Sicilian Vincenzo Florio discovered the De Dion-Bouton tricycle while he was travelling around Europe in 1900. He ordered one and soon took delivery from Paris. As driving alone wasn’t much fun, he organised a race between his tricycle, a jockey and a cyclist. The cyclist collapsed in the mountains, while the vehicle’s radiator overheated. As a result, the first Targa was won by a man on a horse.
The official history of the race begins in 1906. Florio had given in to pressure from French bicycle racer Henri Desgrange, who wanted to launch a motor race in Sicily. Desgrange was also a journalist for French sports paper L’Auto and had just established the Tour de France to fill in the quiet period for the publication over the summer. A motor race in Sicily would be the perfect way to expand the portfolio.Ten cars lined up to start the first race. The winner, Alessandro Cagno, took nine and a half hours to complete the 148km course.
Over the years, the course was reduced to 72km, but the number of laps was increased to 11 at its height. Porsche has had the most success at the Targa Florio with 11 wins. The name “targa” for cars with removable roofs comes from the race. Alfa won it 10 times, and has set the record for the fastest lap 10 times over.
The last time the Targa counted towards the World Sportscar Championship was in 1973. A number of accidents, two of which were fatal, meant the authorities had to act, but the Italians held the race as a national race until 1977. Today, a vintage car race and a rally are run using the old name.