For most enthusiasts, the term 'Targa' means a specific type of automobile that features a designed-in roll bar. But to others, the Targa Florio comes to mind, one of the most pivotal open road events in motorsport history. Held on Sicily's narrow and winding roads, the Targa Florio attained its legendary status primarily due to the enormous challenges inherent in circumnavigating and enduring the track.
Unfortunately, the Targa Florio was just as dangerous, having recorded several accidents, nine deaths, and multiple injuries among race drivers and the public. Although sections of the Targa Florio still hold different forms of races and events today, they only deliver a glimpse of the romance and dangers of the original Sicilian mountain race. We dug around and found more juice about the Targa Florio, so read on to discover what we just learned about the iconic Italian endurance race.
10 Vincenzo Florio Created The Targa Florio Race
Born in 1883, in Palermo, Sicily, Vincenzo Florio was the first person to own a motor car on the island. The first race Vincenzo organized was a handicap race between his De Dion motor tricycle, a cyclist, and a horseman. He lost the race to the horseman after the engine began to overheat.
Vincenzo Florio's early racing career also involved winning a speed trial in Padua, participating in the first French Grand Prix, and funding the first 'Coppa Florio' in Brescia. In 1906, Vincenzo brought racing to Sicily, establishing a 92-mile single lap course at la Madonie, East of Palermo.
9 The Targa Florio Was The First Italian Racing Event
The first Targa Florio was a groundbreaking event, since it was the first form of open road automobile endurance racing ever held in Italy. The rally-like competition featured a few rules from the inaugural race in 1906, Targas (Italian for plaque) for winners, and the Rapiditas magazine to enhance photographic and graphic reproductions of the race and the speeding cars.
The Targa Florio became one of Europe's most important races by the mid-1920s, long before the now-legendary Mille Miglia and 24 Hours of Le Mans got established. The racing event ran for a glorious 71 years and 61 races before folding in 1977, making it not just the first, but also the oldest race ever held in Italy.
8 The Targa Florio Was One Of The Most Grueling Endurance Races
Considered one of the toughest and most dangerous European competitions for drivers and cars, the Targa Florio involved three laps totaling 277 miles. The course involved multiple hairpin curves and winding bends through treacherous mountain roads riddled with severe climate changes, local opportunistic bandits, and ever-present packs of wolves.
The original track incorporated over 2,000 corners per lap, and after being shortened, almost 900 corners. By comparison, the Nürburgring was one of the longest circuits, and it boasted 180 corners. The aggravating circumstances also involved racing through small towns along closed-off public roads, sometimes weak guardrails and straw bales.
7 The Targa Florio Featured A Total Of Six Circuit Configurations
Between 1906 and 1977, the course of the Targa Florio featured several configurations. At first, the race involved a single lap of 92 miles from 1906 to 1911 and later in 1931. 1912 to 1914 included a tour around Sicily's perimeter with a single lap of 606 miles, later lengthened to 670 miles from 1948 to 1950.
The 92-mile 'Grande' circuit got shortened twice. The first version from 1919 to 1930 involved 67 miles, while the 45-mile version was used from 1932 to 1936 and 1951 to 1977. A separate event dubbed Giro di Sicilia (translated Lap of Sicily) was held from 1951 to 1958 and utilized the long coastal island tour variant of the Targa Florio circuit.
6 Automakers Used The Targa Florio Events To Showcase Cars
The challenge of the Targa Florio lay in its unprecedented difficulty since it was too difficult to master, and the course variants delivered a driving experience unlike any other circuit in the world. Over time, the race was less about the fastest and more about who would survive the grueling track.
Automakers saw the Targa Florio as an opportunity to showcase the performance capabilities of the best models, claiming them as the best for making it through the course. The Targa Florio attracted Porsche, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Lancia, Bugatti, Maseratti, Mercedes-Benz, SCAT, Fiat, Nazzaro, Itala, Osella, Peugeot, Chevron, Abarth, Aston Martin, and many more automakers that are now defunct.
5 The Targa Florio Was Part Of The FIA World Sportscar Championship
The World Sportscar Championship involved a world series run for sports car racing that FIA held from 1953 to 1992. Recognized as one of the two major world championships in circuit motor racing at the time, the World Sportscar Championship involved a collection of the most important endurance, sportscar, and road racing events in North America and Europe.
The Targa Florio's fame by the 1950s ensured that it became part of this collection of events, participating between 1955 and 1973. Unfortunately, the Targa Florio failed to retain its international status and regressed to a national event after 1973 due to several fatal accidents, failure to meet FIA track safety mandates, and growing concerns over the organizer's competence.
4 Porsche Boasts The Most Targa Florio Podiums
Porsche's first victory at the Targa Florio arrived in 1956 through Umberto Magnioli and Husche von Hanstein in a Porsche 550. Since this milestone, Porsche dominated the event with 11 wins to narrowly beat Alfa Romeo's ten wins and Ferrari's seven wins.
Besides the Porsche 550, the automaker also enjoyed racing success with the 718 RSK, 718 RS 60, 718 GTR, 904 GTS, Carrera 6, 910, 907, 908/2, 908/3, and the 911 Carrera RSR models. Porsche's other podium achievements in the Targa Florio include nine second-place finishes and 12 third-place finishes.
3 The Targa Florio Inspired The Porsche Targa
For enthusiasts that only know 'Targa' as a specific type of vehicle, you can thank Porsche for the modern definition. The first Porsche model with the iconic Targa body style debuted at Germany's 1965 International Motor Show.
Following speculation that the U.S. could implement strict roll-over laws, Porsche designed the Targa model with a removable roof panel, a soft plastic rear window, and a fixed roll bar behind the driver. The Targa badge was coined in the wake of Porsche's wins in 1963 and 1964 at the Targa Florio.
2 The Targa Florio Spawned The Targa Florio Australian Tribute
In commemoration of 100 years of events in Sicily, the Palermo Car Club introduced an idea to add a sister event in Australia. And since Victoria had a large Italian community, not to mention a strong racing history and the perfect roads for motorsport events, the Targa Florio Australian Tribute (TFAT) was born in 2017.
The TFAT is a regularity event involving over 150 of the world's most admirable cars produced between 1906 and 1976. One of Vincenzo Florio's last wishes was for his project to challenge time, and events like the TFAT ensure continuity.
1 The Targa Florio Is Part Of The Italian Rally Championship
The Targa Florio open road endurance race may have folded in 1977, but today, the circuits are still utilized for racing events. The Targa Florio's classic car tradition is carried on through the Targa Florio Classica, a regularity race that recalls significant parts of motorsport history before 1977.
Inaugurated in 1961, the Campionato Italiano Rally (Italian Rally Championship) is currently the main Italian rally championship. From 2017, the championship boasts eight rallies per season, one of which takes place on the Targa Florio's gravel and asphalt.