Piero Taruffi (1906 - 1988) - The Silver Fox
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Piero Taruffi

Piero Taruffi

The Silver Fox

An engineer, a racing driver, a motor-cycle racer, a record-breaker and a team manager, Piero Taruffi enjoyed a long and involved career participating in motor-sport, stopping only when he had satisfied his greatest ambition: to win the Mille Miglia. This was in 1957, when he was fifty, 27 years after his first attempt at this classic Italian road race. He was known as the Silver Fox because of his grey hair.

P&M, Guzzi, Norton and OPRA

Born on 12 October 1906, Taruffi was presented with a 350cc AJS racing motor cycle and entered for his first race in January 1925 - the Monte Mario hill-climb near Rome. The enthusiastic eighteen-year-old was second overall and winner of the 350cc class. More successes followed with a variety of machines: P&M, Guzzi, Norton and OPRA. It was inevitable that Taruffi would move on to four wheels and he was invited to co-drive his friend Lelio Pellegrini's 2.3-liter Bugatti on the 1930 Mille Miglia. After problems with loose wiring, overheating and misfiring, they were fortieth.

Scuderia Ferrari

Next the pair entered the Tunis-Tripoli regularity trial and won in Pellegrini's Alfa Romeo 1750. In 1931 Pellegrini acquired a 2-liter Itala Model 65 sports car and it was entered for several hillclimbs and races. At the Montenaro circuit he was eighth behind top-line drivers and following some minor race wins plus a 112 mph lap on his Norton motor cycle at Monza Taruffi was invited to drive for Scuderia Ferrari. Taruffi won his two events for Ferrari at the end of 1931, driving a 2.3-liter Alfa Romeo to victory in the Lake of Bolsena regularity trial and the Coppa Frigo hill-climb.

In 1932 he led the Mille Miglia, but was side-lined with electrical and engine faults. He was second in Rome's Royal Grand Prix and the Francorchamps 24-hours and won the Coppa Grand Sasso race and the Coppa Frigo hill-climb. In 1933, Enzo Ferrari took over the responsibility of running the works Alfa Romeo team; he had more drivers than cars, which meant missing some races. Piero thought of returning to motor cycles, but with the aid of two friends purchased a 3-Iitre Maserati 8C for 1934. He also joined an aeronautical and motor cycle firm, assisting on development.

The Tripoli Grand Prix

After a fifth place in the Mille Miglia in an 1100cc Maserati, he was invited to drive Maserati's most fearsome car in the Tripoli Grand Prix. The V5 model, it featured a 4½-liter V16 engine which developed 350 bhp. However, Taruffi locked his brakes at the end of a very fast straight and crashed heavily, putting himself in hospital for several weeks. He emerged to be offered a Scuderia Ferrari Alfa Romeo. Following World War 2, Taruffi was invited to join Piero Dusio's Cisitalia set-up in Turin; the single-seater Cisitalias were small, using 1100cc Fiat engines. As well as overseeing these machines he raced them, winning his class in the 1947 Italian Championship.

The Carrera Panamericana

Driving an 1100cc Cisitalia sports car he was second overall and class winner in the 1948 Giro di Sicilia. That year Piero also gained four world speed records in Tarf J, a Guzzi motor-cycle-engined 'twin-boom' record-breaking car. With Guzzi, Gilera and Maserati-engined Tarfs Taruffi continued to break records until his retirement in 1957. Taruffi raced for many teams in the immediate post-war years, but he rejoined the Ferrari team in 1951. The highlights of the year was victory in the Carrera Panamericana in a 2.6-liter Ferrari 212 Export shared with Luigi Chinetti.

During the following year, in which he married Isabella, he won his only World Championship Grand Prix, the Swiss at Berne, in a 2-Iitre Ferrari 500. He was ultimately third in the championship. He also raced in Britain, driving Tony Vandervell's Thin Wall Special (a modified 4½-liter Ferrari 375) to victory at Dundrod and Silverstone, while he sampled a 500cc Cooper at Brands Hatch. In 1953, Piero was invited to join the Lancia sports-car team, but the car broke down in the Mille Miglia, the Targa Florio (when he crashed while leading, having mistaken a pit signal) and Le Mans.

Piero Taruffi and the twin-boom Gilera-engined Tarf record breaker
Piero Taruffi and the twin-boom Gilera-engined Tarf record breaker.

The Targa Florio and the Giro di Sicilia

In the following year, the Mille Miglia slipped out of his grasp yet again when a slower car moved over and caused Taruffi to crash his leading Lancia. He did, however, win the Targa Florio and the Giro di Sicilia. Lancia withdrew from sports-car races at the end of 1954, so Taruffi went back to Ferrari for next season. He won the Giro di Sicilia in a 3.7-liter Ferrari II 8LM, but quit the team at the end of the year after a row with Enzo Ferrari about a suitable car for the Targa Florio.

Taruffi and Harry Schell placed fifth overall in the 1955 Florida Grand Prix, driving a Ferrari. Taruffi claimed first place in a Ferrari, at the 1955 Tour of Sicily, with an overall time of 10 hours 11 minutes 19.4 seconds, with an average speed of 105.998 kilometers per hour (65.867 mph). Taruffi dropped out of the 1955 Mille Miglia, when he encountered a broken oil pump on the course north of Rome. He and eventual winner, Stirling Moss, were vying for the lead in the early stages of the race. Cesare Perdisa won by 22 seconds in the 1955 Grand Prix of Imola, driving a two-liter Maserati. Taruffi spun his car into a straw bale at the edge of the track on the first lap. He was uninjured, though his car was damaged, and he was forced to retire from the race.

The 1956 season was disappointing. Taruffi raced for Maserati in sports-car events, and teamed up with Jean Behra to secure a fifth place finish in a Maserati at the 12 Hours of Sebring. Taruffi established a world record for Class E cars in June. He raced 100 miles (160 km) in 46 minutes 27.2 seconds, an average of 129.9 miles per hour (209.04 km/h). Also at Monza, Taruffi broke the one hour mark of 212.543 kilometres per hour (132.074 mph). A third record he performed was for 200 kilometres. His time was 53 minutes 14.5 seconds. Also in 1956 he accepted the offer of a British Vanwall for the Italian Grand Prix, being sidelined with transmission failure.

The Tour of Sicily

In the 17th running of the Tour of Sicily, in 1957, Taruffi had a small crash while in pursuit of leader Olivier Gendebien. He touched the wall in Gioiosa Marea but continued in his Maserati. Gendebien won in a Ferrari. The event was marred by the death of J. Olivari who was burned to death when his Maserati hit the a wall in one of the course's 11,000 curves. But the then fifty-year-old Taruffi kept racing. He was a member of the works Chevrolet team in the Sebring twelve-hours and drove a Formula One Maserati 250F to fourth place in the Syracuse Grand Prix.

For the Mille Miglia he was offered a works Ferrari, a 4-liter 335 Sport. Despite almost giving up when rain made conditions frightening, Taruffi crossed the finish line to be told by Isabella he had won. He did not know rival Peter Collins had retired within 125 miles of the finish! Taruffi had won the Mille Miglia at last!

The Technique of Motor Racing

Taruffi was the author of the book, The Technique of Motor Racing. In November 1957 the Saturday Evening Post published Taruffi's article, Stop us before we kill again. The former racer discussed the 1955 Le Mans and 1957 Mille Miglia races in which drivers and numerous spectators died. In August 1952 Taruffi protected a racing car design under patent 2,608, 264. The patent had three torpedo-shaped parallel bodies joined together. Independent twin motors and wheels were in the two larger bodies, at left and right. The driver and the passengers sit in the car's central part. The central portion is both higher and smaller than the others. Taruffi commented on the low wind resistance and low centre of gravity of his design.
Piero Taruffi and the twin-boom Gilera-engined Tarf record breaker
Piero Taruffi and the twin-boom Gilera-engined Tarf record breaker.
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