Notes From The Archives – The Other Moss

January 3rd, 2019 by James Chartres

The Other Moss

Words by:  Gary Horstkorta – October 2018

Cover Photo: Bill Pollack in a Cadillac Allard on the pole for 1951 Golden Gate Park

Usually when someone mentions the name Moss in a racing context, the first full name that comes to mind is Stirling Moss. Generally accepted as one of the greatest all-around drivers of his era, moss raced everything from Formula 500, sports cars, Grand Prix cars and even set many land speed records at Bonneville.

However, the Moss I am writing about is The Other Moss (title of his autobiography), Al Moss, best known as the founder of the very successful Moss Motors, the British sports car parts and accessory company in Southern California. While this initially may seem as a bit off the normal subject matter for my column, it has a special significance that relates directly to our Archive. Before explaining the connection, here is a little background.

Al Moss in his new MG-TC in 1948

Moss was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1927 but in 1933 the family moved to Southern California. After graduating from high school in 1945, he attended Los Angeles City College then became an apprentice mechanic in a repair shop. In 1948 at the age of 21, he opened his own repair shop under the name Moss Motors which specialized in MGs and other foreign cars. That same year, Moss bought a new MG-TC just as sports cars were being introduced into the West Coast. This is the same year that local San Francisco entrepreneur, Kjell Qvale began his long relationship with British Cars.

Al Coppel’s pit crew wearing coveralls with Coppel’s book title, Stockton 1953

Moss’s shop became a gathering spot for sports car enthusiasts and he was at the center of many initial activities that lead to the organization of the California Sports Car Club which eventually became Cal Club. Car Rallies, “unofficial” races over the mountain roads north of Los Angeles, dirt track competition, economy runs, in short, any activity that involved sports cars, Moss was involved. In 1950 he became the first Allard Distributor on the West Coast then two years later, he added a Roots Group dealership (MG, Austin-Healey, etc). In 1952 he closed his ship to all makes other than MG and moved to Santa Barbara.

Starter Al Torres gives drivers the two minute sign at Stockton 1952

During this period, Moss raced his MG at Carrell Speedway, a half-mile dirt oval near L.A.; raced a Hillman Minx at the first road race at Palm Springs; entered his Allard at the first Pebble Beach race (driven by Michael Graham). In February 1951, Moss entered his Allard at Carrell Speedway and finished third in a trophy dash won by new kid, Phil Hill. In the main event he took the lead at the green flag but flipped the Allard several times due to the rutted, muddy track. He survived but decided racing was not in his best interest.

Moss focused on his MG repair business, becaming the first authorized MG Service Dealer which allowed him to buy parts at a discount, do warranty work and receive factory service bulletins. He was also a Cal Club official serving as Race Judge and Chief Judge through 1957 and kept close ties with the racing community for years to come.

Al Torres waves the green flag at Madera Airport in 1952

Realizing there was a good business selling parts for MGs, Moss bought 48 tons of “obsolete” parts from Standard Triumph in England and with this transaction changed his business from service to selling parts for British Cars. He sold his service shop in 1963 and went into the parts business full-time. If you’ve ever owned a British Sports car than you no doubt received a Moss Motors catalog and bought lots of parts as a result as I did.

OK, so what does all this have to do with the SF Region Archive? In 2012, Al Moss passed away leaving behind a wonderful collection of memorabilia from his 64-year involvement with sports cars. Part of his collection included hundreds of black/white photos and hundreds more of 35 mm color slides going as far back as 1948. With the help of the SF Region Board, we were able to acquire this historic photo collection to add to our Archive. This is a major coup for our Region to have this historical collection as part of our Archive to be enjoyed for years to come.

Having reviewed the material, there are many wonderful, high quality photos from local races including Golden Gate Park, Pebble Beach, Madera Airport, Stockton Airport and Buchanan Field. There are also many photos of other races where SF Region drivers competed including Paramount Ranch, Santa Barbara, Torrey Pines, Palm Springs and others. The photos you see here are just a small sample of the wonderful Moss photos, many more you will see in future columns.

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