The time eventually arrived when I started to grow a bit weary of spending most of my days in this wonderful walled factory, watching the true descendants of the Renaissance applying their DNA-evolved talents to create some of the most exciting racing vehicles of the Twentieth Century.
I know how this sounds to you, dear reader, but I was itching to travel and experience more.
In my mind I could picture these same men working under the direction of a Da Vinci or a Brunelleschi bringing to life world-class achievements in design and construction. While I indeed enjoyed day trips to downtown Milano, testing at Balocco or walking the village pathways, I knew a number of important races were coming up and asked Ing. Chiti one afternoon if I could participate.
The next day he had plans made for me to be driven to Florence the following week to pick up a Giulia sedan to be driven my me to meet up with the team in Sicily.
The car was to have been loaned to me through a long-time friend of the Ingeniere..a man I believe named Mr. Baldassarini, who had an earlier association with Autodelta and who now had owned an Alfa Romeo dealership S.C.A.R. in a southern Florence neighborhood.
On the appointed day, having being driven first to Weber S.p.A. in Bologna to pick up some necessary parts in a ratted out yellow Spider muletto (chassis 00001...the first prototype Kamm tail) I finally arrived in Florence to see my Giulia being washed and polished.
With keys in hand and a fistful of tourist gasoline discount coupons I began a non-stop, moderate to high speed twelve hour race of my own down the spine of the Apennine mountains to the lower tip of the Italian peninsula using some of the original Mille Miglia roads.
Becoming quite sleepy by sunrise the next morning in Reggio Calabria, I found a quiet place to sleep near the ferry docks to Sicily.
After resting further in picturesque Cefalu`... a stunningly beautiful northern coastal beach village with the bluest water anywhere in the Mediterranean, I finally found the village of Cerda where our story of the Targa Florio continues....
For a wealth of valuable information gathered from original photographs, box camera and 8 mm running black and white images.... and first person accounts of the true history of the Targa Florio from those who saw them all, I urge you to visit a treasure created by my friend in Sicily Mr. Salvatore Careri:
This is the Alfa that has captivated me the most... a 1600 with 45 mm Webers.
The more I drove it from Florence to Reggio Calabria, to Cerda and back to Florence at high speed on the back roads of the spine of Italy's old mountainous roads ...the more convinced I became that the105 series sedan was (and remains to this day) the best overall handling and driving Alfa Romeo of the mid-twentieth century....once again...with the notable exception of the new Alfa Romeo 4C locked in "Dynamic Mode".
After 1100 miles driven in a 4C (1700 kms) and three decades driving nearly every other Alfa Romeo automobile since the advent of the 101 series cars...and as District Service Manager for Alfa Romeo, USA for a total of Alfa Romeo mileage dirven exceeding 1,000,000 miles...the Giulia and the 4C are at the pinnacleof driving excitement and thrill satisfaction in my opinion!
The Amalfi Drive, Amalfi.
On the ferry passing through the Straits of Messina from Reggio Calabria to Messina, Sicily.
Welcome to beautiful Sicily...a most stunningly barrenand historically fascinating island.
Here is an exciting preview of what lies ahead as we are privileged to present two video clips. One is found on Italian television of the 1972 Targa race and the second one is from Michael Keyser's "The Speed Merchants".
The first video is a thrilling overall glance of the competition close up:
In the second video we are grateful for the opportunity to present the late Alfa Romeo T-33/3 driver Vic Elford as he talked about the Targa Florio and as he takes you on a portion of the old original circuit...just as it was in 1972.
If you would like to secure a copy of the the entire season of World Manufacturers Championship Series on video (or the entire video in book form) narrated by some of the most famous endurance drivers of the "Golden Years" including Mario Andretti and Dr. Helmut Marko...you can obtain a copy here direct from Michael Keyser:
This video portion is provided to Autodelta Golden Years.com with the expressed, written permission and personal courtesy of owner and film producer Michael Keyser of The Speed Merchants.
On The Road of the Targa Florio
The 44 mile circuit remained open to vehicular and horsedrawn traffic during all days except the Sunday race...necessitating ultra careful and alert driving required to safely navigate the mountainous circuit .
Here a farmer, his horse and his dogs are barely visable due to the fact the winding circuit is composed almost entirely of blind twists and turns!
As I was saying, one must be extremely vigilant when driving the Targa Florio route during the week prior to the race. In this case...it was all I could do to suddenly encounter and avoid colliding with this Ferrari 312P that came from out of nowhere!
Camera in one hand...steering wheel nervously gripped tightly with the other hand... as I swerve to the right side to narrowly avoid hitting the Ferrari head on!
One can see the enthusiasm of local race partisians in their vigor to promote their favorite driver in the race, such as in this case where 'Victory to de Adamich' or 'Victory to Nino' (Vaccarella) was a common sight on signage and on the pavement.
Much of the same 'citizen enthusiasm' had been found on race day on the Route of the Mille Miglia from Brescia to Roma and back.
The 44 mile circuit has very little guardrail, almost no obvious directional signage and the occasional farmer, horse and wagon to be particularly watchful for during the week of practice before race day.
The approach to the start / finish line, the pits and the historic grandstand.
The start / finish line...with pit road to your left.
The Village of Cerda, Sicily and the focal point of Autodelta activities.
Here are my actual notes as written during the week of May 15, 1972:
“Arriving Monday May 15th in Cerda before the race, I stuffed my travel gear into a hotel room (Hotel Aurim) generously furnished by Autodelta and went to bed early. On Tuesday I began doing the odd jobs I had done before at Sebring...running errands, sweeping the garage floors, cleaning and polishing the cars, etc.
“This labor continued through Saturday evening (the race began the next day). All this time I ate three meals with everyone else, worked hard and had a good time with everyone.
“Now and then, someone would interrupt my work to tell me how well I was doing and telling me how much they appreciated it. These people ranged from the Director Generale-Ing. Carlo Chiti and his staff of engineers…down to the mechanics themselves. Autodelta feels that my work frees their mechanics to perform more important labor. I felt truly gratified to receive the accolades of my friends and the management of the team!
" There was not enough time in the day and night to do everything possible to prepare and repair the cars for the next days’ activities.
"The food is OK…as always served at least ½ hour after we were told it would be ready and the service in general was poor. Apparently, the hotel staff is small in order to save money. Autodelta always comes to this hotel because it has a large garage that is used as the team headquarters.
“Everyone is really mad about the food service delays—even the spaghetti is ½ hour late as the mechanics used to cooking their own spaghetti al dente in 8 minutes in the garages of Daytona, and Sebring. The hotel itself ranks low on the attractiveness and cleanliness scale, but it is considered a nice hotel in Sicily. The kitchen floor was always littered with food, the rooms behind the kitchen were used as a large garbage assembly area. All of the windows appear to be last cleaned in 1950 and the rooms and hallways need to be painted.”
“The race itself is run on a course of 44 miles up and down, over and through the mountains. These are public roads and during practice the race cars must be very careful not to hit horse drawn cars, tiny automobiles, dogs, children and cows.
"About eight towns are bisected by the course that has one straight Autostrada section of about 4 miles. I drove the course twice, once at speed. Between the pits and our hotel was about six miles of winding roads exist which I drove frequently. Driving the entire course takes me about 1.5 hours so I didn’t do it very often.
“I spent the raceday on a lonely checkpoint in the mountains with extra gasoline, tires, water and miscellaneous spares in the event one of our cars had difficulty. Each car makes eleven laps if it finishes the race, so I didn’t see very much.
“After the race on departure day I was provided with 60 gallons of free gasoline given to me by Autodelta in six large plastic containers…plus a full tank of fuel into my Giulia.
"At that point I left directly for Roma having had the racing experience of a lifetime.!”
A typical village in rural Sicily, this is 'Main Street'....in Cerda.
Headquarters of the Autodelta Targa Florio effort. Built on the side of a slight hill, the back of the building featured garage space for the team, a measure of privacy and good food.
The garage facilities of the Hotel Aurim provided lots of space for the huge Autodelta machine shop bus and the familiar Autodelta transporter.
Due to a severe shortage of 'rain' tires from sponsor Goodyear, Autodelta was forced to prepare for the changeable weather patterns of Sicily by assigning two mechanics to regrove many of their existing tire stock with hot tire-grooving tools for an entire day.
The men worked here by the side and ended up with one set of rain tires for each entered car...never in actuality to used during the race but were handy as spare tires for those of us assigned to mountainous duty located around the circuit as service assistance.
You will note the red GTA, one of several, in the background used by Autodelta drivers as training cars to become acclaimated to the 44 mile circuit.
Teodoro Zeccoli, Ing. Carlo Chiti, Roberto Banfi.
The principal race car test driver for Alfa Romeo over a twenty year period, Teodoro Zeccoli, who sadly passed away at the age of 89 years old on March 6, 2018, is seen standing along the left edge of the photograph preparing his thoughts for his capo Carlo Chiti seen on the right.
Their fellowship was born in the days of the ATS adventure, where he was entrained by Chiti from the position of the chief test driver and racing pilot for Carlo Abarth, toward new challenges with uncertain borders with Alfa Romeo...
"One of Ing. Carlo Chiti's Darkest Hours...The 1972 Targa Florio."
In spite of daunting odds stacked against him and in an heroic struggle on the final 44 mile lap of this historic 484 mile race through the Sicilian countryside to win the prized laurel wreath and to bring honor to the House of Alfa Romeo once again in the Targa Florio, a truly 'possessed' Austrian Dr. Helmut Marko leaped into his drivers seat for his final turn behind the wheel.
Behind by more than two minutes.... he struggled valiantly ...with his eyes piercing the daytime sky as two flaming lightning bolts ...throwing his nimble T-33/3 from side to side skipping across the asphalt like a stone being tossed across a still lake ....regained all but a mere 16.8 seconds.... but in the end losing to Sandro Munari's Ferrari 312 P in one of the most thrilling episodes in Alfa Romeo racing history.
Passing my roadside vantage point in the mountains, the drive of Dr. Marko was the most exciting and utterly captivating 10 seconds I personally...to this very day...have ever witnessed in my entire motor racing lifetime. Autodelta had made a major concerted effort to win here and threw the entire weight and prestige of the parent company behind this effort. The team rented garage space from the Hotel Aurim in Cerda. Above, you see test driver Teodoro Zeccoli standing on the left, Roberto Banfi, the master transmission and differential wizard on the right and a training GTA in the background. 'Training' cars were employed to permit drivers to learn the 44 mile circuit throughout the beautiful Sicilian countryside. As the lowest member of the Autodelta 'totem pole' I was responsible for keeping all of the cars in spotless condition during the season so that history would record every Autodelta car looking its absolute fastest and shiny best in then present day track appearances and in all future photographs. For the actual race I was stationed somewhere along the course in the mountains equipped with front and rear spare tires, fuel, a few tools, gasoline, coolant and a large Alfa Romeo sign board to represent an assistance point for drivers to become familiar with. Shiny body panels, wouldn't you agree?
Roberto Banfi and Andrea de Adamich
Andrea de Adamich with transmission / differential specialist Roberto Banfi. Notice the spare wheel and mounted tire to Andrea's left side, to be changed only by the driver if required along the circuit.
Rolf Stommelen at the controls of the team "muletto" at high speed... established as a training car used by drivers to become fully proficient in the circuit at full speed without wearing out one of the super fresh starting grid vehicles.
This single photograph is my overall emotional favorite among all of my experiences with Autodelta over the years...distilled down to one single iconic image at one breathtaking moment in time.
This image represents the very essence of the historic Targa Florio where.... at 'full chat' ....a T-33/3 V-8 could be heard blaring in the far distant mountains long before it suddenly appeared....slicing this quiet Sicilian village of Cerda into two violently loud reverberating pieces.
"And in mere seconds it is out of sight again... in an intoxicating mixture of deafening 'fighter jet' thunder, screaming tires and a blood red streak of greased lightening."
Image Courtesy of Autodelta Italia website www.AutodeltaItalia.com.
Discussion and Commentary
I would like to complement my description of this truly historic 1972 Targa event with the excellent account rendered to Autodelta Golden Years.com by Sicilian writer Michelangelo Teresi... who generously agreed to share his personal impressions and insightful analysis of the battle between the Ferrari and Autodelta team drivers.
Mr. Michelangelo Teresi writes in translation:
"La Targa Florio: a race that already in 1972 was heading to its natural end. Designed in 1906 by Don Vincenzo Florio, on the dusty Sicilian streets, it had become anachronistic with modern cars, studied for fast circuits, smooth asphalt, with so much power that it endangered the passionate Sicilian crowd that had always come to the edges of the streets to see the biggest motor event of the year.
"1972 was the year of Ferrari, the 312P was a chassis made around the powerful 12-cylinder boxer engine designed by Mauro Forghieri. Not suitable for streets that were full of potholes, but a victory in Sicilian soil would have gone around the world and would have given an almost mathematical guarantee for conquering the last Mondiale Marche title in the history of Maranello.
"The 312P had already dominated all the previous six races. In the Ferrari team there was the best of the world drivers of the moment: Andretti, Ickx, Regazzoni, Peterson, but the expedition to the Targa was handled with a series of novelties.
"Ferrari brought only one car to Sicily and the team was coordinated by Cesare Fiorio while Arturo Merzario and Sandro Munari were chosen as drivers. Thus the best sporting director, the master of road circuits where the driver still matters a lot and the best rallysta around.
"So this was to be a Ferrari runway? Everyone is waiting for it, but nothing was taken for granted especially if in the starting list there was a poker of other red cars. They came from Milan, to be exact from Settimo Milanese, where the Autodelta factory of the engineer Carlo Chiti was based. Alfa Romeo 33TT3, 8-cylinder V-cylinder engine, short and maneuverable chassis and eight fierce drivers: Andrea De Adamich, Toine Hezemans, Rolf Stommelen, Nino Vaccarella, the Sicilian idol, Vic Elford, another great expert of the Targa and of Monte Carlo Rally winner, Gijs Van Lennep, winner of Le Mans, and finally two young and motivated drivers, the Tuscan Nanni Galli and the Austrian Helmut Marko.
"The morning of 21st May was challenge theatre day, a single Ferrari against four Alfa Romeo cars with Vic Elford rocketing with the 33TT3, but breaks the oil filter immediately on lap one and the first Alfa is out. Arturo Merzario immediately puts de Adamich's Alfa first lap pass in Cerda he appears first, followed by the flying president Nino Vaccarella.
The half a million spectators sitting along the 72 km of the route are visible, but on the third lap Stommelen climbs and stops immediately with the V8 broken, even for the second Alfa it is the end.
But behind the Ferrari is the third car of Autodelta.
"Nanni Galli quickly drove his Alfa number 5, saving the vehicle, but above all without ever risking and giving the wheel to Helmut Marko.
"For the 29-year-old Austrian and future discoverer of talents like Vettel and Ricciardo it’s the debut on the Madona circuit even if his resume includes the distance record and victory at Le Mans with the powerful 917.
Meanwhile Sandro Munari replaces Arturo Merzario on the 312P, but the ace of the rally is fast in prototype cars, but he didn’t experience the 312P and driving a car of over 400 hp on winding roads is not really the best for someone who has to win on his debut and like a Helmuth hawk Marko snubs his prey.
"The Austrian starts chasing at every corner his 33TT3 gains meters on the Ferrari and at the height of the Polizzi crossroad he puts the Italian rallyman in. Alfa is first, and remains for the 4th and 5th laps of the 11 scheduled. Arturo Merzario is ready, he can’t wait to take the wheel again.
"The two cars have to stop at the pits for refueling and pilot change. After 24 seconds the jockey starts again, while it takes 40 seconds to get Nanni Galli to start again, but Merzario has to make up for another minute and a half lost by Munari.
Jumping upside down on the 72 km of Madonias to hunt for Nanni Galli. He spins under 35 minutes looking for a desperate comeback, while Nanni Galli always drives very carefully, the advantage is substantial on the Ferrari, the important thing is not to make mistakes, the important is to arrive first under the checkered flag and everything seems to be turning in Alfa's favor. But at the 8th lap, at the end of his turn comes the surprise: in Collesano, the reserve spy turns on. The Tuscan thinks of a contact, but shortly after, going down towards Campofelice the spy turns red: there is no fuel, difficult to get to the pits, they are still too far away.
"The mistake was made right in the refueling, with the car tilted to one side and the tank wasn't completely filled. In Campofelice,
"Nanni Galli manages to make an emergency doodle, but in the meantime Merzario is a lightning bolt and goes to command mode.
"Last stint, little chance for Alfa with the situation upside down. Ferrari starts again with Munari, Marko starts again too, but with a minute and a half away from Ferrari and three laps to go. Munari only takes a tour, now he can travel with interesting times, then he passes the car to Merzario, which has to curb the Austrian unrest on a day of particular grace. Last lap, Comasco lead with a 42 second lead, just need to complete the lap, no crashes and no overtaking.
"The Austrian on the other hand has nothing to lose, in Caltavuturo the detachment is 32", in Bivio Polizzi at 28", and in Collesano only 20" that divide the two reds. At Campofelice the lead drops to 18” but Merzario manages to keep the lead on Alfa Romeo and passes victorious under the checkered flag finishing the race at an average of 122,537 km/h, the highest ever.
"To Helmut Marko, second, goes the lap record in 33'41", the moral victory and the memory of that fabulous missed comeback.
"And it’s really the Civenna driver who remembers that victory, the last of the red cars on Madonite streets:
“That year we raced with the 312P, the new three-liter prototype designed by Forghieri, great car, but only one car was registered for me and Sandro Munari at the Targa Florio. Cesare Fiorio was put at the head of the expedition, almost to give him a container after the victories in the Rallyes.
"Between Fiorio and Enzo Ferrari there was no good blood. Fiorio, was the son of lawyer Agnelli, but Enzo Ferrari always blocked the road to Maranello. “As long as I’m there, he won’t step a foot in here! "These are Ferrari's words regarding Lancia's sports director, but that time, just that, he had to give in to the pressure of the lawyer.
"Sandro Munari, champion of rallies was given the opportunity to race with the Ferrari, right at the Targa Florio where the track was road, in many parts similar to a special rally."
His co-driver Arturo Merzario continued:
"He arrived without having done many tests, and I was immediately clear: "I'm here to win, trouble for you if you break my car, go slow and don't do any nonsense!"
"Munari used to come to rallies with special tests where you ran only against time, at the Targa you raced in the middle of many other cars often slower. The length of the race was brought to over 800 km, with only one driver not allowed to drive more than a certain amount of time, which on the Sicilian course amounted to over 700 km.
"So I took off, went straight to the lead, and after four laps I left Munari the Ferrari for only one spin, then I took the car again and after four more laps, when I had accumulated a solid lead I left it again, so that he could do his second one and final turn, always of one lap, going slowly without risking any chances."
"Sandro Munari respected the agreements made, both times he drove carefully, slowly, without risking the car and the result.
We climbed the podium as winners, with the warm Sicilian audience going crazy for Ferrari's victory. "
Here are only three additional photographs that are added... because for the actual race... Ing. Chiti sent me to a mountainside post somewhere along the circuit with a set of tires, many liters of benzina, antifreeze solution and tools along with a large round Alfa Romeo logo sign to inform our drivers that I was offering emergency "Authorizato Servizio"!
I never had use of a camera nor did I ever see the race from the pit area standpoint where some of the greatest ultra time-sensitive action occurred.
However, I would never have traded that for the 10 seconds I witnessed Dr. Helmut Marko flying around the mountainside in front of my location literally transforming his 33TT3 into a virtual "Disco Volante". Those ten seconds became the greatest motor racing experience of my entire lifetime.
And I shall never forget him or his epic drive on the final 44 mile lap of the 1972 Targa Florio!
And despite the superhuman drive of Dr. Marko, Autodelta would lose the race by a stunning 16.8 seconds...the most dramatic Targa Florio finish in history.
Image Courtesy of Autodelta Italia website www.AutodeltaItalia.com.
Rolf Stommelen taking over the controls in pit lane.
Distinguished Targa Florio historian Mr. Salvatore Careri shall have the final translated word on the 1972 Targa.
"In 1972, Munari, after having tried the beast in Fiorano, appeared at the wheel of the 312 on the winding roads of Madonias, his only advantage was that he knew the track very well, but the difference in cavalry for him was considerable.
"The pilot who interpreted the 312 in a divine way, like no other pilot. No comparison would ever do. For me, besides driving around in good times, he took care to always bring the car back to the garage. I think that Targa would have been won more comfortably if the driver had not had health problems that prevented him from performing at his best.
"The real surprise was Helmut Marko who decided to go like a lightning. On paper Merzario had to be faster than Marko and Sandro had to defend themselves from Nanni Galli.
"The two Ferraristas for me were not the favorites, probably the best matched couple was the one formed by: Vaccarella-Stommelen, followed by the Elford-Van Lennep couple...
...but in the end they deservedly won that plate, because the winner is always right."
Courtesy of Salvatore Careri
These are the actual lap times reported by race officials provided for you here to compare the timed diffence between the four drivers and the closeness of the competition.
Image Courtesy of Autodelta Italia website www.AutodeltaItalia.com.
Let me leave you with one of my fondest memories...the sight of a beautiful Sicilian village on a perfect Sunday afternoon providing an idyllic background for Andrea de Adamich and his historic Alfa Romeo T33/3.
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