CLUDA, SICILY, May 9th.
THERE are many ways of reporting the Targa Florio, and there are many ways of getting to Sicily. These days, the simple way is to fly direct to Palermo from London, Paris or wherever you may be, or you can drive to Naples on the autostrada and take an overnight boat to Palermo, with your car on the deck or in the hold, depending on its size, or you can drive on from Naples, through the 300 miles of the Calabrian mountains, to Villa S. Giovanni and take your car across the Straits of Messina on the very efficient ferry-boat service, and then drive a further 150 miles of coastal road, along the edge of mountains or along the edge of the Mediterranean. The variety of going on this road is something that has to be experienced to be appreciated.
If you fly to Palermo you can hire a self-drive Fiat and join the happy throng motoring the 30 miles out to the circuit, or if you don’t want to drive you can go on a coach provided by the organisers. This limits your movements at the pits area and you tend to get stuck in the Press Tribune, rather out of touch with reality. The Targa Florio is the last remaining true road-race in the old tradition, a test of man and machine against natural hazards of the road, and to fly out to it does not really get you in touch with the true spirit of the race, for it is more than just a motor race, it is a live tradition and I personally feel that the only way to be really in tune with tradition, whole event and to enjoy it to the full is to drive all the way there, and back again afterwards. In this way you cannot help soaking in the rugged and rural way of life of Southern Italy and Sicily and, if you then watch practice and the race from somewhere out on the 72-kilometre long circuit, either in a village or out in the hills, you get to know what it is all about, for it is not “just another motor race,” though in the pit area you might think so, except that the pandemonium and confusion is greater than anywhere else, for this is a long race, with refuelling stops and driver changes.
The Targa Florio is essentially part of Sicilian life, and the fact that the roads are closed to the public and the villages are barricaded to all movements except those of racing cars is accepted happily. Practice on Friday was seen from the village of Campofelice, where all side turnings into the main street were blocked by tubular barricades and in the main square, where the course turned left, the way was formed by straw bales. This village is some thirty minutes from the start, so while waiting for the first arrivals we joined the local policeman and his chief for an early morning cup of coffee, and they recounted tales of past Targa Florio races, an old man in the group telling us that the original races were started on the straight down by the sea, not at its present point just below Cerda. There was some discussion and difference of opinion as to the exact date of the first Targa Florio (it was actually 1906), but they were all agreed that it was a fine race and, with the sun beating down from a cloudless sky, we were all in agreement that Sicily was a nice pike. As the time of the first arrivals drew near people produced chairs from their houses and sat on the footpaths, and the police and army that were patrolling the streets began to politely suggest that stray spectators got behind the barriers. All was peace and quiet, and chickens were scratching about in the side streets, and cats were padding noiselessly by on furtive errands, and then practice began for us.
The special-bodied orange Alfa Romeo GTZ of Auto Delta, the factory team, came screaming into Sight at the far end of the village street, and snarled as it slowed and changed-down for the corner in the square. It was followed by a works Porsche 8-cylinder coupe, then the open Porsche 8-cylinder, a red Abarth-Simca, a 914 Porsche, a red GTZ Alfa, the 1,600-c.c. open Abarth and so on. Practice was well and truly under way, and for the next few hours cars roared their way through the main street of Campofelice, there being special cheers for number 198, the 275P/2 Ferrari driven by Vaccarella, the lawyer-professor from Palermo. At 71 kilometres to the lap, practice usually amounts to one lap for each of the two drivers per car, but the keener ones who get away promptly, and whose cars do not develop trouble, can manage three laps.
As the race is run on a time basis and the starting order is according to programme number, the cars going off at 30-sec. intervals, with the slower ones first, the times recorded in practice are of no great importance. They enthuse the populace and encourage them to turn out on race day, though they don’t need much encouragement, for the whole of Targa Florio week is accompanied by the sounds of racing machinery and the sight of Ferraris, Alfas, Abarths, Porsches, etc., nipping in and out of the traffic during unofficial practice, or going to scrutineering. This year each competitor was allowed one private car in the paddock on race day and this car was emblazoned with huge stencils on each side proclaiming “49th TARGA FLORIO RIFORNIMENTO ” and giving the competitor’s number, so all along the coast between the circuit and Palermo you could not help knowing that the 49th Targa Florio was under way.
During practice Vaccarella made fastest time, at 39 min. 44 sec., which was well below the existing lap record, and there was no need to ask if this was popular. Making a tour of the circuit on Saturday evening we saw painted across the road or on walls, “VIVA VACCARELLA” or ” FORZA VACCARELLA,” “VIVA FERRARI,” and the village of Collesano had properlymade banners strung across the street proclaiming similar things. Enthusiasm for Bandini, Baghetti, Abarth and Alfa Romeo was also displayed by means of a bucket of whitewash and a brush.
On race day 59 cars were lined up ready for the 8 a.m. start, the small GT cars going off first, followed by the larger ones and then the Prototype classes up to the giants at the end of the field, who were due to leave some 30 min. after the first car. Of the total entry the overall winner would obviously come from among the handful of factory cars in the larger Prototype classes, together with a few outsiders, but in some of the classes there would be close competition. In the 1,000-1,300-c.c. GT class there were twenty runners, the six Abarth-Simcas being opposed by numerous Alfa Romeo Giuliettas, all now rather out of date, three French Alpine-Renaults and the lone Dick Jacobs’ M.G. Midget coupe driven by Hedges/Hopkirk. One of the Alpine coupes was driven by Delageneste/Vinatier and could well upset the Abarths that are always fast but fragile. The 1,300-1,600-c.c. GT class was an Alfa Romeo monopoly, there being three works cars among the eight entrants. Driving the very fast and raucous Giulia coupes by Zagato, on tubular chassis frames, with i.r.s., 5-speed boxes and twin-plug heads, were Zuccoli/Zeccoli, Bussinello/Todaro, and Lucien Bianchi/Rolland. The 2-litre GT class had only three entries, a works Porsche 914 driven by Pucci/Klaas, a private 914 and an American-owned Abarth. The 3-litre class had a mixed bag of Ferraris, from a 1964 GTO to a standard 250GT, and among them was a Lancia Flaminia and a B.M.C.-entered Austin Healey 3000 hard-top, driven by Makinen/Hawkins.
In order to try and appease Enzo Ferrari for the nonsense last year over the homologation of the LM mid-engined coupe, the Italian Federation said they would accept it as a GT car for Italian events. This resulted in a special class in the Targa Florio for a National competition, and in it were four 275LM Ferraris; including a works-supported one driven by De Adamich/Casone. If all the Prototype cars ran into trouble it was quite on the cards for an LM to win overall, which would have presented the same situation as the non-recognised Chaparral winning at Sebring recently.
In the 1,000-1,600-c.c. Prototype class was a brand new Abarth, open 2-seater, designed around suspension parts and principles of the new Fiat 850, and in the back was an Abarth 1,600-c.c. twin-cam power unit; the drivers were Hans Herrmann/Leo Cella. Also in this class was a works Alpine-Renault, the one that went so fast during the Le Mans test-weekend, and it was driven by Mauro Bianchi/Grandsire, and there was Geoffrey Healey’s works Austin Healey Sprite, Aaltonen/Baker, and a works Alfa Romeo GTA, this being the hot 4-seater Giulia soon to be homologated for saloon-car rating. To complete the class were two of the not-so-fast but rare ASA coupes from Milan.
In the final two classes lay the real competition. In the 1,600-3,000-c.c. class were three works Porsches, a 914 fibreglass coupe fitted with flat-8-cylinder engine, driven by Bonnier/Graham Hill, a similar coupe with flat-6-cylinder engine, driven by Maglioli/Linge, and finally a new car driven by Colin Davis/Mitter. This last was a 914 type chassis, but instead of having the fibreglass coupe body bonded to the steel chassis, it had an open bodywork, very abbreviated fore and aft, with humps over the wheels. It had an 8-cylinder engine and the same wheelbase as the coupe, but because it had very little overhang front and rear, it looked terribly short and peculiar. It was to have been driven by Bonnier/Hill, but they took one look at it and stepped back; they both gave it a try and stepped even further back, opining that it was practically undrivable because it leapt about all over the road. However, Colin Davis and Gerhard Mister drove it and thought it was all right, so everyone was happy. In with the Porsches was a Lancia saloon of the type with the odd-shaped rear window, and an old but immaculate 4-cylinder 2-litre Ferrari sports car brought up to Prototype specification. Last but not least was the over-3,000-c.c. Prototype class with the three 275P/2 works Ferraris, all the latest 4-camshaft 3.3-litre V12 cars with alloy wheels, the driver pairings being Vaccarella/Bandini, Scarfotti/Parkes and Guichet/Baghetti, while a fourth works car was a competition Ferrari GTB, the latest development of the front-engined GTO, with i.r.s. and 5-speed gearbox in unit with the rear axle, this being driven by Biscaldi/Deserti. Against the powerful quartet was a lone entry of a Ford GT Prototype, this being the open cockpit car that first appeared at the Le Mans test-weekend, with 4.7-litre “iron” Ford V8 engine and 5-speed ZF gearbox, but since then it had been painted a strange shade of green, in deference to its Slough parentage, and had been fitted with Shelby-Cobra type magnesium wheels. The drivers were Sir John Whitmore and Bondurant, a pair well suited to Targa Florio driving. Rather out of place amongst this company was a rally-type Sunbeam Tiger driven by Peter Harper/Rupert Jones, entered by the Reverend gentleman’s Vita-foam Racing Team.
At 4 a.m. the roads were closed to the public, and by that time thousands of vehicles had climbed up into the mountains, their occupants taking up vantage points on hillsides, walls, bridges and so on, some places affording views of long stretches of the circuit. The factory teams’ service vehicles were all up at Bivio Polizzi, ready for anything untoward, and the villages of Cerda, Calavuturo, Collesano and Campofelice were all slumbering peacefully. Competitors, officials and anyone with an excuse for a pass, were allowed onto the circuit until about 6.30 a.m., but to be on the safe side we made our way round to Cerda, some seven kilometres after the start, at 5 a.m. and found everything peaceful and quiet, even the Ford GT 40 was still in its garage, its drivers and pit crew just beginning to stir. While we had breakfast Bondurant and Whitmore drove the Ford down to the start, headed by their service car, and as the sun rose higher and got hotter the village began to come to life.
About 7.30 a.m. we took up a position on a grassy bank overlooking a series of four corners that snaked their way into the village main street, and by turning slightly we could see the whole length of the “High Street” to where the road hairpinned left and then right uphill. Higher up the mountain side we could see the road again, running across from right to left. As 8 a.m. approached, people appeared from all corners of the village, some bringing chairs to sit on, on a high stone wall, others erecting make-shift benches or building wood and canvas shelters from the now burning sun, behind which whole families, from tiny babies to grandmas, gathered. There was no need to ask who the local heroes were, for the names Vaccarella and Pucci were to be heard continually, as people scanned the list of numbers and starting times taken from the previous evening’s papers. Many had elaborate score sheets pinned to boards, and it was becoming very clear that something pretty important was about to happen.
Then the sharper ears among the crowd detected the sound of an approaching car and soon a little blue Alpine coupe buzzed into view, skittered round the corners and disappeared up the main street, and for us the 49th Targa Florio was under way. Being some minutes from the starting line you could appreciate immediately those drivers who were going well, making up time on the car in front of them, and Vinatier (Alpine) was going well, while Hopkirk in the M.G. Midget had already passed one car by the time he reached Cerda, the rather ragged cornering of the little B.M.C. coupe exciting the populace. A more serious note was struck with the arrival of the first of the factory Alfa Romeo Giulia TZ coupes, its fast cornering and shattering exhaust note being really exciting, and it was followed in quick succession by the rest of the GTZ coupes. If they had seemed exciting, the arrival of Pucci in the 914 Porsche was electrifying, and the noise as it went up the main street was marvellous. One after another the cars poured through the village, Herrmann going very fast in the open Abarth, Aaltonen in a bouncing full-lock slide in the Austin Healey Sprite, painted a hideous “Dayglo” green, Mauro Bianchi in the Prototype Alpine showed that small light cars do not have to look uncontrollable to corner fast, and then the big-boys began to come. Bonnier in the 8-cylinder coupe Porsche was going hard, Maglioli in the 6-cylinder cut his corners and raised clouds of dust, and Colin Davis was leaning well back in the open 8-cylinder Porsche, looking a bit surprised about the whole thing. Harper came bouncing and wallowing through in the ungainly Sunbeam Tiger, and then Bondurant appeared in the Ford Prototype, the exhaust note sounding fluffy as though all eight cylinders were not working properly, and this caused cries of disappointment from the Ford fans in Cerda. Biscaldi went by in the GTB Ferrari coupe, and then there was a waving and a yelling as Vaccarella came into view, the V12 Ferrari engine sounding wonderful in the clear mountain air. To see a red works Ferrari go charging up the main street of a Sicilian village in the early morning, raising the dust and sending chickens and cats scuttling down side alleys, accompanied by the waving and shouting of a very partisan crowd, is really to see the Taiga Florio under way. Vaccarella had a rather puzzled and bewildered look on his face, as if he could not believe it was all true, and he was followed by Scarfiotti looking very grim and determined, and Jean Guichet looking a little out of his depth on the narrow bumpy road. And then they were all gone.
Some forty-five minutes later a yellow Abarth-Simca (No. 26), shared by Calascibetta/Virgilio, roared into view and was so far ahead of the rest of the early numbers that it seemed they must have all retired, but number 46, a red Abarth, was going even faster and leading the class on time, with the green M.G. Midget in third place. Slow cars had now been well and truly overtaken by the faster ones and it was fairly easy to see who the class leaders were, while a stop-watch time on gaps compared to starting times allowed overall positions to be worked out. In the overall picture the order was Vaccarella leading from Scarfiotti by 9 sec. and, in spite of only seven cylinders working, Bondurant was third, and De Adamich was fourth in the works-supported Ferrari LM coupe. Maglioli was ahead of the two 8-cylinder Porsches, as was Herrmann in the Abarth, and way ahead of all the small cars was Mauro Bianchi in the Prototype Alpine-Renault. On the second lap the yellow Abarth coupe was 4½ min. ahead of the next man on the road, and was now leading the class as the red car of Demetz/Zucchi had dropped out. Pucci was going well in the Porsche 914 and had overtaken many of the GTZ Alfas, and then to everyone’s surprise Vaccarclla appeared, having caught and passed all the works Porsches. He completed the second lap in 39 min. 21 sec., which was 39 sec. under the old record held by Willy Mairesse since 1962, and this put him 50 sec. ahead of Scarfiotti. The second lap saw quite a bit of sorting out, as drivers got into their stride, and the situation was more orderly, with Guichet third, followed by Bondurant, Bonnier, Maplioli, De Adamich, Davis, Herrmann and Pucci.
At the end of the next lap many cars stopped to refuel and change drivers, and Bandini took over from Vaccarella, and Graham Hill took over from Bonnier. The open Porsche was taken by Miner, but Guichet continued in Ferrari number 204. Parkes should have relieved Scatfiotti, but the Italian driver went off the road and bent the steering, so this let the Ford back into third place, but unable to challenge the two works Ferraris.
The sun got hotter and hotter and as mid-day approached food and drink began to appear among the keener spectators, while others returned to their homes for lunch, and all the time the cars went roaring by, some sounding healthy, some sounding sick, while some showed signs of hard contact with stone walls and many fell by the wayside. Bonnier had been delayed by throttle cable trouble, which meant that Graham Hill took over with a big handicap, and the Ford had got going on all eight cylinders, but then Whitmore had the left front wheel come off on the sea-level straight. The wheel had bounced off the road and brought down the overhead wires of the main railway, but, undaunted, Whitmore fitted the spare, a policeman found the hub-nut, and the car got back to the pits, to rejoin the race. The little M.G. was still holding third place, and the Austin Healey 3000 was leading the miscellaneous collection of Ferraris in its class, two of them having bounced off walls, to the detriment of their bodywork.
After walking through the artichoke fields to a point high up on a bank overlooking a further series of bends, we returned to the main street of Cerda to join in a friendly bantering across the street by a group of Vaccarella fans on one side, led by the vociferous Mayor of Cerda, and a group of Ford fans on our side. Nearby was a police radio car and we heard about the Ford losing its wheel and assumed it had retired, much to the disappointment of our side of the street and the delight of the opposition. Competing curs were still passing, those leading their classes being cheered on their way, others being ignored, when suddenly the Ford appeared at the end of the main street, Bondurant going great guns. Without hesitation both parties leapt up and waved him on with cries of “Dai, dai, Ford,” and the friendly bantering and bets continued between tit; Mayor and the opposition.
The Vaccarella/Bandini Ferrari was more than 4 min. ahead of the Baghetti/Guichet car, while Mitter was really making the open Porsche 8-cylinder go, and caught and passed Linge in the 6-cylinder car. With the Bonnier/Hill car having been delayed, the Abarth 1600 Prototype had moved up to fourth place behind Mitter/Davis and Linge/Maglioli, and Pucci/Klaas in the 914 were fifth. The little yellow Abarth coupe was delayed by a broken clutch cable, but in spite of this got back into the lead in its class, followed by Giliberti/Knorr in a similar car. The regular running M.G. Midget, though it had had a stop to fit the cooling fan as the heat of the day grew to its maximum, was still third. The Austin Healey Sprite was being hampered by brake trouble and the big Healey had been delayed by a broken rotor arm in the ignition, but the Sunbeam was still wutffing round, sounding rather woolly at times, although the Rev. Jones seemed to think it was all right. It was something that all four British cars were still running, and the M.G. of Hedges/Hopkirk was making quite an impression.
During the seventh lap a red car was seen to come to a stop up in the hills above Cerda, and a long while afterwards Baghetti came walking down the street, on the long trek back to the pits. The battery in Ferrari number 204 had fallen apart, and with no ignition or fuel pumps he had abandoned it by the, roadside.
Just before three o’clock in the afternoon Pucci came by on his last lap, leading his class, lying fifth overall and leading on the road since the yellow Abarth had been delayed. As the Sicilian Baron owns a lot of the land around Cerda, and often drops in at the local for a glass of wine he was understandably popular, and he disappeared up the main street to the accompaniment of cheers and waves. Just three minutes later Vaccarella appeared, leading the race overall, and Cerda went wild with excitement, for it was now all over as far as we were concerned. The rest of the top runners came through but no Ford, and while we waited anxiously, trying to tell ourselves it was not really overdue, a sad and lonely figure in blue came walking down the main street. It was Bondurant. He had “lost” the Ford on some gravel, bounced off a wall, struck a water trough and torn a front wheel and suspension off, up in the hills above Cerda. So near the end of the long race and after putting up such a lonely battle, we all felt sick for the poor driver, and the Vaccarella supporters crossed over with genuine and heartfelt condolences. The little yellow Abarth was given an encouraging wave, as was the M.G. Midget, but now everyone crowded round the police radio car to hear when Vaccarella arrived safely at the finishing line. Suddenly there was a great shout from the Mayor and his chums and for Cerda the 49th Targa Florio was over. Vaccarella/Bandini (Ferrari) had won.
It was nearly three hours later that the stream of traffic allowed us to get down to the pits and cast around among the tired and weary pit crews and drivers. With Pucci finishing first on the road and Vaccarella driving the winning car over the finishing line, the crowds were beside themselves with joy, and it was a happy, milling throng that fought and jostled its way back to Palermo that evening.
No-one enjoys an Italian winning an Italian race more than the Italians, but when a Sicilian wins a Sicilian race there is a riot. It had been a memorable day, Ferrari had one car left out of three, but it was in first place; Porsche started four works cars and finished four works cars, in second, third, fourth and fifth places and the “uncontrollable” lightweight “Mickey-mouse” car finished second, only 4½ min. behind the winner, after more than seven hours of racing. The brand new 1,600-c.c. Abarth Prototype had finished a splendid fifth and the little M.G. Midget was 11th overall, still on the same lap as the leaders, and second in its class. The other three British cars were all a lap down, but nevertheless were still running at the finish, and the drivers deserve praise for “keeping them on the island,” for in the Targa Florio it is the easiest thing in the world to clout a wall or a kilometre stone.
It was after 8 p.m. before we got back to our hotel, tired, dusty and sun-burnt, but we felt we had enjoyed the 49th Targa Florio to the full and looked forward to 1966, the fiftieth anniversary of this great, and now unique, motor race.—D. S. J.
The De Adamich/Casone Ferrari LM would have finished fifth overall had it not suffered a broken battery, like the Guichet Baghetti car.
Henry Grandsire crashed the Alpine-Renault Prototype coupe and it caught fire, burning the driver rather badly. Giliberti also had a lurid crash in an Abarth-Simca, ending in a disastrous fire, and the American-owned 2-litre Abarth went over the edge of a Mountain and burnt out.
John Surtees did not drive in the Targa Florio this year, but who knows why ?