Porsche 908-3, 1970 Targa Florio, Brian Redman, Jo Siffert

Targa Florio – History & Race Profile

History of the Targa Florio – Race Profile Page Three

Then the world went to war again putting a hiatus on racing. In 1943, the Gestapo put Vincenzo and Lucia Florio in a Rome jail in an effort to persuade Italians to continue the fight. The next Targa wasn’t held until 1948.

Over the years since then, a number of familiar names competed including Umberto Maglioli, Piero Taruffi, Carroll Shelby, Luigi Musso, Oliver Gendebian, Dan Gurney, Jerry Grant, Bob Bondurant and Phil Hill.

Nineteen fifty-five was a tragic year for racing and a significant for the Targa. First, there was the horrific accident at Le Mans where more than 80 people died. In addition, Alberto Ascari, Bill Vukovich, Jack McGrath and James Dean died behind the wheel. Daimler Benz was competing for the World Manufacturers Championship and, for the first time, the Targa was included. Stirling Moss and John Fitch won the Tourist Trophy in September driving a Mercedes-Benz 300SLR, making the Targa in October the deciding event. At that point, Ferrari had 19 point while Mercedes had 16. So Daimler-Benz launched an all-out effort, going to Sicily with eight 300SLRs plus eight trucks with 45 mechanics.

Stirling Moss was teamed with Peter Collins, John Fitch with Desmond Titterington and Juan Manuel Fangio with Carl Kling. On October 16, 72-year-old Vincenzo Florio flagged off 47 competitors at 30-second intervals. According to Fitch, “By the end of the first lap, Stirling had stormed into the lead, having passed the entire pack and broken all records with a lap of 44 minutes averaging 60 mph on the narrow, twisting road where one blind corner followed another.” Castelotti was second in a Ferrari with Fangio close behind. But on the fourth lap, Moss went off the road damaging the car and losing coolant. After a pit stop for repairs, Collins took over and recovered the lost time, then handed back to Stirling who went faster and faster, finally setting a new record of 43 minutes, 7.4 seconds. Moss took the flag followed by Fangio and then the Castelotti Ferrari, thus securing the championship for Daimler-Benz. After 1955, the company retired from racing.

Juan Manuel Fangio, Mercedes-Benz 300SLR, 1955 Targa Florio
Juan Manuel Fangio (pictured) and Karl Kling in a Mercedes-Benz 300SLR were second overall in the 1955 Targa Florio. (Photo: Daimler Benz Archives)
John Fitch, Mercedes-Benz 300SLR, 1955 Targa Florio
John Fitch in the No. 106 Mercedes-Benz 300SLR leading Eugenio Castellotti in his Ferrari 860 Monza through the mountains of Sicily during the 1955 Targa Florio. (Photo: Daimler Benz Archives)
Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR, 1955 Targa Florio, Stirling Moss, Peter Collins
Tire change on the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR of Stirling Moss and Peter Collins. (Photo: Daimler Benz Archives)
Stirling Moss, 1955 Targa Florio, Mercdes-Benz 300SLR
Stirling Moss (pictured) and his teammate, Peter Collins, won the 1955 Targa Florio in the Mercedes-Benz 300SLR, securing the World Championship for Sports Cars that year. (Photo: Daimler Benz Archives)

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Show Comments (10)

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  1. Great retrospective by Mr. Evans. I knew somewhere in my noggin that the Targa Florio was raced way back when, but I had no idea that it started in 1906. Those old pictures are very interesting, especially the details in the background. Thanks to all.

  2. If my reading is correct, the first two “Targa Florio’s” were run before 1906. They were run, not in Sicily,
    but in northen Italy, starting and ending in Brescia which would eventually become the home of the Mille Miglia.
    They were races that were organized and competed in, by Vincenzo Florio himself. They did not circumnavigate Italy as the Mille Miglia later would, but were run as several laps around a closed course in the Brescia-Cremona region. Florio was a northen Italian, not a Sicilian. For various reasons he had to move the race to Sicily where he was welcomed. But the first two were called “Coppa Florio’s” after the very artistic cup he put up for the winner.
    I think that his race in 1906 might have been the first formal “Targa” however.
    Feel free to correct me on this.

  3. What goes around comes around. I noticed the wheels on the early racers are the same as we see on customized cars of today.

  4. Don’t understand the James Dean connection – wasn’t he a rank amateur whose talent fell far short of those who actually took on the Targa Florio, or any other serious motor race?

    1. I was pointing out those who were well-known race driver who died that year. Of course, he was an amateur. I knew him and say him race at Palm Springs. Obviously he was an amateur, but he WAS well known. – Art Evans

  5. Thank you, Mr. Evans, for this excellent retrospective on the Targa Florio. My wife and I spent a few weeks in Sicily last year and drove the 45 mile piccolo circuito delle Madonie, which was the circuit used during the last three decades of the Targa Florio, before the last race was run in 1977. The piccolo circuito is a 45-mile, 72 kilometer, 700-turn torture test of man and machine in the western Madonie mountains. A complete race consisted of eleven laps. The race started a couple of miles north of Cerda, where grandstands, pit walls, and a statue of Vincenzo Florio still stand. It proceeded counter-clockwise through Cerda and south to Caltavuturo, then turned north toward the Tyrrhenian Sea, passing through Collesano on the way to the seaside town of Campofelice and the long 3.7 mile Buonfornello straight along the coast, before turning south toward Cerda once again. The circuit is public road, used by locals, trucks and buses, and farmers herding livestock. Several sections of the road have eroded away, requiring one-lane etiquette. That said, the drive is spectacular, the scenery unimaginably beautiful. And even as someone who has done some racing, I have no comprehension of how difficult this race must have been to drive, especially considering the lap record is something under 34 minutes! It took us over six hours, with a stop at the small but excellent Museo Targa Florio in Collesano, and lunch afterward at Trattoria Carricaturi Di Barranco Filippo, where, after praising the “occhi di lupo” pasta dish, the chef came to our table and gave us the recipe!

  6. Thank you very much for the great piece and photo collection Mr. Evans. A real pleasure to read and relive the great moments of this fantastic event. By the sound of it, each year would probably deserve a whole article onto itself, considering how much appeared to happen every time.

    Looking forward to your next piece and thanking you again for this one,

    Sincerely Yours,

    Vincent Metais.

  7. Thank you for the fantastic photos Mr Evans a real pleasure and a great piece of history..I was born in the village of Sciara on the other side of the valley from Cerda in full view of each other.I also enjoyed the beautiful seanery that some of the pictures provided.In some early photos you can actually see my home town.My father was actually born there in 1906 and his father had a Vineyard in the area called la Canna, where the actual races started.I have allways heard of these races but not to this magnatude,and never knew these fantastic photos even exsisted.The next time i visit there i will make it a must to do the circuit in my car.By the way i will be staying in a bed,breakfast called TARGAFLORIO.

    Sincerely yours

    Michael Fragale

  8. My grandfather W A Hollick (British) took part in the 1907 race. I have a photograph of him in his car at the race.Must have been quite an adventure!