At one point in time, the Targa Florio, held in Sicily since 1906, was considered the most important road race in Europe. Le Mans, as a sports car race, did not start until 1923, and the Mille Miglia started in 1927. The Targa Florio race, which covered 277 miles throughout undeveloped, tortuous, and sometimes dangerous mountain roads, remained a dominant activity for road racing enthusiasts. Throughout its history, there were a variety of changes in the road course. The race always had the flavor of combining the speed and durability of the sports car itself, with the endurance and particularly cornering skills of the driver. When the FIA World Sports Car Championship was introduced in 1953, the Targa organizers applied for inclusion, which was granted in 1955.
It is difficult, historically, to keep track of the road courses. They were as short as 45 miles with 10 laps. The cars ordinarily started singly every two minutes. Although the race was always exciting, there were times when certain cars and racers dominated. From the point of view of our collection, our two Targa Florio cars were prominent. The Type 35 Bugatti and its variants won in 1925, ’26, ’27, ‘28 and ’29; and the Alfa Romeo 33TT set a lap record in 1972. Racers practicing for this event often had to run the course during commercial traffic. Nevertheless, the intensity to win was substantial and many of the drivers thought it was the highlight of their racing season.
Generally, the results followed the great sports racing cars of their era, that is Bugatti dominance in the late ‘20’s, Alfa dominance through the ‘30’s, Ferrari successes throughout the ‘60’s, and a Porsche was always very successful with their variations from the 904 through the 910. A brief rebirth of Alfa Romeo developed in the early ‘70’s. Other leading sports car racers, such as Bentley, did not participate
Because of safety concerns, and because of the fact that the cars were getting much too fast for the narrow roads, the race was discontinued for the World Championship Series in 1973. In 1977, the road course sports car races were discontinued. In all, Porsche won 11 races, Alfa Romeo, 10, and Ferrari, 7. As might be expected, virtually no American cars ever participated.