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Who do you think you are?

Campbell Spray remembers the influence of the great British racing driver Stirling Moss

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A GREAT SPORTSMAN Stirling Moss.

A GREAT SPORTSMAN Stirling Moss.

PA

A GREAT SPORTSMAN Stirling Moss.

When I was growing up in Britain, there were two people who dominated the motoring headlines; one was the Minister for Transport Ernest Marples and the other was Stirling Moss, the brilliant racing driver who died last week aged 90.

I shall come back to Marples's mixed legacy, but Stirling Moss was an inspiration to everyone. Although his Formula One career ended after a crash at Goodwood in 1962, some five years before I passed my test, his name was still on everyone's lips. So much so that us young tykes, with our £50 cars, desperately wanted to be stopped by the local bobby and asked the question: "Who do you think you are? Stirling Moss?'' And it did happen again and again.

The local constabulary just couldn't resist the cliche, even after generations had come and gone and Stirling's exploits were in the very distant past. Senna, Hunt or Niki Lauda didn't trip off the tongue so easily. And as for Juan Manuel Fangio, or, even earlier, Tazio Nuvolari, they never stood a chance.

Of course, Stirling put massive efforts into building up his brand and wealth, so much so that he could afford an elaborate Mayfair house in London which included a lift, which nearly killed him when falling down the open shaft in 2010, and a device so that a secretary on the floor above his office could deliver correspondence remotely for signing.

Stirling Moss was brilliant at all sorts of racing; from hill-climbs, rallies, speed trials, and, of course, Formula One. Despite many individual wins, he never won the overall championship, although under present rules he would have had it four times. He also spoke up against the disqualification of his rival Mike Hawthorn in 1958 which ensured that Stirling lost the title by one point to his friend and fellow British driver.

He was a great sportsman and very loyal, who was much loved by the crowds. He had also, I read last week, an "energetic bachelor life''.

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New Mercedes-Benz GLA

New Mercedes-Benz GLA

New Mercedes-Benz GLA

According to The Daily Telegraph, his friend Bob Walker remarked that "when he wasn't married, his only real hobby was chasing girls". Eventually he settled down, sort of. There were three marriages, with the final one lasting 40 years - and there's nothing wrong with that.

Bless you, Stirling.

Ernest Marples was another person entirely; a professional politician, who had once been a miner and postman, he became a controversial minister for transport for five years up until 1964. In his career he opened the first motorway in Britain, introduced parking meters, provisional driving licences, panda crossings, MOT tests, single and double yellow lines, and traffic wardens.

Many motorists and even more commuters hated him and I remember signs on bridges, hoardings and ordinary street walls saying that 'Marples Must Go'. Much of this was because he oversaw the Beeching Cuts which decimated the railway network in Britain just as the motorways were being built up, for which he had personally heavily invested in construction companies.

Eventually he fell from grace, was found to be using prostitutes, apparently liked being whipped wearing women's clothes and fled Britain facing tax fraud investigations before dying in 1978 while living in Monte Carlo - Somerset Maugham's famous 'sunny place for shady people'.

Moss was loved, Marples hated, but strangely it is the latter's legacy that is more around us today. However, Stirling's joie de vivre and great sportsmanship was a massive influence in my life.

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I've never owned a Mercedes-Benz but have often been tempted. Perhaps it is not too late. I talked to somebody recently who had always wanted a Bentley and now has one, bought in Britain waiting for shipping over when the present crisis allows. It's a 30-year-old Turbo R model which was one of the last really hand-built and stitched models.

Despite my love for classic, vintage and veteran cars, my Mercedes would be a lot smaller and more practical. I have always been attracted to the GLA, the company's smallish SUV/Crossover model.

It was launched in 2013 and you can probably get a good 2015 one for under €20,000. However, despite its nice looks, it really was not much more than a reworked A-Class on stilts. Unfortunately, it was also mostly available as a diesel.

There is a new one on the way and should be in showrooms when they reopen, hopefully sometime next month. It claims to have more character, space and safety than both the original one and the face-lifted version of 2017.

It stands taller, but slightly shorter, and the designers have given it added interior headroom for driver and front passenger, and considerably greater rear legroom for back-seat passengers. Boot volume has also been increased, helped by rear seats that can slide by up to 140mm.

For the new GLA, Mercedes-Benz places its trust in four petrol and three diesel engines which have been completely modernised. The entry model is a 1.3-litre petrol turbo offering. A plug-in petrol model is on the way.

Prices will be, accordingly to Mercedes, ''broadly in harmony with those of its predecessor". A host of safety and driver assistance systems looks impressive.

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I came to Ireland in 1979 as features editor of the Irish Press daily newspaper. Probably a strange appointment for such a West-Brit sounding journalist but I was well-qualified, even though some 'colleagues' refused to speak with me in English.

However, a great strength was Beatrice Mullen, the secretary I shared with the Business Editor, Irish Editor and Diplomatic Editor. She guided me through the many minefields of Burgh Quay, as well as protecting me from strange callers.

As the three others in the office spent much time out, respectively, at: AGMs and long lunches; eating crubeens and plotting; and embassy jollies; I mostly had the diminutive Beatrice to myself and we got to know each other well. She was great fun in and out of the office. She died earlier this month, and, in other circumstances, her funeral would have been a big gathering. Beatrice had a heart of gold.

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During the crisis, it's good to see the lights on the magnificent St Peter's Church in Phibsborough shine all night. It isn't my church, although being just a few steps from our house, but the stained glass - some of it by Harry Clarke - and the architecture is inspiring. I hope, despite being closed, it is giving comfort to many.

That's why we couldn't really be upset that someone had bedded down in our front garden the other night. How dreadful to be homeless in these awful times.

Stay safe.

Sunday Independent