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Targa Florio: 1955-1973
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Targa Florio: 20th Century Epic
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Targa Florio


In 1953 the World Sportscar Championship (WSC) was established as the world series run for sports car racing by the FIA from 1953 to 1992. Originally only one race was included from Italy and that was the Mille Miglia. The Carrera Panamericana was dropped from the 1955 WSC calendar, and while the 1000 km Nürburgring was due to run, this was later cancelled following the tragedy at Le Mans. They were replaced by the Targa Florio. Mercedes had decided to quit racing after the 1955 season but one last major attempt was made to wrest the sports car championship from Ferrari. That attempt would be made at the 39th Targa Florio.

Mercedes-Benz high-speed transporter with the 300 SLR racing car, start number 106, of the Fitch/Titterington team

Led by Alfred Neubauer and his teams that were made up of the pairings Stirling Moss and Peter Collins, Juan-Manuel Fangio and Karl Kling and Desmond Titterington and John Cooper Fitch. They had five 300SLR's, more than a dozen private cars, 45 mechanics and seven trucks. Because the roads were not closed prior to the race practice involved avoiding, pedestrians, wagons and the odd goat. The rules set for the three pairs of drivers was every man for themselves.

Juan Manuel Fangio, Mercedes-Benz 300SLR, 1955 Targa FlorioIn preparation for the race, the drivers practiced for a total of 16,695 kilometres to ensure that they were familiar with the circuit and its 900 curves. Owing to the length of the circuit, this was the first time Mercedes-Benz used radio communication to allow the main pits to keep the way station 29 kilometres away in touch with what was happening in the race. There, the drivers were informed about their position in the race by means of conventional sign boards. This years Targa Florio would entail 13 laps over a 44.64-mille circuit for a total of 580.32 miles. The teams of drivers were expected to complete almost 10 hours of driving combined. Neubauer was planning on each driver being able to run 4 lap stints. At the start of the race Moss set a blistering pace and broke the course record by two and a half minutes. Though his car was one of the last to be flagged off, he had passed everyone by the end of the first lap. Castellotti's Ferrari split the Mercedes of Moss and Fangio.

Targa FlorioAt the end of the fourth lap Castellotti was in first place and Moss was in a ditch. Moss had crashed but the Mercedes was still in working order if slightly bruised. After help from some spectators Moss was back on the road but now in fourth place. Collins exchanged places with Moss and took up the chase. Fangio passed the leading Ferrari and handed his car to Kling. Mercedes were now in first, third and fourth. Trouble struck again when Collins drove straight up a stone wall, his front wheels spinning in the air. Fortunately he was able to put his car in reverse and rejoin the battle. Collins worked his way up to first before returning the car to Moss. Moss drove the only way that he knew how and won going away or in the words of Peter Collins "despite Stirling's efforts and my own to write the machine off!" Mercedes won the race and with it the sports car championship only to quit racing for the second time.

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I hardly slept at all the night before the race and felt pretty awful when I arrived at the start between the sea and the small town of Cerda. I perked up once seated in the car, and felt better still when I found myself in the lead! Castellotti, Ferrari’s great hope, lay second, with Fangio on his tail third. I accumulated a minute’s lead on my opening lap, and after three laps my cushion was five minutes. Then, far up in the mountains, I was just leaving a right-hand curve and had the car set up nicely through a fast left-hander when I lost control on either mud or loose gravel.

1955 Targa FlorioThe 'SLR swung its tail out, just as it had that time in the Mille Miglia, bounced off a bank and hurtled straight off the edge of the road into space ... I was quite frightened at this point, because for one terrifying moment I hadn’t a clue whether we were flying over a drop of three feet, or three hundred!'

Fortunately the roadside field sloped downhill just there, and when I crunched down to earth I had fallen only ten or twelve feet. The problem then was to find a way back on to the road, because the car, although battered, was still running. Some locals rushed to my assistance, and after a lot of maneuvering and pushing and yelling I managed to gun the car back on to the road and tear off towards the pits, but I had lost about twelve minutes and now lay a distant fourth.

1955 Targa Florio

Back at the pits, Neubauer, Peter and the crew had virtually given me up for lost until I came hurtling in. They checked the car very quickly and Peter took off with the bit firmly between his teeth to stage a brilliant recovery drive.

Stirling Moss - My Cars, My Career with Doug Nye

One year after the retirement of their countrymen from motorsport Porsche won a great victory at the 40th Targa Florio in 1956 with their new 550 A Spyder at what was then the world's longest-standing and most difficult road race. The young company gained instant worldwide recognition as well as credibility with this victory, as it was the first time that a driver in a smaller racing class vehicle of up to two liters cylinder displacement managed to beat vehicles with a higher cylinder displacement. At an average speed of 90.9 m/h and a lead of nearly 15 minutes on the second place vehicle, 1953 winner Umberto Maglioli had won again driving the entire 7:54.52 hours solo. Three years later Porsche won again and having tasted victory twice Porsche would continue to contest the race for the next two decades. Following the tragedy at the Mille Miglia public pressure was on the organizers to cancel the 41st Targa Florio in 1957 but a compromise was reached when it was replaced by what was called a regularity test where timing replaced outright speed. This charade was "won" by Fabio Colona driving a Fiat 600! The Lancia Appia driven by Piero Taruffi and his wife Isabella Taruffi won the larger class but nobody really cared as David slew Goliath.

Real racing returned for the 42nd Targa Florio in 1958 when a massive total of 65 racing cars were registered for this event, of which 53 arrived for practice. of these 15 thought better of it and 38 started race. The 42nd edition of the event, saw a change on the nature of the race. Single-driver entries would no longer be permitted with a maximum of seven laps out of the total race distance of 14 for each driver.

1958 Targa FlorioScuderia Ferrari had four works 250 TRs for Phil Hill/Peter Collins, Mike Hawthorn/Wolfgang von Trips, Luigi Musso/Olivier Gendebien and Gino Munaron/Wolfgang Seidel. Aston Martin's David Brown sent just one Aston Martin DBR1 for Stirling Moss/Tony Brooks, while Porsche arrived with three different cars, a 356A Carrera, a 550 RS and a 718 RSK, for their squad of Baron Antonio Pucci/Fritz Huschke von Hanstein, Giorgio Scarlatti/Edgar Barth and Jean Behra/Giorgio Scarlatti respectivly.

The day belonged to Luigi Musso and Olivier Gendebien who won in a Ferrari 250TR. Despite growing safety concerns the Targa Florio continued into the 60's and early 70's and the fans in close proximity to the cars witnessed some tremendous battles between Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Porsche. Ferrari 250 TRMaglioli would return to the scene of his triumph and would win another plaque 12 years after his first, this time driving a Lancia. As in the Mille Miglia the local Sicilian fans seemed oblivious to the danger posed by being within a simple spin of a powerful racing car without even a single armco barrier in sight.


Stirling Moss/Peter Collins Mercedes-Benz 300SLR
Umberto Maglioli/Huschke von Hanstein Porsche 550
Fabio Colona Fiat 600 (regularity test, following the Mille Miglia accident)
Luigi Musso/Olivier Gendebien Ferrari 250TR