Piero Taruffi

Full Name:
Pierino Taruffi
Born:
12th October 1906
Albano Laziale, Lazio
Died:
12th January 1988 (Aged 81)
Rome, Lazio
Nationality:
Italian
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

With his thick mane of white hair, Piero Taruffi was christened "The Silver Fox" by the media. He may not have been the match for Tazio Nuvolari or Juan Manuel Fangio, but he had a varied and distinguished career that lasted over four decades. In addition to being a Grand Prix winner, he was a Team Manager and author whose The Technique of Motor Racing was the standard text for any aspiring racing driver.

Upbringing and early racing career

An all-round sportsman who excelled in tennis and skiing, his father took him to watch a motorcycle race in 1923. Dr Pompeo Taruffi, who was a wealthy surgeon, bought him his first racing bike (a 350cc AJS) to celebrate Taruffi passing school exams in 1925 and the youngster combined graduating with a degree in engineering with increasing success on two-wheels.

500cc European Champion on a Norton in 1932, he had also been racing cars for Scuderia Ferrari for a year. Early results in cars were moderate and Taruffi suffered a huge accident after leading the 1934 Tripoli GP. The brakes on his works Maserati V5 locked solid and he crashed through an advertising hoarding. His badly burned leg required skin grafts but Taruffi returned to finish the 1935 Italian GP in fifth position with a Bugatti T59. He also tested for Auto Union at the time but could not agree a contract.

He was Gilera’s Team Manager in bikes during the late 1930s and was much in demand as an engineer/driver after World War II. Test driver and Team Manager for Cisitalia, he finished second in the 1948 Targa Florio with a Cisitalia 202.

Formula 1 with Alfa Romeo and Ferrari

He was invited to drive an Alfa Romeo 158 in the 1950 GP des Nations at Geneva and Taruffi finished the non-championship race in third position behind team-mates Fangio and Toulo de Graffenried. That led to a world championship debut with the team in the Italian GP. He handed his car to Fangio but they retired with engine failure.

Taruffi completed the season driving a Ferrari in the Penya Rhin GP at Barcelona and he was a fulltime member of the team in 1951. The world championship opened in the Swiss rain and Taruffi climbed through the field to snatch second place from Giuseppe Farina in the closing laps. Fifth in the German and Italian GPs, he was third in the non-championship Bari GP and won the Carrera Panamericana when sharing a Ferrari 212 with American importer Luigi Chinetti.

Grand Prix winner

Now in his mid-forties, Taruffi’s best season as a GP driver was 1952. Alfa Romeo had withdrawn and the championship switched to Formula 2 rules for the next two Ferrari-dominated seasons. With team leader Alberto Ascari at Indianapolis for the 500, Taruffi qualified second and won the Swiss GP that opened the world championship by almost a lap. He was on the podium in France (third) and Britain (second) and finished in a career-best third in the world championship.

Taruffi switched to Lancia and sports cars in 1953 but it was a largely frustrating campaign. He retired more often-than-not but his Lancia D24 finished second on the Carrera Panamericana. 1954 was altogether more satisfying for Taruffi won both the Giro di Sicilia and Targa Florio and was second in the Tourist Trophy at Dundrod.

He repeated that Sicilian victory in 1955 driving a Ferrari 118LM and made two guest appearances for the all-conquering Mercedes-Benz Formula 1 team. He was fourth in the British GP as the silver W154s filled the top four positions and second at Monza when shadowing team leader Fangio across the line.

He made a final two GP starts in 1956 – qualifying a Vanwall in fourth place at Monza for the last of his 18 championship races. He was a member of the Maserati sports car team that year and in the winning 300S at the Nürburgring 1000Kms. He had already won the Targa Florio and Giro di Sicilia (twice) but victory in the Mille Miglia remained elusive despite his 13 appearances since 1930.

Tragic Mille Miglia victory

The 1957 race was a tragic affair due to Alfonso de Portago’s accident and the race would never be the same again. Taruffi won the last "proper" Mille Miglia with a works Ferrari 315 Sport. He finished second in that year’s Targa Florio and decided to retire from the sport that he had served with such distinction.

He returned to team management with Lucky Casner’s ambitious but ultimately underfunded Camoradi organisation from 1959 to 1961.