Mercedes had decided to quit racing after the 1955 season but one last major attempt was made to wrest the sports car championship from Ferrari. That attempt would be made at the Targa Florio.
Led by Alfred Neubauer and his team of Fangio, Kling, Moss, Collins, Fitch and Titterington. They had five 300SLR's, more than a dozen private cars, 45 mechanics and seven trucks. Because the roads were not closed prior to the race practice involved avoiding, pedestrians, wagons and the odd goat. The rules set for the three pairs of drivers was every man for themselves. This years Targa Florio would entail 13 laps over a 44.64-mille circuit for a total of 580.32 miles. The teams of drivers were expected to negotiate approximately 10,000 curves and almost 10 hours of driving combined. Neubauer was planning on each driver being able to run 4 lap stints. At the start of the race Moss set a blistering pace and broke the course record by two and a half minutes. Though his car was one of the last to be flagged off, he had passed everyone by the end of the first lap. Castellotti's Ferrari split the Mercedes of Moss and Fangio. At the end of the fourth lap Castellotti was in first place and Moss was in a ditch. Moss had crashed but the Mercedes was still in working order if slightly bruised. After help from some spectators Moss was back on the road but now in fourth place. Collins exchanged places with Moss and took up the chase. Fangio passed the leading Ferrari and handed his car to Kling. Mercedes were now in first, third and fourth. Trouble struck again when Collins drove straight up a stone wall, his front wheels spinning in the air. Fortunately he was able to put his car in reverse and rejoin the battle. Collins worked his way up to first before returning the car to Moss. Moss drove the only way that he knew how and won going away or in the words of Peter Collins "despite Stirling's efforts and my own to write the machine off!" Mercedes won the race and with it the sports car championship only to quit racing for the second time.
One year after the retirement of their countrymen from motorsport Porsche won a great victory in 1956 with their new 550 A Spyder at what was then the world's longest-standing and most difficult road race. The young company gained instant worldwide recognition as well as credibility with this victory, as it was the first time that a driver in a smaller racing class vehicle of up to two liters cylinder displacement managed to beat vehicles with a higher cylinder displacement. At an average speed of 90.9 m/h and a lead of nearly 15 minutes on the second place vehicle, 1953 winner Umberto Maglioli had won again driving the entire 7:54.52 hours solo. Three years later Porsche won again and having tasted victory twice Porsche would continue to contest the race for the next two decades. Following the tragedy at the Mille Miglia public pressure was on the organizers to cancel the 1957 race a compromise was reached when it was replaced by what was called a regularity test where timing replaced outright speed. This charade was "won" by Fabio Colona driving a Fiat 600! The Lancia Appia driven by Piero Taruffi and his wife Isabella Taruffi won the larger class but nobody really cared as David slew Goliath. Real racing returned in 1958 when Luigi Musso and Olivier Gendebien won in a Ferrari 250TR. Despite growing safety concerns the Targa Florio continued into the 60's and early 70's and the fans in close proximity to the cars witnessed some tremendous battles between Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Porsche. Maglioli would return to the scene of his triumph and would win another trophy 12 years after his first, this time driving a Lancia. As in the Mille Miglia the local Sicilian fans seemed oblivious to the danger posed by being within a simple spin of a powerful racing car without even a single armco barrier in sight.
On January 6, 1959 Vincenzo Florio died at the age of 75, some say worn out from a lifetime of racing. Florio’s wife, Donna Lucia, was named president of the Targa Florio organization. It was not a title she sought but rather one she accepted to honor her husband as well as please her grandson, Vincenzo Paladino. Later that year a Porsche 718 driven by Edgar Barth and Wolfgang Seidel went on to win the 1959 Targa Florio. Its small but powerful engine, combined with the car's lightweight design and agility would make it a very competitive car. The following year a Porsche 718 RS60 driven by Jo Bonnier and Hans Herrmann beat the Ferrari Dino 246S Spyder of Wolfgang von Trips and American Phil Hill with another Porsche 718 RS60 Olivier Gendebien and Hans Herrmann coming home in third. In 1961 von Trips would have his revenge.
The race was all set for Porsche and in this instance it's number one driver Stirling Moss. For 1961, the Porsche's the engine size would be increased to 2.0-liters giving the car more power and, more importantly, more torque and acceleration. As Stirling Moss would say concerning the RS 61, 'with a 2 liter engine that offered enhanced torque, this Porsche was pretty much the perfect car for the Targa Florio.' Stirling Mosswas teamed with future World Champion Graham Hill but it would be Moss that would be at the controls first and would take his Porsche 718 RS61 immediately into the lead which he would eventually build up to around a minute and a half before handing over the driver duties to Hill. With Moss driving the majority of the race he headed into the final lap of the race with a lead of more than a minute over von Trips. Moss was within a handful of miles of taking the victory, a victory he would never see. The Porsche, just five miles away from the finish line had its differential fail almost within sight of the finish. The Dino 246 SP would round the last bend and cross the line to take the victory. Von Trips would be followed by two Porsche 718 RS61s in 2nd and 3rd place. Their gap to the Porsche of Bonnier and Gurney would be nearly four and a half minutes. Another twelve minutes would be the difference from Bonnier and Gurney's Porsche back to the Porsche of Hans Herrmann and Edgar Barth. For 1962 Ferrari sent three different rear-engine models to the Targa Florio. The Dino 246 SP was accompanied by a Dino 196 SP (1.9-liter SOHC V6) and a Dino 268 SP (2.6-liter SOHC V8). Seven additional Ferrari 250 GTs were present as private entries. The Porsche factory cars were entered by the Italian team Scuderia SSS Republica di Venezia (aka Scuderia Serenissima). In addition to the factory 718s, Scuderia Serenissima also entered two Porsche-Abarth GTLs and a Maserati Tipo 64. Willy Mairesse, Ricardo Rodriguez and Olivier Gendebien took the win driving the Ferrari Dino 246 SP.
Local Hero, Nino Vaccarella was born in Palermo, a former school teacher at a nearby school and according to driver Vic Elford, "he knew the roads on Sicily like the back of his hand". His first attempt at the Targa Florio came in 1960 when he was teamed with two-time winner Umberto Maglioli in a birdcage Maserati. They took the lead early and maintained it for three laps, but then broke down. Vaccarella would later follow his 1964 victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with winning the Targa Florio race in 1965. Later repeating in 1971 and again in 1975, when it was no longer a World Sportscar Championship event. He also drove the big V12-powered Ferrari 512S in a heroic yet ultimately losing effort in 1970, damaging the car in the final stages.
In 1966 the race was run in treacherously wet conditions such that the favorites - works-entered Ferraris and Porsches - failed, allowing the Swiss-entered Porsche 906 crewed by Willy Mairesse and Herbert Muller to win the 50th Targa Florio. Making an appearance, seemingly from another planet was the 7-liter Chevrolet-engined Chaparral 2F. The winged coupe, driven by Americans Phil Hill and Hap Sharp, was not suited for the roads in Sicily but a crowd favorite was in fourth place when its transmission failed on lap nine. Ferrari's single entry of a 4-liter 330P4 for Nino Vaccarella and Lodovico Scarfiotti was out on the very first lap when Vaccarella hit a wall, and ultimately the race developed into another Porsche benefit, the German cars taking the first three places led by the 2.2-liter 910/8 of Australian Paul Hawkins and Rolf Stommelen. Swiss Herbert Muller, at the wheel of a 4-liter Ferrari 365P3/4, set best lap of 37 minutes 9.0 seconds, at 72.25 mph.
Porsche would win seven of ten races but in 1967 Alfa Romeo returned to the sharp end of the grid with their model Tipo 33. In 1968, a team of Tipo 33/2 cars finished second and third with Giunti-Galli and Casoni-Bianchi as their respective drivers. The race was won by Elford-Maglioli in a Porsche 907 after battling back from a flat tire that was changed on the circuit. The 1969 race was dominated by Porsche who scored a 1-2-3-4 with Germans Gerhard Mitter and Udo Schütz taking the honers. All the top four Porsches were 908/02K Spyders and in addition two 907s placed 6th and 7th 1970 was much the same with Jo Siffert and Brian Redman winning in a Porsche 908/3. In 1971 Alfa Romeo came with new Alfa Tipo 33/3s While Porsche would race their lightwight 908/3. Ferrari would skip the race with their team manager, Mauro Forghieri, complaing that even for the cars that finished the brutal race, "70% of the car was scrap". The Porsches were 80 hp down on the Alfas but 60 kg lighter. During the race two Porsches crashed in the mountains on the first lap and the third crashed 8 laps later in the eleven lap race. Alfa Romeo was once again on the top step of the podium after twenty-one years with Nino Vaccarella and Dutch touring and prototype racing car driver Toine Hezemans sharing the driving.
For 1972 Ferrari returned to the Targa with a single 312P to be driven by Arturo Merzario and Sandro Munari. Alfa Romeo returned in full force with 33/3 cars for Vaccarella, Stommelen, Van Lennep, De Adamich, Hezemans, Galli, Marko and Elford. Sadly, after 16 years of uninterrupted attendance, the Porsche factory did not compete in the 1972 race. Elford took the early lead but damaged the car during the first lap and had to retire. Merzario then took the lead followed by Vaccarella. Helmut Marko, who had called the race, totally insane, picked up the fight when Vaccarella's engine failed. Marko was able to overtake the Ferrari setting the fastest lap of 33 minutes and 41 second at an average speed of 128.253 km/h, a record that still stands. In a move that was later criticized Galli replaced the flying Marko only to lose the lead when he spun and lost over a minute. When Marko got back in the Alfa he was far behind the Ferrari but was able to recover all but 17 seconds finishing a valiant second. Before the 1973 race the FIA announced that the Targa Florio would lose its championship status the following year. The race was now unsuited to the sports-prototypes of the 1970s, but Alfa Romeo and Ferrari entered two cars each. All four failed, however, leaving victory fittingly to a Porsche 911 Carrera RSR driven by Gijs van Lennep and Herbert Muller.
The race would
continue another 4 years as a national event until a fatal accident involving spectators finally brought an end to out and out racing. The fact that it outlived it's famous cousin the Mille Miglia by twenty year is a testament to it local support. The Targa had by then become name forever linked to the racing history of Porsche as well as that of its road cars, a total of eleven victories saw to that. In an attempt to save the Targa Florio, the race organizers proposed a permanent closed circuit to be built in Madonie. It was described as 6.6 km long with 12 curves that would “concentrate the difficulties of the glorious, 72-kilometer Piccolo Circuito delle Madonie on a reduced scale.” It was not a well received idea. David Owen in Automobile Quarterly, declared, “If we must lose the Targa Florio, then let us do it gracefully, and not reduce it to some comparatively minor closed circuit event with the same name, as some have suggested.”