Radical thoughts on racing class

A passenger ride in a Radical pitches Doug’s mind back to the era of ‘etceterini’’

Having a motor sporting mindset shaped mainly by the 1950s and ’60s, I tend to view today’s one-make racing categories with a resignation fluctuating between disinterest and distaste. Through my teens I was one of thousands of delighted young Brits watching so many British manufacturers toppling foreign opposition to rule almost every significant racing class.

Such marques as Cooper, Lotus, Lola and Brabham — later March, Ralt, Reynard and more — each did their share to establish an industrial domination through on-track success. But for many years now that hasn’t been the way it’s done. Instead, it seems that such commercial success owes more to the ability — and technological experience and capability — to parlay one-make agreements in an FIA committee room, excluding all racing rivals even before the flag drops.

But one cannot help but show respect for doeverything Dallara, the Italian manufacturer which produces the vast majority of today’s one-make category chassis. This thought spilled into my mind as Ian Flux pitched the Radical 5R3 — British-built — into Goodwood’s Woodcote Corner, having just hit the brakes from an indicated 138mph at what looked to me — strapped into the passenger seat — like the 50-metre mark. Over the bump — now less abrupt than it once was — in the middle of Madgwick Corner (101mph), then scythe through Fordwater at 128plus. Just on 140mph into the braking area before the righthander flicking us into St Mary’s… and there I caught myself brazenly recalling Denny Hulme’s CanAm McLaren just here. He was clocked at over 165! Hmm — that gave a sense of proportion, but even so that road-registered Radical 5R3 was quick, and Ian was braking late enough — despite only driving at perhaps seventenths with yours truly’s bulk on board — for one to think “Hmmm — if there’s nothing at home the next time he hits that pedal, we’re history.” The view from the passenger’s seat is always worth an extra 20 per cent, but I must say I was surprised to find I was not the least bit bothered. Perhaps having been a passenger around Weissach in a Porsche 917 leaves one philosophical…

However, if you’re still with me, the train of thought then devolved upon minor manufacturers — the Radicals of the past. Dallara makes one think Italian, and myriad small-time manufacturers certainly stud Italian sporting history. Collectively described by the delightful term ‘etceterini’ such third-division marques as Stanguellini, Nardi, Foglietti, De Sanctis and Bandini spring to mind.

Amongst them, the products of Berardo Taraschi are particularly interesting. `Diddi’ Taraschi came from Teramo in the Abruzzo hills, flanking the Adriatic coast, halfway down ‘the leg’. From 1935 he raced successfully on 250 and 500cc Benelli and Moto Guzzi motorcycles. In 1939 he built his own Moto Taraschi 500 which combined a Benelli 500 head with a Rudge 350 crankcase and gearbox. After wartime service as a driving and motorcycling instructor, subsequently posted to the Russian front, he was fortunate to escape the retreat from the Don on a hospital train. After completing his service in Corsica and Sardinia he returned to Teramo in the summer of 1944.

Just post-war, his Meccanica Taraschi enterprise fettled motorcycles and motor cars to scratch a living. He was bursting to resume racing, and became just one of dozens inspired to build a racing special using a Fiat Topolino chassis. While in Great Britain ‘poor man’s motor racing’ developed using 500cc motorcycle engines, Italy’s corresponding movement was for 750s campaigned in both single-seat and sports form. It quickly assumed national significance. Taraschi’s prototype contender was clothed in ultra-low open Spider enveloping bodywork and powered by a 750cc BMW flattwin air-cooled engine (pictured below). The Marchese Diego de Sterlich — Teramo’s veteran Bugatti and Diatto racer — talked Taraschi out of naming his new racing car `Teramum’, and suggested he should name it instead “come una stella” (“like a star”). Just outside Teramo stood the Urania astronomical observatory (named after the Greek goddess of astronomy), so Taraschi did as the Marchese suggested; ‘Urania’ it would be.

In 1948 Taraschi’s new Urania-BMW promptly won the 750 Sport class in the Giro di Sicilia, and the 750 street race around Posillipo in Naples. He also built an open wheeled monoposto Urania with a Rootssupercharged 500cc BMW engine to contest the Formula 2 class of the Bari GP.

Taraschi had become friendly with the Roman brothers Domenico and Attilio Giannini, who had been preparing and modifying cars for competition since the 1920s. They had developed a long line of small Fiat-based engines, resulting in their own single overhead camshaft 660cc G1 unit, and the twin-cam 750cc G2. They admired `Diddi’s Urania cars and in 1949 the trio combined to build customer racing cars under the name Giaur — pronounced more or less `Jower’ — derived from Giannini/Urania. Nine more wins fell to Urania and Giaur that year. Thereafter, from 1950-57 Giaur became a considerable force in Italian national 750 Sport racing, and flotillas of the things ran annually at world class in the Mille Miglia.

Giaur Automobili operated from Giannini’s premises in the Via Cave di Pietralata, Rome, and Taraschi’s in the Via Crispi, Teramo. By 1955 a Giaur’s Giannini-developed 750cc engine breathing through two Weber 32DC03 carburettors would squeak out 42 horsepower at 5000rpm, 52.2 at 6000 and a peak of 60bhp at 7500. The cars generally carried attractive siluro bodies with merged-in swooping wing sections fairing in the wheels, but they also produced classically spartan cycle-mudguard variants and a pretty Berlinetta.

In 1954 Taraschi produced a single-seater known as the Giaur Red Blitz with a 70hp Giannini G2 Bialbero — twin-cam — engine. It was followed by a further developed (and tiny) 750 Corsa monoposto for 1955, by which time `Diddi’ was also racing in home Formula 1 events using an elderly ex-Scuderia Marzotto Ferrari 166 with its V12 engine enlarged to 21/2 litres. He reconfigured this old warhorse in Squalo style (below left) and ran at Naples in 1955. The Giaur partnership survived until early 1958, when Taraschi launched his first new front-engined Formula Junior monoposto design to be marketed and raced under his own name.

Taraschi continued into 1960-61, early FJ rounds his home town of Teramo and at Salerno, while drivers of his FJ cars included such better-known names as Colin Davis (who won at Naples, Pau and Albi), Massimo Natili, Franco Bernabei, Sergio Bettoja, Renato Pirrocchi, George Constantine in the USA and the lady driver Anna-Maria Peduzzi. In 1959 `Diddi’ won his home event round the streets of Teramo, and again at Salerno, and his fans had long since nicknamed him II Lupo d’Abruzzo — ‘The Wolf of the Abruzzo’. But as Cooper and Lotus made Formula Junior their own through 1960, Taraschi and the other Italian etceterini found themselves outrun technically and outsold commercially. For Taraschi, running his business as the Volkswagen, Innocenti, Renault and Mercedes-Benz concession for Teramo and Pescara offered a more secure future.

In his book Berardo Taraschi, Enzo Altorio lists `Diddi’s car production as totalling 118: seven Uranias, 48 Giaurs, and 63 FJ Taraschis. Etceterini maybe — but a fine effort certainly.

Doug Nye