Mention the words ‘Targa Florio’ and any motorsport enthusiast’s thoughts will drift off to those tortuous roads, tight bends, sheer drops, villages crowded with eager spectators standing on pavements with race cars rushing by just feet away. It was a time when many racing drivers drove at breakneck speed in machines that today you would not undertake a trip along a smooth motorway in, and just for the honour of competition. Winning, of course, was always hugely important, but it was a different time, for sure. The Targa Florio was in every sense a 20th Century Epic motorsport event.
The ‘Coppa Florio’ commenced in 1905, and this was followed a year later by the ‘Targa Florio’. From such early and innocent beginnings, the Targa Florio survived, grew and eventually became a fixed event on the World Championship calendar. From those early beginnings where spectators wore jacket and tie to attend such a curious ‘contest’ between huge iron behemoths, the interest in such competition steadily rose. It soon became an event that motor manufacturers couldn’t afford to be absent from, rather like the Carrera Panamericana. Progress for the race cars was often hindered as much by punctured tyres as it was by wandering animals and accidents.
The Targa Florio was a combination of speed and power, but also the stamina of the driver and the endurance of the machine. But this is where the value of motorsport has, over the years, contributed significantly to the improvement in road car performance, innovation and safety. Sun, rain, dust and flying stones were just some of the challenges facing the drivers of old, as they had little protection as they perched atop their racing machines. The fuel tank, a simple metal tank, was deliberately exposed to make refuelling easier, while a stack of spare tyres was essential cargo, as was the riding mechanic.
As the automobile industry expanded globally, so the race cars became more and more sophisticated, lower, smaller and a little more streamlined. Racing drivers began to take on a reputation for their gallant performances, and the status of the Targa Florio grew ever-more important. Victory by major manufacturers such as Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Lancia, Bugatti, Ferrari and in 1955 Mercedes-Benz (Stirling Moss/Peter Collins), did much to attract another big name, that of Porsche.
In 1956, the 40th running of the event, Porsche entered the Targa Florio for the first time with their 550 RS, and Umberto Maglioli won on Porsche’s debut. This would be the start of a long string of top finishes by the Stuttgart manufacturer including eleven victories which saw a variety of race cars including prototypes and GT cars. As the 1970s dawned, the writing was on the wall for the Targa Florio, and the final event was held in 1973, the 57th running of a 20th century epic race that would be written into the history books for all time.
This book is a concise history of the race from the very first, up until the running of the 20th and last Coppa Florio in 1981. The author takes each year on its own, and gives an interesting introduction to that year, followed by numerous evocative and atmospheric photos from the day. The reader can, though, easily see one of the danger signs that would finally contribute to the event’s demise, and that was the enthusiasm of some of the spectators who would park their cars right at the edge of the road – and then stand there to wave the competitors by. As a result, there were spectator as well as driver deaths, but it is ironic that the popularity of the event would eventually contribute to its downfall.
However, with the significance of a race such as the Targa Florio, it is important that an accurate history of the event be recorded for posterity. In this writer’s opinion, this book is of huge significance and even though it is not new by any means (published in 2006 on the occasion of the event’s centenary), and the author has done the motorsport world a huge service by compiling this record of the Targa. A significant portion of the book, 157 pages to be exact, is devoted to the all-important results of each and every Targa race, including the Coppa Florio.
If you are a motorsport enthusiast, and no matter whether you are a Porsche, Ferrari, Alfa Romeo aficionado or a supporter of any other manufacturer that competed in the Targa Florio, you do not want to be without a copy of this book. The value of the contents is what counts, and if your interests lie in the field of Porsche motorsport and the World Championship, this single source will save you hours of searching for data and information – it’s all in the book! The publisher has just a few copies of the book left, and the price has been slashed in half, so be sure the bag yourself a copy while you still can. I have my copy, and I won’t be lending it to anyone!
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