Simanaitis Says

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THE MID-1950S WERE  a heyday for European sports car racing, with epic battles fought by Ferrari, Lancia, Maserati, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz and other automakers. In particular, 1954 was a memorable year contested at the Targa Florio, the Miglia Mille, and Le Mans. 

And, confirming that old adage, “different horses for different courses,” I offer tidbits gleaned from R&T, August 1954.

Background. Italian automaker Lancia had won the previous two Targa Florio Tours of Sicily with Felice Bonetto’s Aurelia B20 GT coupe in 1952 and Umberto Maglioli’s D20 3000 GT coupe in 1953. 

Ferrari had a lock on the Miglia Mille, 1948–1953, with drivers Clemente Biondetti, Gianni Marzotto, Luigi Villoresi, and Giovanni Bracco collecting the six victories. The Targa was 11 laps on a twisty, mountainous 45 miles. The Mille Miglia’s 1000 miles from northern Italy’s Brescia down to Rome and back had its twisties as well as long straight stretches. 

Jaguar’s C-Type had lapped the 24-hour Le Mans’ flat, high-speed course to victory in 1951 and 1953. Peter Walker and Peter Whitehead co-drove in 1951; Tony Rolt and Duncan Hamilton, in 1953. Mercedes-Benz took top  honors in 1952 with its W194. This car, destined to be known as the 300SL Gullwing, was co-driven by Hermann Lang and Fritz Riess.  

The 1954 Targa Florio. Corrado Millanta reported in August 1954 R&T that the Tour of Sicily “is run on poorly surfaced, narrow, winding roads and is an excellent test for the forthcoming Mille Miglia…. Therefore, the struggle was going to be between Taruffi in the 3.3-litre Lancia and Maglioli in the 5-liter Ferrari.”

“For a course such as the Tour of Sicily and the Mille Miglia,” Millanta wrote, “the big 5-litre cars, which can even be 8 litres under the present rules, are nonsensical. Three hundred hp, or more, is a handicap and the accompanying high speeds represent a useless danger to drivers and spectators.” 

Maglioli’s 5-liter Ferrari was in the lead until Enna, but the car left the road later.

Millanta reported, “During the Tour of Sicily, which includes 11,000 curves, Maglioli never had a chance to shift into 4th gear.”

At a venue like the Targa, Millanta wrote, “… the slower, less powerful cars with better handling characteristics invariably give higher average speeds.”

Taruffi’s time of 10:24:37 in the 3.3 Lancia bested the second place car by almost an hour.

The 1954 Mille  MIglia. Comparing the Mille Miglia to 24 hours of Le Mans or 1000 km of Nürburgring, Millanta wrote, “The Mille Miglia, with its long straight stretches combined with hundreds of kilometers of winding roads is a much more difficult race and far more logical for testing and evaluating the true worth of a sports car.” 

The big Ferraris were there, but a 3.3-liter Lancia again proved optimal for the occasion. Millanta noted, “Using the medium gear ratio for the Mille Miglia, the maximum speed of the 5-litre Ferrari was 173 mph and the Lancias were hitting 158 mph.”

Maglioli’s 5-liter Ferrari had 350 hp, but proved unwieldy on the 1000 miles.

It rained for part of the 1954 Mille Miglia, which particularly hampered the big cars. Nonetheless, Millanta noted, “Bad weather conditions on difficult roads are tests that a modern sports car must face with equanimity.”

Winner Ascari’s 3.3 Lancia.

Reinforcing its optimality, Ascari’s Lancia bested 2-liter Ferrari and Maserati competitors by more than 30 minutes. Also, notice the razor finish between Marzotto’s 2nd-place Ferrari and Luigi Musso’s 3rd-place Maserati after more than 12 hours of racing. 

“It is obvious,” Millanta concluded in his Targa report, “that Ferrari built his sports cars with the very large engine particularly for Le Mans and the Mexican race and even if these two races are extremely important, they cannot be considered a complete proving ground for the modern sports car.”

Yep, different horses for different courses. See also “1954 Le Mans—A Duel in the Rain” here at SimanaitisSays. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2021  

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