Palermo, April 8th.
The racing season opened on the Continent of Europe with the Giro di Sicilia, organised by the Automobile Club of Palermo, and after all the rumours of no more racing in Sicily and limitations to events in Italy, the scene in Palermo showed no signs of any such rumours being true. Enthusiasm throughout the island was as great as ever and all along the 1,080 kilometres of the route walls and rocks were plastered with printed signs telling the populace to stand well back on Sunday, April 8th, for the race round Sicily was to take place throughout the day.
As always, Ferrari and Maserati were supporting the sports classes, the “Prancing Horse” team also having an entry in the large Gran Turismo category. Being run on the same lines as the Mille Miglia, though in actual fact much older than that famous event, the Giro Sicilia is used as a practice ground for both cars and drivers.
At one minute past midnight number 001, a Dyna-Panhard, buzzed away into the night, to be followed at minute intervals by the rest of the class, comprising other Panhards and many Fiat 600 saloons. The start was from a wooden ramp in one of the streets leading into the main square of Palermo, and everywhere was brilliantly floodlit and the whole populace leant 10 deep on the steel-tube barricades. In the 750-c.c. Gran Turismo class there were three very pretty little two-seater coupe versions of the Fiat 600, built by Zagato and obviously inspired by the Ghia body on the Karmann Volkswagen. The small sports class, up to 750 c.c., saw seventeen tiny two-seaters built around Fiat 500 parts by such firms as Stanguellini, Giaur, Giannini, Bandini and Patriarca, many with their own double overhead-camshaft engines capable of 7,000 r.p.m., with twin-choke Weber carburetters. These little cars are the equivalent of British “specials,” such as those in the 750 Club, the 1,172 group, Lotus, Cooper, Kieft and so on. The 1,100-c.c. class was a more serious affair dominated by Osca, but with a number of 1,100-c.c. Stanguellinis, twin-cam four-cylinders built in Modena. All the usual touring classes and Gran Turismo classes were filled with Italian production cars, the new Alfa-Romeo Giulietta four-seater saloon opposing the well-tried Fiat 1,100 saloons for the first time. In the over-2-litre Gran Turismo class there was a factory Ferrari Type 250MM, a 12-cylinder 3-litre coupe now in sufficient production to qualify as a Gran Turismo car. This was driven by Ferrari team driver Gendebien, and opposing him were Lancia Aurelia and a pair of 300SL Mercedes-Benz in private hands.
The two larger sports classes contained the most interest and, obviously, the ultimate winner of the whole event. In the up-to-2-litre group were numerous private six-cylinder Maseratis and one of the new factory four-cylinder 2-litres, driven by Guiseppe Musso, brother of the well-known Luigi Musso. A new four-cylinder 2-litre Ferrari was in the hands of Starrabba, and against these was a very powerful team from Osca. In the past the Osca firm have only run one or two semi-official cars, but they now entered a full team of three factory cars, all four-cylinder 1,500 c.c., and driven by Villoresi, Cabianca and Maglioli, an exceedingly powerful trio for this type of racing, well able to give away 500 c.c. to the entries from Maserati and Ferrari. There was a lone Alfa-Romeo in this group driven by Sanesi, being a works-prepared Giulietta Spyder, the open version of the well-known Sprint. Devoid of all sales trimmings, this looked a very business-like car, though it could not hope to compete against the larger-engined competitors.
The over-2-litre category saw Castellotti and Musso with new 12-cylinder 3½-litre Ferraris, having four-speed gearboxes, coil and wishbone front suspension, de Dion rear, new brakes with “spike-type” finning as used by Maserati, and small compact bodies. The engines were the old type of Ferrari 60-deg. vee layout, with a single overhead camshaft to each cylinder block, two plugs per cylinder fired by coil ignition, three four-choke downdraught carburetters and short exhaust pipes protruding from each side of the car in front of the rear wheels. The scuttle was staggered back towards the passenger seat, the cowl in front of the driver was cut off flat halfway up, and there was a headrest behind the driving seat. Castellotti took a passenger with him, while Musso drove alone. This year, for the first time, it was not necessary to take a co-driver in any of the cars, and most of the entries were driving alone. A third factory Ferrari was a four-cylinder 3-litre on the same chassis layout as the new 12-cylinder cars, though it had a five-speed gearbox. This was the car that won at Dakar and Agadir in the hands of Trintignant, and for the Sicilian event it was in the hands of Peter Collins. He had with him his Mille Miglia passenger Louis Klemantaski, and they were using this event as practice for the bigger race. Chief opposition to this Ferrari trio came from Taruffi and Bordini (sic) with factory 3-litre Maseratis, of the type used in Argentina and Sebring. These are virtually the same as last year, with sleeker bodywork and more powerful engine, still a six-cylinder twin overhead camshaft similar to the Grand Prix engine, while the suspension and chassis, rear axle and gearbox are all identical to the Formula 1 car. A third car of this type was loaned to a local driver, Pucci, and the rest of the big class was made up by two Monza Ferraris driven by Carini and Pinzero, and till older 12-cylinder 3-litre.
Providing that the weather kept fine, and reports said it would, the issue lay between Castellotti, starting at 3.31 a.m. and having the number 331, Musso at 3.34 a.m., Taruffi 335, Bordoni 336 and Collins, last away at 337. As he left the starting ramp Musso’s Ferrari was sounding sick, misfiring badly, and before he got many miles he was out of the race with engine trouble. Castellotti set the pace, leading to Agrigento and Enna, followed closely by Taruffi driving very steadily in second place. Collins set off carefully, not having driven in this event before, and lay a steady third, the other two Maseratis dropping out early, Pucci with mechanical trouble and Bordoni running out of road. In the 2-litre class the three Osca 1½-litres were going at a terrific pace, leading their class in the order Maglioli, Villoresi and Cabianca, all three being old hands at the Giro Sicilia. Gendebien was in trouble soon after the start, with the works Ferrari suffering a puncture. This delay dropped him a long way back, but by Agrigento he was leading his class once more. Collins was also in trouble soon after the start when his clutch went solid and would not free, and he had to do all his gear-changing without using the clutch.
Castellotti continued his furious pace over the mountains to Enna and along the few straights on the circuit, towards Syracuse, and was still leading comfortably at Catania, but shortly after that his transmission broke and he was out. Pushing the car out of sight he lay low while Taruffi went by, lest the Maserati driver should realise he was now leading, and when Collins appeared Castellotti stood in the road and urged the Englishman on to greater efforts. At Messina Taruffi had a pit stop and was told he was now in the lead by 8½ min., having increased his lead over Collins continuously since the start. Not knowing that Collins was driving with great restraint the Maserati team manager assumed that the Ferrari could not go any faster, and urged Taruffi to take things easy on the final twisty section back to Palermo. Due to their starting numbers Taruffi was 10½ min. in front of Collins on the road and would never actually see him, while, equally, Collins would not see Taruffi until he was leading the race by 2 min. The two of them left Messina, Taruffi driving fast but not taking any chances, and Collins going all he knew in a do-or-die effort over the last 165 miles. The large vintage-like four-cylinder Ferrari engine, fairly thumped its way up the steep hills and the driver put every effort into throwing the car round the corners. By the time they reached the edge of the Targa Florio course Collins had made up his 8½ min. deficit and between there and the finish he gained nearly another minute over the unhurried Taruffi, who little knew what was going on behind him. Taruffi arrived at the finish and everyone assumed him to be the winner, for the last time control had been at Messina and only those people along the route from there knew how Collins had gained time. To everyone’s surprise the thundering Ferrari arrived at the finish 1 min. 07 sec. after Taruffi, having left 2 min. after him, which meant that Collins had won by a mere 53 sec. after 10 hours of racing.
Of the rest of the 131 starters, many fell by the wayside, though some managed to pick themselves up again and carry on, one Giulietta saloon rolling over twice, landing on its wheels and carrying on, a completely battered wreck. The new Osca team had a great success, being first and second in the class, as well as Villoresi being third overall, while Gendebien drove in his usual brilliant manner and, in spite of time lost at Enna to try and repair the clutch mechanism, finished fourth overall and an easy winner of the Gran Turismo class. For probably the first time in history a Fiat 1,100 did not win the touring saloon class, this going to an Alfa-Romeo Giulietta saloon, while in contrast the Giulietta Sprints were beaten in the Gran Turismo category by a lone Fiat Siata.
Giro di Sicilia — Sports Cars — 1,080 Kilometres — Fair Weather
*1st: P. Collins/L. Klemantaski (Ferrari 3.5-litre) 9 hr. 59 min. 53.2 sec. 108.020 k.p.h.
2nd: P. Taruffi (Maserati 3-litre) 10 hr. 00min. 46.2 sec. 107.861 k.p.h.
*3rd: L. Villoresi (Osca 1.5-litre) 10 hr. 28 min. 39.8 sec. 103.075 k.p.h.
*4th: O. Gendebien/J. Wascher (Ferrari 3-litre) 10 hr. 31 min. 24.2 sec.
5th: U. Maglioli (Osca 1.5-litre) 10 hr. 59min. 47.4 sec.
*6th: A. Vella (Fiat 8V) 11 hr. 14 min. 11.2 sec.
7th: A. Zampiero (Mercedes-Benz 300SL) 11 hr. 33 min. 16.8 sec.
8th: G. Rossi (Osca 1,100-c.c.) 11 hr. 33 min. 38.0 sec.
44 others finished
* Denotes class winner
Collins’ was the first British victory in the Giro Sicilia, Moss’ was the first British victory in the Mille Miglia, and the two together were the first British victory in the Targa Florio. Britain is at last getting a real foothold in International road-racing.
Beards are now highly popular in Italy; Moss used one last year as passenger in the Mille Miglia, and Collins used one as passenger in the Giro di Sicilia. Italian drivers are now looking for more bearded passengers to bring them luck in the open-road races.
Castellotti and Musso were not very happy to see the old hack Ferrari four-cylinder arrive victorious, after their nice new 12-cylinder cars had blown-up.
Young Guiseppe Musso arrived at the start in a terrible flap, shot up the starting ramp at speed and knocked all the officials for six. Brother Luigi thumped him hard and produced a degree of calm.
Some of the 1,100 Fiats had the boot filled with enormous extra fuel tanks, one of them being a riveted galvanised iron water tank complete with a gigantic plumber’s stop-cock on the 2-in, pipe joining the main tank.
Most of the saloons had the rear windows whitewashed or covered with newspaper to prevent glare in the night hours.
Many inexperienced competitors shot out of the starting area without their headlamps on, for the illumination was like day. When they reached the edge of the square and total darkness the stop-lights shone brilliantly as they groped wildly for the lights switch.
There was a great deal of train traffic along the northern leg of the course and most people were delayed at level crossings.
Gendebien found the spare wheel in the boot of the Ferrari coupe larger than the boot lid; it took the assistance of six locals to force it out!
Collins had to make all four restarts after pit stops by grinding away on the starter in bottom gear, having no clutch. He found the Ferrari easier to change gear without the clutch than with; Gendebien also experienced this. They are thinking of suggesting to Enzo that clutches are thrown away in the future, thus saving weight!