Founded in 1906, the Targa Florio was one of the world's oldest motor races with a continuous tradition; and with very few exceptions, the event had always been held on the 45-mile Piccolo Madonie circuit around the Madonie Mountain near Palermo in Sicily. It was run over rough mountain roads and with only one 3-mile straight to outweigh the 800 curves and corners in the mountains, so a 70 mph lap was always considered to be very fast indeed, and was usually matched to 170 mph speeds on the straight.
The event was founded by Vincenzo Florio, son of a wealthy Sicilian ship-owner, it was strictly a family affair until the death of the founder. Apart from being one of the oldest races it was also the safest, only one driver, Count Masetti, having met his death, in 1925. Between 1956 and 1967 Porsche would take out the event a total of seven times, against Ferrari's four in the same period.
The 1968 Showdown Between Alfa and Porsche
In 1968 Ferrari kept out of European sports car racing in favour of building a team of 5½
litre cars for the well-endowed CanAm series, so it was left to Alfa-Romeo to carry the torch for Italy in this class of racing against the powerful Porsche opposition. To try to break the Porsche domination in the Targa, Alfa abstained from running in the Monza 1,000km race, which was something of a disaster for Porsche anyway, in favour of preparing and testing a full team for Sicily.
This included a new 2.5-litre car for the local Sicilian driver, Nino Vacarella, and five 2-litre cars of the basic type as raced in the BOAC 500, two of them entered by R. T. VDS a Belgian team headed by Teddy Pilette and T. Gosselin who had purchased two 1967 aluminium chassis cars, and three titanium-chassis cars from Autodelta, the official Alfa-Romeo racing team. These cars were allocated to Baghetti /Biscaldi, NannigalliiGiunti and Lucien Bianchi-Mauro Casoni. Establishing themselves in the old Ferrari headquarters in Cerda -the first town through which the race passes - Autodelta ran a thorough testing programme; one car was said to have done 40 laps without breakage, belying the Type 33's reputation for fragility.
Porsche, after the Monza debacle, had brought four 2.2-litre flat-eight-cylinder 907s, with a spare practice car, and one six-cylinder 910 (for Steinemann and Lins) to support a pair of private 910's in their task of winning the 2,000 c.c. Sports Prototype class. Drivers of the 907s were Vic Elford/Umberto Maglioli, Hans Herrmann/Joachim Neerpasch, Jo Siffert
/Stommelen and Ludovico Scarfiottii/Gerhard Mitter. These new 907s were of space frame construction with modified rear suspennsion giving minimum camber change to permit the use of the latest 12in. rim Dunlop tyres.
The 2,199 c.c. flat engines sported a huge Bosch eight-piston low-pressure injector pump, driven off the left-hand inlet camshaft and supplied with fuel by a small electric backing pump. They all had right-hand steering
originally adopted for Le Mans; great care was taken to cool the gearbox by means of glass fibre ducting. To save weight and space a Goodrich deflated emergency spare tyre
British entries usually stood up well to the conditions, making up in robustness what they lack in speed. BMC competitions had sent down a very standard-looking steel MGB GT complete with all internal trim, but with Group 4 engine mods, for which reason it was classed with David Piper's Ferrari 275LM, the Drury and Sanger GT40, Ted Worwick/Dick Bond Healey 3000 and a couple of Porsche Carrera Sixes in the up-to-5,000-c.c. sports class. J. C. Bamford had sent their beautifully prepared Group 6 MGB drivers Tony Fall and Peter Brown. Jack Wheeler and Martin Davidson had the former's so-called Sprite which featured Lotus Elan rear suspennsion among other things - while the Donald Healey Motor Company had a proper Group 4 1,275 c.c. Sprite for Clive Baker and Rauno Aaltonen.
Although most people practise in the traffic, either in the race cars or in hired cars, the roads were cleared for five hours on for timed laps as much to tryout the timekeepers as the cars. Vic Elford was outstandingly fast in his Porsche 907 with 36min 47.7sec for his only lap. Vaccarella's best out of five was 36min 56.2sec-2sec slower than Siffert. The second fastest Alfa was Giunti in a two-litre Type 33 with 38min 3.5sec, while Stommelen in a 907 Porsche had recorded 37min 8sec. The fastest Porsche 910 was Lins' car with 39min 0.3sec. On his first practice lap Scarfiotti came into violent contact with the scenery near Collesano, writing off his car which had to be replaced by the practice car.
Fastest of the British contingent was Tony Fall with a 43min 38.8sec lap in the Bamford MGB, only 4sec faster than Clive Baker in the Sprite. The Nomad-Ford Special lapped in 43min 8sec. The only women's team in the race, Pat Moss and Miss Facetti in a works HF Lancia Fulvia coupe, were allowed a lap apiece in the special lightweight race car and Pat Moss put in a lap in 43min 51.2sec. This car was another to use rare metals in the structure and was very much lighter than the standard HF coupe.
The 52nd Targa Florio belonged to one man and one manufacturer, Vic Elford and Porsche.
The Race Begins
The day before the race the hot, dry Sirocco wind from North Africa set in and by race day the flags round the Cerda tribunes had been stripped from their poles, hats and dust were flying and everyone was bad tempered with the general discomfort in the hot sun.
The A.C. de Palermo, who had a budget to keep, did away with the garlands of fruit-bearing lemon branches and garlands of flowers which decked the stands in the Florio days and the trellis gate through which the cars were sent off was no longer there. But no one can change the wide sweep of the hills, the scent of sage and thyme and wild flowers, or the very different scents in the primitive villages through which the cars roar and slide all Sunday long.
At Exactly 8 am. the first car - Locatelli's orange Lancia Fulvia Zagato Coupe
- dashed off into the mountains, followed by the rest of the field in ascending order of performance. Last to go were the five Sports Prototypes under 3-litres headed by Vaccarella, the usual 20-second interval between cars extended to five minutes to give him a clear run. Hans Herrmann followed in a Porsche 907 followed by Vic Elford, Jo Siffert
and Ludovico Scarrfiotti.
There was a great cheer from the crowd when Vaccarella (he then lived in Collesano and lapped the Piccolo Madonie twice a day) came flashing past after a 37min 7.6sec lap; but only 58sec later Scarfiotti, who had started last, came past having picked up 20 seconds on the Alfa driver and passed all his team mates.
To a murmur of disappointment from the Porsche supporters Siffert came into the pits pointing to the front wheel. A hub bearing had seized and the mechanics set to work to change the wheel post. Vic Elford was also missing, but Siffert had seen him stopped by the roadside. It turned out that a rear hub nut had slackened
off, as at Monza; he had pulled into the halfway pit to have it tightened, then it had slackened off again putting him off the road when a front tyre
punctured and he had to fit his Goodrich spare.
Vic Elford Sets Targa Lap Records
It says something for Vic that the whole series of events took place inside a 50-minute lap, which was only 13 minutes slower than Scarfiotti's. A further five minutes were wasted in the pit before he got off again with a 200 minute backlog to make up.
At the end of the first lap, too, David Piper, in the only 12-cylinder car in the race, came in to change a broken throttle cable.
Just how quickly Vic Elford
was to make up time was shown by his first flying lap, the third, with a new lap record of 36min 2.3sec, a speed of 119.87 kph. And at the end of his fourth lap, when he came in to hand over' to Maglloli, he was back on the leader board in seventh place.
The wisdom of pairing Elford with Maglioli was shown by the way the car had moved up into fourth place by the time he handed the car back to Elford. This performance was helped by the failure of a half-shaft doughnut on Scarfiotti's car on the climb up to Callvaraturo, pulling the Italian driver back to sixth on his sixth lap. Even after the half-shaft had been changed the car had to come in a second time to have a new exhaust
system fitted to replace the one which had been damaged by the half-shaft, an operation which took so long that the car was put right out of the running.
While the Porsches were falling by the wayyside Vaccarella had handed over to Schutz at the end of his third lap only to have his co-driver put the car off a few kilometres up the road. This was hard luck for the Sicilian who had lost a lot of face by breaking his Ferrari last year in his home village, and for Alfa who were pinning their hopes of a win on the 2.5-litre car. However, the 2-litre cars were going with reemarkable reliability and when Scarfiotti dropped back Nannigalli in one of these cars took the lead to the great delight of the crowd, with the Casoni-Bianchi Type 33 Alfa in second place; Herrmann's Porsche 907 in third place was the best placed of that marque. He was having gear selection trouble and was reported to have stopped out on the Circuit to sort things out on one occasion.
Among the small-fry Baker in the Healey-Sprite was reported to have stopped a kilometre after the Polizzi refuelling pits for an unspecified reason. Tony Fall in the Bamford MGB had also been off the road but got back again by offering 10,000 lire "push-money". Wheeler's Healey-Ford was out with broken front suspension and the Nomad-Fol had been delayed by a pin coming adrift in the gear shift linkage. On the credit side at half-distance the Hopkirk-Hedges MGB was in second place in its class behind the Wendt-Kauhsen Porsche Carrera six, and Ted Worswicks vintage Healy 3000
was fourth in the same category. An Italian copy of the Unipower entered as Mini-Cooper, was also second in the 1,000 cc Prototype class.
David Piper had gone off the road on the second lap at the 39th kilometre post because of the new throttle cable sticking, the ensuing collision had badly damaged the Ferrari and cut his arm. At the head of things it was a question as to whether Vic Elford's
Porsche would break before he caught up the Nannigalli-Guisti Alfa. As an insurance for Porsche, the Herrmann car was also catching the Alfa of Bianchi and Casoni which was slowing with falling oil pressure.
With outstanding laps of 36min 20sec (the eighth) and 36min 18sec on the ninth round Vic Elford
put himself safely into the lead, one and a half minutes ahead of Nannigalli on the ninth lap, and toured home to win for Porsche.
Race Records Continue To Fall
While the 1968 race is one of the better remembered these days for the brilliant driving skills as displayed by Vic Elford, the lap records would continue to fall in subsequent years. Helmut Marko would set the lap record in 1972 in an Alfa Romeo T33 at 33 min 41 s or an average of 128.253 km/h (79.693 mph). The fastest ever was Leo Kinnunen in 1970, qualifying the Porsche 908/3 at 128.571 km/h (79.890 mph) or 33 min 36 s.
After winning the race several times, Porsche named the convertible version of the 911 after the Targa which later became a glass roof version of the Porsche 911 Carrera being another car named after a race. The name of the Targa with the large roll bar was a wise choice, as targa means shield. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, race cars with up to 600 hp (450 kW) such as Nino Vaccarella's Ferrari 512S raced through small mountains villages while the people were sitting or standing right next to or even on the road. Porsche, on the other hand, did not race its big Porsche 917, but rather the nimble Porsche 908/03 Spyders.
Due to safety concerns, the last real Targa Florio as an international professional race was run in 1973. In that year, even a Porsche 911 won as the prototypes suffered crashes or other troubles. The Targa was continued as a national event for some years, before a fatal crash sealed its fate in 1977. It has since been run as a rallying event.