Simanaitis Says

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PIERO TARUFFI was a race driver—and also a dott. Ing. This Italian doctorate, equivalent to the English MEng degree, gave Taruffi the ability, and ambition, to design his own competition machines.


Piero Taruffi, Italian race driver, engineer, author of The Technique of Motor Racing (Driving).

Taruffi’s Bisiluri (Italian, plural of Bisiluro, or twin torpedo design) were innovative automobiles that set records in the 1950s and likely influenced another of their type, the Bisiluro DaMolNar.

Taruffi appreciated the benefits of aerodynamics, even in two-wheel performance. In 1937, as technical director at Gilera, Italy’s oldest motorcycle manufacturer (now part of Piaggio), he used the Caproni aircraft wind tunnel to develop the Rondine Streamliner. What’s more, he rode this Gilera cycle to a one-mile record of 274.2 km/h (170.3 mph).


Taruffi designed (and rode) the Gilera Rondine, 1937. Image from Hot Rods Down Under. A video of a semi-enclosed version is at Uomo Freccia (Man Arrow).

In 1948, Taruffi devised a twin-torpedo four-wheeler, the Tarf I Bisiluro, with a 492-cc Gilera four-cylinder as one of its possible powerplants. Running in the 500-cc class, Taruffi and the Tarf I set six world speed records for various distances and standing-start or flying conditions. A swap to 1500-cc power garnered two more speed/distance records in that class.


The Tarf I Bisiluro nestled its driver on the left, a motorcycle powerplant on the right (together with pod-mounted gauges for oil and fuel). Another distinctive feature of Tarf I is its radiator in the right-pod nose. Images from Oppositelock.


Next, Taruffi took lessons learned with the Tarf I and applied them to an even more powerful Tarf II. Also a bisiluro, Tarf II was powered by a Maserati four-cylinder engine of 1720 cc, this time lodged in the left pod. Fitted with two-stage supercharging, this double-overhead-camshaft engine produced 290 hp. As with Tarf I, power was transmitted to the rear wheels by a motorcycle chain drive. Suspension was independent all around, with coil-over shock absorbers. Unlike Tarf I, its radiator resided in the aft horizontal member connecting the two pods.


The Tarf II Bisiluro had its 1.7-liter Maserati four-cylinder on the left, Taruffi on the right. This and the following image from RM Sotheby’s Monaco Auction, May 11 – 12, 2012.

Taruffi’s Bisiluro cockpit was a tight fit. He sat on the fuel tank and operated the steering via levers on either side of the cockpit, à la bobsled practice. Another lever to his left shifted the Maserati’s four-speed gearbox. A tachometer and water temperature gauge were mounted on a minimal dashboard. As with the Tarf I, the engine pod had gauges for oil and fuel.


The Tarf Bisiluro cockpit was a tight fit indeed.

On March 20, 1951, Taruffi drove Tarf II to a pair of world records, a flying kilometer at 290.552 km/h (180.55 mph) and a flying mile at 298.507 km/h (185.49 mph). In 1952, Taruffi and his car added five more records, the highest speed being 144.00 mph over 50 miles, the longest distance a one-hour record at 135.10 mph.


Taruffi and Tarf II receive a pull-start in their quest for a world record. Image from Mechanix Illustrated, January 1952. See for video clips; the first two, of Tarf II; the third, of the earlier Tarf I.

Tarf II resided in Taruffi’s collection in Bagnoregio, in central Italy, then went into a museum display at Monza. In 1986, it traveled, sans engine, to Western Australia for display in two museums.

In Australia, it acquired Ferrari 246 Dino V-6 power and a Rover gearbox, the refurbishing for competition at the 2007 Lake Gairdner Speed Week. The event, held annually on a dry lake in South Australia, was rained out that year. Tarf II continued as a runner at its sale for €89,600 (around $114, 700) at the RM Sotheby Auction in Monaco, May 12, 2012.


Taruffi’s patent for a racing car, filed in 1949. Other than the two Bisiluri, none was built.

Taruffi had ambitious plans for other automotive projects. For instance, a patent was granted in 1952 for a tri-pod racing car, potentially dual-engine with the driver suspended in the intermediate pod.


Mechanix Illustrated, January 1952.

Quoted in “Double Bullet on Wheels,” by Michael Stern in Mechanix Illustrated, January 1952, Taruffi said, “The importance of my car is that it embodies many new principles that will become standard in automobiles ten years from now. It was important, also, for me to prove in a controlled test that my design is feasible because I wish to get financial support to build another larger double-torpedo—one powered by a four-and-and-half litre Ferrari motor—for entry in your Indianapolis classic.”

Too bad crowdsourcing didn’t exist back then. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2015

One comment on “TARUFFI’S BISILURI

  1. Whitemule
    June 8, 2015


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