The very words Targa Rusticana cannot fail to vibrate the nostalgia strings of anyone who was rallying a couple of decades ago. Neither a national race in Sicily nor a swift departure from university, the name is actually that of one of Britain’s most legendary rallies, inaugurated in the Fifties and last held in 1973. It was one of the great classic events of the road rallying school on which anyone who aspired to rallying stardom was obliged to cut his teeth. Indeed, it was a common question to beginners in those days,
“Have you done a Targa yet?”.
Road rallies, mostly centred in the least populated parts of the British Isles, were invariably held at night on little-used country roads, mostly those shown white or yellow on the then one-inch Ordnance Survey maps. There were no special stages, and timing was in minutes, not seconds, a format which Kenya’s Marlboro Safari Rally retains to this day despite pressure from FISA to change its character.
Organised by the Oxford University Motor Drivers’ Club, the Targa Rusticana regularly attracted the country’s leading crews, many of whom went on to international fame. Names such as Moss, Sprinzel, Clark, Elford, Siegle-Morris, Allard, Bengry, Fidler, Procter, Hall, Broad, Bullough, McBride, Gibbs, Malkin, Simister, Bloxham and Gibbs spring to mind, and there were many more. Even the organisers themselves were notable competitors, two of them having been winning co-drivers in the RAC Rally.
One of the Targa’s notable features was the unique timing system which it introduced in 1963. Each control clock was set back by the exact number of minutes allowed from the previous control, so that if a car went through the rally exactly as scheduled (which never happened!) it would record the same time at every control. Highly ingenious, nevertheless simple, Targa Timing was soon copied by most other events and became standard practice for many years until it was banned by a rule which demanded that all rally timing should be based on ordinary time of day.
Seventeen years after its last appearance the Targa Rusticana is being revived as a joint venture by the OUMDC and the Historic Rally Car Register, and among its organisers are several who ran it in the Sixties. Clerk of the Course John Brown declares that it “. . . . will not be as long or tough as the Targas of yore, and there will be more emphasis on the social side.” Dates are October 13 and 14, and headquarters will be at the Metropole Hotel, Llandrindod Wells. After Saturday morning formalities and a concours, there will be a three hour run in the afternoon, and a five hour run at night, ending at 1 am. Driving tests and lunchtime prize-giving will conclude the event on the Sunday. We are told that there will be no rough roads, no high-speed dicing and no outlandish navigation methods, but do be prepared for some astute map-reading, the odd regularity section, and a presentation in the style of the original Targa period.
For more information, contact Don Pither, Droys Court, Witcombe, Gloucester GL3 4TN (home tel: 0456864341) stating whether you are interested as a competitor, an official or just a spectator. Whichever is the case, you will be made welcome. GP