled Al to purchase parts at a discount, do warranty work and receive service bulletins. When Miles built his first MG Special that won every race he entered during 1953, Moss was a member of Ken’s crew. Al contributed two pages of remembrances, filled with anecdotes for the 2004 biography I wrote, Ken Miles.

Al’s shop on Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles became an enthusiast hangout. Bill Pollack remembers that one time Moss told him that a parts customer was seeking a good driver for his J-2X Allard. Al gave Bill the phone number of Tom Carstens in Tacoma, Washington. To make a long story short, Bill got the ride and won the main events at Pebble Beach in 1951 and 1952 as well as winning the 1952 Golden Gate Park in Carstens’ car. (See my 2007 book, Golden Gate Remembered).

After giving up racing, Al became a Cal Club official. He was the Pit Marshal at races during 1951 and 1952. Afterwards, he was a Race Judge and, starting in 1956, the Chief Judge. His first wife, Joan, often did timing and scoring. Al’s last stint as Chief Judge was at the ill-fated December 7-8, 1957 Paramount Ranch event. To start off, Corvette driver Hugh Woods lost his leg during Saturday practice. Then, in the big-bore production event, Bob Sherrerd crashed his XK120 in almost the same spot and was killed. Al was visibly upset, but heaved a sigh of relief when we got through without mishap until the main event on Sunday. Dan Gurney, leading in Frank Arciero’s 4.9 Ferrari took the one-lap to go signal and the crowd started to disburse. But Jim Firestone in his Frazer-Nash Targo Florio crashed on his last lap and lost his life. The club, knowing Paramount was difficult, only let those of us with senior licenses enter. Even so, Al felt somewhat responsible and ended serving as an official.

But then, along came the vintage years. For many years, Al drove in Steve Earl’s Monterey Historics at Laguna Seca. Often he drove his original MGTC all the way from Sedona, Arizona, raced it, and then drove back home. Sometimes he entered his Three-Wheel Morgan, as well as the Ken Miles MG Special (R-1). On April 16, 2005, we had a Concours for old race cars at Paramount Ranch in California. Moss returned there for the last time, again driving his TC from Arizona and back again.

Moss and I were good friends and frequently talked on the phone. I would say, “Who is calling?” He would answer, “Moss.” I would ask, “Stirling?” He would say, “No, the other Moss.” That was our routine for years. Al summed up his talented life by writing (with Peter Egan) a wonderfully entertaining book, The Other Moss, My Life with Cars and Horses, available from Amazon for $21.96.

Al was born on January 6, 1927 in Cleveland, Ohio. His family emigrated to Southern California in 1933 in a 1928 Buick. He graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1945 and tried to enlist in the Army, but was rejected because of asthma. After studying engineering at Los Angeles City College, he apprenticed as a mechanic in an alignment shop, then opened his own shop in 1948.

In retirement, Al restored vintage British cars in his home workshop. In 1986, he bought John Von Neumann’s original MGTD Special and restored it to absolute originality. After vintage racing it “rather slowly,” as he said, for a few years, he sold it to Don Martine who occasionally vintage races it and keeps it on display at his Martine Inn in Pacific Grove, just west of Monterey.

After establishing Moss Motors in Santa Barbara, Al bought 48 tons of “obsolete” inventory from Standard Triumph in England. The parts filled four 40-foot containers and was the largest ever buyout of TR2-3-4 spares. Moss printed catalogs for MGs, Austin Healeys and XK Jaguars. Al’s successors at Moss Motors have continued the course Al pioneered and today, it is unsurpassed in the automotive specialty and vintage parts industry.

E. Alan Moss died at his home in Sedona on September 25, 2012 of pneumonia weakened by cancer. He leaves two daughters, Juli and Cindy from his first wife, Joan as well as four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Although divorced for many years, Joan and Al remained on good terms and at one time were business partners. Al also left his devoted “life-partner” of more than 26 years, Lynda, her son, Kevin, and daughter , Colleen, who considered themselves Al’s stepchildren.

According to Al’s wishes, there was no funeral. Two “Celebrations of Life” are planned, one in Sedona in late October, the other at Santa Ynez, California in early November.

[Source: Art Evans]