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Targa Florio: 1955-1973
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Targa Florio


Initially there were few rules and the event was open to standard or production cars of which at least ten identical models had been built. The 1st Targa Florio was held on the 6th of May, 1906 with the first car scheduled to start-off at 6:00 am Only ten cars made it to the starting line due to strikes in France and a delay at the dock in Genoa. The race lasting 3-laps would be one of attrition that included among its victims, Vincenzo. One of the entrants was a husband and wife team, the wife serving as the mechanic. Unfortunately no record of their experiences or whether their marriage survived the race exists. Two cars suffered from water being mistaken for gasoline and required the complete draining of each car's fuel tanks. After nine hours the race was over and the winner for the Italia team was Alessandro Cagno at an average speed of 29.06 mph. He was followed over a half hour later by Ettore Graziani in another Italia. 3rd came Paul Bablot driving a French Berliet 24/40 hp. Henri Fournier the winner of the legendary Paris–Bordeaux and Paris–Berlin city to city races failed to finish, suffering a broken rear axle. The event proved very popular with the local populace and next years race brought more than 50 entries.

1906 Targa Florio winning car

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In 1907 the 2nd Targa Florio was held on April 22. Like its younger cousin, the Mille Miglia, this race could only be won by driving flat out and after the inaugural race the returning teams had a better understanding of the conditions in which this race was run. At 3 laps this year's race would cover 277.42 tortuous miles.

Targa Florio 1906Forty-five cars started the race with Fiat's entry led by Vincenzo Lancia and Felice Nazzaro considered one of the early favorites. At the end of the first lap it was Lancia's Fiat in the lead followed by last year's winner Cagno. After a slow start the Darracq of Louis Wagner began to gain on the leaders. Soon he passed the first lap leader, Lancia, only to find himself second behind Nazzaro. Still he came on, and soon he could see Nazzaro just ahead of him on the road. But alas his engine revs shot up yet his car slowed down and then he found the reason, a broken drive shaft had done him in. Nazzaro had won the second Targa Florio followed by Lancia in 2nd and Maurice Fabry who was the London agent for Itala driving an Itala in 3rd. Since Nazzaro was known to many of the locals, his victory was very popular with the fans. His winning time proved an hour and fourteen minutes faster than Cagno's time at the inaugural race. Communication during the race was non-existent. No one, not the driver, his competitors, his team manager or the crowd would know how the race was going until the lap was over and the timekeepers could work out the positions of the racers, which were marked on a large board. In later years, many fans would bring their own stopwatches as they recorded the times of their favorite drivers. This lack of communication would make strategy almost impossible except to race flat out.

1908 Targa FlorioThe 3rd Targa Florio held on the 18th of May, 1908 had only thirteen entries after the French decided to stay away, except for the Italian-born French automobile racing driver Jean Porporato, born Giovanni Giacomo Bernardo Porporato, who was driving a Berliet. Besides the two Fiats for Nazzaro and Lancia there were three were cars from Isotta Fraschini for Trucco, Giovanzani and Minoia. Itala had a single car for Antonio Pizzagalli and their were three cars from the Società Piemontese Automobili (SPA) for Ernesto Ceirano, Giovanni-Battista Raggio, and Giuseppe Venezia. The start was under a clear blue sky and the two Fiats of Nazzaro and Vincenzo Lancia were soon fighting for the lead, before a broken steering pivot forced Nazzaro to retire. The race was won by Vincenzo Trucco in a Isotta Fraschini after Lancia unnecessarily pitted for tires, after which he came in 2nd, followed by the SPA of Ernesto Ceirano in 3rd. The fastest lap was set by Felice Nazzaro who completed the 1st lat in 2h 33m03s at an average speed of 36.25 mph. In comparison the fastest lap at the French Grand Prix later that year was 78 mph set by Otto Salzer in a Mercedes. Baron Cammarata not a big fan of the spectators that trampled part of his wheat field decided to flood his fields that bordered the circuit.

1908 Messina EarthquakeThe 4th Targa Florio held on the 2nd of May 1909 was almost canceled after an earthquake of 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck near the city of Messina the previous December. Moments after the quake hit a 30 foot wave from a tsunami enveloped nearby coasts causing even more devastation. Over 90% of the structures in Messina were destroyed, killing more than 155,000 in the surrounding area. Florio was determined that the race must go forward in 1909 but it was reduced to a single lap of 92 miles (148 km). Eleven cars started and was won by a Società Piemontese Automobili (S.P.A.) 28/40 driven by Baron Francesco Ciuppa, becoming the first Sicilian to win the race. Vincenzo Florio driving a Fiat and Guido Airoldi in a Lancia came in second and third. The Baron would later became a member of the organizing committee for the Targa Florio.

A serious depression struck the European motoring industry and the French Grand Prix was cancelled, not to be run again until 1912. Automobile racing in 1910 was facing new competition, not on the road but in the air with the public captivated by the new flying machines. The 5th Targa Florio, held on the 15th of May, was run in conjunction with voiturettes (Light Cars). the race was dominated by Lion-Renaults which scored a 1-2-3 with Georges Boillot winning followed by Giosué Guippone and Jules Goux. Tullio Cariolato, in fourth was given credit for winning the Targa for standard cars.

Targa FlorioAbout the same time, the Florio family was experiencing a number of personal tragedies. Their business empire crashed due to highly speculative u=investments and it was necessary to sell off a large portion of their holdings. Three Florio children died over a two-year period and Vincenzo’s wife fell victim to cholera in 1911.

The 6th Targa Florio was held on the 14th of May. There were fourteen starters of which five finished. The race was won by Ernesto Ceirano now driving a Scat 22/32 hp 4.4, 2nd was Mario Cortese driving a Lancia followed by Russian Basilio Soldatenkoff, who's real name was actually Vasiliy Soldatenkov in a Mercedes. The race marked the first appearance of a car from Alfa Romeo in a major event. In 1912 for the 7th Targa Florio the circuit was increased to nearly 1,000 km around the perimeter of the island. This was considered somewhat a political maneuver since the Targa committee was attempting to spur authorities into developing the roads in this area of the country. The race experienced a noticeable increase in starters with 26 cars and drivers showing up for the start of of the race which would be spread over two days, the 25th and 26th of May. Fifteen managed to finish and for the first time a non-Italian won: Englishman Cyril Snipe driving an Italian SCAT. One drawback to the new 1,000 km course was that it took the winning car 24h 37m 19s to complete the race. The car, was backed by John Newton and a R. O. Harper of Manchester, England, and built by the Societa Ceirano di Automobili Torino, its designer was Signor Ernesto Ceirano. The Ceirano brothers, Giovanni Battista, Giovanni, Ernesto and Matteo, were very influential in the founding of the Italian auto industry with companies such as Spa and Itala.

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In 1913 the 8th Targa Florio would continue with two legs over two days - 11-12 May. The success of this was evidenced by 33 entrants showing up at the starting line in Palermo. Italians restored their dominance with Felice Nazzaro driving his own car, a Nazzaro Tipo 2 completing the course over four hours faster than Snipe did in 1912. Scat came with three cars but all failed to finish. In 2d place was a Aquila Italiana driven by Giovanni Marsaglia who was followed by Alberto Mariani driving a De Vecchi in 3rd. De Vecchi & C., founded by Giuseppe De Vecchi in Milan would switch to building aircraft engines during the war while its chassis was modified for use on ambulances, trucks and even an early four-wheel-drive artillery tractor. Following the conflict, De Vecchi withdrew from the company and forced into liquidation in 1919, it changed hands and became CMN (Costruzioni Meccaniche Nazionali), which continued production of some of the pre-war cars. When motorsports resumed, two CMN's driven by Ugo Sivocci and a young Enzo Ferrari were entered in the 1919 Targa Florio.

The story was much the same in 1914 for the 9th Targa Florio, held on May 24-25, with an Italian driver and Italian car - Ernesto Ceirano driving a Scat 22/32 - knocking another 21⁄2 hours off the lap time. Slowly the Targa Florio was brought back to life only to be stopped during World War 1.

Targa Florio

After the war the organizers were determined to restart the race so that in November of 1919 a new 10th Targa Florio would be reborn. The circuit was shortened to 67 miles but the race was increased to four laps for a total of 268 miles. The war had deprived the Targa Florio of the great Peugeot driver Georges Boillot who was shot down in a dogfight with a squadron of German fighters. In his place was his brother André Boillot driving a 2 1/2 liter Peugeot originally built before the war. Another entrant of later note was a twenty-one year old driver, Enzo Ferrari, driving a CMN Isotta Fraschini in his first major race. A Milanese car dealer, Antonio Ascari brought two Fiats that had been developed for the cancelled 1917 Indianapolis 500.

The weather for the November 23rd race was abysmal and saw Antonio Ascari driving for FIAT disappear into the distance, or more accurately into a ravine where he was rescued after the race. The circuit was a muddy mess as were the drivers. If this were not enough, mist shrouded the mountains, while hail and gale-force winds swept down the narrow valleys.

Enzo Ferrari at the Targa Florio1919 Targa Florio - Antonio AscariWhile all this was happening Rene Thomas, driving a Ballot was serenely in the lead, attempting to stay out of trouble in the dangerous conditions or at least he was until his frantic crew were finally able to warn him of a fast approaching André Boillot. But for Thomas it was not enough as the Peugeot of Boillot flashed past. Only a mistake by Boillot could save Rene Thomas now, but still he would not give up and thus increased his speed. For Boillot all that was left was a mad dash down the finishing straight. Racing to the point of exhaustion he braked for the final corner - but he had braked too late for the treacherous conditions and the back of the car spun and hit the grandstand just thirty feet from the finish line. Dazed and bloodied Boillot and his mechanic were pushed free from the structure and crossed the line in reverse! Shouts of protest greeted the crew but out from the crowd walked Ernest Ballot, the owner of the rival and second place car convinced a dejected André Boillot to return to his car, drive back to the point of their crash and re-cross the line in the right direction. Sacrificing a possible victory for his own car, Ballot's decision met with the approval of the crowd and André Boillot was declared the winner where upon he fainted straight away.


Alessandro Cagno Itala
Felice Nazzaro Fiat 28/40 HP
Vincenzo Trucco Isotta-Fraschini
Francesco Ciuppa SPA
Tullio Cariolato Franco Automobili
Ernesto Ceirano SCAT
Cyril Snipe SCAT
Felice Nazzaro Nazzaro
Ernesto Ceirano SCAT
André Boillot Peugeot EXS