Moss & The Coke Bottle Incident

A huge thank you to Vintage Motorsport contributor Louis Galanos for sharing this story and sourcing the photos.

Stirling Moss in his Maserati 300 S that he and Harry Schell drove to a second-place finish and first in class at Sebring in 1957. Bussian/Galanos photo.

While not unexpected, he had been ill for months, the passing of 90-year-old Sir Stirling Moss on Easter Sunday was a profound shock for many in the motorsports community.

Often described as, “The greatest driver never to win the World Championship” Moss’s long racing career included at least 20 appearances at Sebring and those number of appearances were second only to his appearances at Goodwood in England.

In his first appearance at Sebring in 1954 he and co-driver Bill Lloyd pulled out a remarkable upset victory driving their OSCA MT4 and that victory made Moss the first non-American to win what would eventually become America’s finest sports car race.

As his career progressed Moss gained a lot of notoriety with numerous podium finishes and in 1957 the Maserati factory hired him to join the factory team to drive a Maserati 300 S at Sebring with co-driver Harry Schell.  The Maserati team was led by World Champion Juan Manuel Fangio who would drive a Maserati 450 S with co-driver Jean Behra.

Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss discuss the performances of their respective cars as well as the changes to the 5.2-mile Sebring circuit during practice for the race. Bussian/Galanos photo.

It was at the 1957 Sebring race that one of those “almost too unbelievable to be true” moments occurred about five hours into the race.  Today many knowledgeable Sebring race fans refer to this moment in time as the “Coke bottle incident.”

The weather that weekend in Sebring was quite warm which was not unusual for March in Florida.  Moss had been at the wheel of his Maserati 300 S for some time and was coming into the infamous hairpin turn when he noticed several photographers, standing in a group, drinking bottles of Coca-Cola.

On his next pass through the turn he caught the eye of several photographers and gave them the classic “I am thirsty gesture” by using a free hand to mimic bringing up an invisible bottle up to his lips.

One of the photographers at the turn was legendary French photo-journalist Bernard Cahier and he immediately knew what Moss was asking for.

Knowing that he had only a couple of minutes before Moss came around again Cahier was able to get a bottle of Coke for Moss.  He then hurried over to the edge of the racing surface and looked up the track to try and spot the red Maserati 300 S.

Once he spotted the car coming though Big Bend Cahier raised the bottle of soda so Moss could plainly see it which Moss did, and he began to downshift and brake while getting closer to the 55-gallon drums outlining the turn.  The hand-off and transfer were perfect, almost as if they had practiced it several times.

Bernard Cahier hands Stirling Moss a bottle of Coke during the race. Smith Peter Kent photo courtesy of stirlingmoss.com.

Moss would drink the soda during the next lap and no doubt race fans all along the circuit were flabbergasted when they saw him driving with one hand while taking a drink from a bottle with the other hand.

After completing that lap Moss again approached the Hairpin Turn where he threw the empty Coke bottle on the grass making sure to avoid hitting anyone or anything.  After he tossed the bottle, he gave a wave of thanks to all assembled at the turn.

Stirling Moss and co-driver Harry Schell would finish second overall and first in class at Sebring in 1957 while Juan Manuel Fangio and co-driver Jean Behra would come in first.

Moss was a remarkable man who survived one of the most dangerous eras in motorsports.  He survived numerous racing accidents plus a near fatal one in 1962 at Goodwood that forced him to retire from racing.  At the age of 81 he even survived a fall of three floors down an elevator shaft at his home in 2010 that broke both ankles, bones in his feet and hurt his back.

In a fitting tribute to Moss, F1 champion Sir Jackie Stewart said:  “He was a one of a kind. There was no one else like him. The whole world is celebrating his life, and he would have loved that.”