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The 1970 Targa Florio - Porsche Rules in Paradise

1970 Targa Florio - The Porsche 908/03 Spyder

The year is 1970. The world has witnessed the amazing technological feat of NASA landing men on the Moon and the world famous band, The Beatles, have just announced they are breaking up. Italy at this time is experiencing economic and cultural modernisation, especially in its exports where some of its most successful brands like Fiat and Ferrari are making bigger and bigger names for themselves on the world stage. But as this is all happening in the North of the country, in the South of the country they are slow to adapt and still stuck in their old but charming ways, especially the picturesque island of Sicily.

Brian Redman rounds one of the sweeping, sprawling mountainous curves in the spritely 908/03 Spyder.

On the outskirts of the sleepy town of Termini Imerese a strikingly contrasting annual event took place which was beloved by all of Motorsport; The Targa Florio. This was a road course like no other - forty four mile laps on twisty mountain roads that took you through quaint villages, past thick vineyards and along abandoned coastline. Impossible to learn perhaps, but a favourite among drivers attracting many manufacturers and teams from around the world to compete using, perversely, the fastest technology of the era in order to receive bragging rights through conquering this unique race. It could not have taken place anywhere more beautiful or more passionate for motorsport.

It was quintessentially Italian.

In 1970, the race took place on the weekend of May 3rd and at this time it was the longest running race in the world, with roughly 64 years of legendary history. It had changed many times over the years getting shorter in distance, but no less fast or dangerous. This was an especially iconic year as the two legendary motorsport manufacturers of Porsche and Ferrari would compete with new state-of-the-art machines. Porsche, instead of bringing their powerful and heavy 917 decided to introduce an all-new 908/03, with its simple wedge shape, short wheelbase, open cockpit, and weighing in at only 500kg, it was well suited for the track and completely different to its main rival. Ferrari brought the 512S that they had already introduced at the start of the year, with its bigger V12 engine, longer wheelbase and closed cockpit. Both were equally beautiful beasts.

Le Mans winner and multiple Grand Prix winner Jo Siffert, at the time was the star driver for Porsche and the English racing team Wyer Engineering with the now classic sponsorship of Gulf Oil. This partnership along with his teammate Brian Redman had already won a few races and would be the start of future success, inaugurating the now iconic blue and orange Porsche livery. As direct competitors all the usual Italian manufacturers and sole Ferrari works team consisting of Sicilian born Le Mans winner and Formula One driver Nino Vaccarella, with fellow Italian team mate Ignazio Giunti. Needless to say they were the crowd favourites, and in a race that is so long per lap with many areas not seen by officials or cameras, this can really give them a competitive advantage.

 Jo Siffert at full tilt

On race day, hundreds of thousands of fans and residents of the island flocked to the track causing, in typical Italian fashion, huge traffic jams in the local City of Palermo, delaying the start by an hour. As they arrived they spread out along the forty four mile route finding spots to view from behind fences in empty fields, on top of roofs or verandas, even cramming into small door ways that lined the track. It had rained the night before changing everything about the course, throwing away all the knowledge the drivers had amassed in the last three days of practice, and after a hasty one lap inspection by the organisers it was decided that it would be hard but not impossible to start. So, at 9am that morning they started the 11laps (6 hours) of the Targa Florio.

Porsche had managed to upset most of the spectators the previous day by qualifying first and second, with the sole Ferrari works team closely following in third. As the race began Porsche continued this dominance with the second place Porsche of Larrousse actually taking the early lead from Siffert and both started to pull a gap to the works Ferrari of local hero Vaccarella. Something important to note is that because the roads were too tight to actually race on, the cars start with timed gaps of around 15 seconds to make it safer, akin to the Isle of Man TT motorcycle races, so though someone might have been ahead on track, in actual time they could be behind. As the race unfolded and the cars started to pit for fuel or a change of driver, at the various points around the course they had setup, the order on track must have been very confusing to most spectators, particularly in an era with little or no live media coverage. The sole works Ferrari had caught up to the Porsches and taken second from Siffert.

 Nino Vaccarella chases hard in the beautiful Ferrari 512S

Down the 4 mile straight, along the coast, towards the end of the lap the Ferrari was supreme. Due to its bigger engine it pulled away from the Porsches; its brutal screaming V12 working hard, echoing around the mountains to the locals’ delight. But this was not to last, as Siffert’s team mate Redman could not pass on track with the Ferrari becoming extra wide through the twisty parts and being much faster on the straight, he decided to wait for the pits which he knew his team would be faster at. After a valiant scrap between the two big rivals, where the efficient Porsche team came out ahead with Siffert in the driving seat. Vaccarella, reseated in the prancing horse tried his best to keep up with the nimbler Porsche but as they did not have position on the road this meant no more blocking and so Siffert began to pull away, never to be caught again. Siffert and Redman won for Porsche with the valiant Ferrari of Vaccarella and Giunti eventually finishing third as another very quick Porsche posted the fastest lap ever of the race to clinch second. Porsche and Siffert had their day.

Sadly this was to be one of the last and most iconic races as the legendary course , the event would eventually be cancelled due to a litany of safety concerns in 1977. Imagining this race today is nigh on impossible; tight unprotected mountainous roads, 35 minute laps, four mile straights and in sports cars effectively the same speed of their day as the prototype cars of today, it must have been an immense spectacle.

Here’s to the beauty and madness of these cars and track, especially the iconic orange arrows and blue wedge shaped Porsche of Siffert, famously defeating Ferrari in Italy.

Celebrate the feat with Iconic Cloth's tribute t-shirt:-

1970 Targa Florio T-Shirt Porsche 908/03 Spyder

View it here:- https://www.iconiccloth.co.uk/collections/iconic-cloth-vintage-supercar-collection/products/1970-targa-florio-celebratory-t-shirt

Photo Credits:- Rainer Schlegelmilch, The Cahier Archive, Pinterest

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