Alongside the sheer wealth of modern machinery, the Goodwood Festival of Speed also displayed a fine selection of pioneer veteran racers, celebrating a century of Grand Prix racing and the early years of the Targa Florio. Two formidable Italian racing cars were presented in these classes.

The first of these was a 1907 Itala Grand Prix, entered by the National Motor Museum in the “True Grit – Pioneers of the Targa Florio, 1906-39” category at the Festival. A real racer of its day with a 4-cylinder inline 14,432cc engine, producing 120 hp. This car, with Italian driver Alessandro Cagno, won the “Coppa della Velocita” of Brescia with an average speed of 104.8km/h over a total race distance of 485.6km.

Based in Turin, Itala started producing cars in 1904 after it was founded by Matteo Ceirano and five partners in 1903. Three models were offered in the first year of production, an 18hp, a 24hp and a 50hp. By 1905 the company had started to produce larger engined racing cars, with a 14.8-litre 4-cylinder model which won that year’s Coppa Florio and the following year’s Targa Florio. In 1907 a 7,433cc 35/45hp model, driven by Count Scipione Borghese, won the Peking to Paris race by an astonishing three week lead. These racing victories aided sales, expanding the company in the process. Novel technologies were also experimented with, including variable stroke, sleeve valve and “Avalve” rotary engines. Before the outbreak of World War One, Itala offered a wide range of cars. During the war, the company first produced military vehicles before constructing aero engines, however made production losses on the latter.

After armistice, car production resumed with the company introducing models based on pre-war models such as the Tipo 50 20/35hp and a reintroduction of the Avalve engine with the 4.426cc Tipo 55. Despite these endeavours, the company was plagued by lack of success with shortened contracts initiating financial problems that were to plague the Itala company from then on.

A move to smaller racing cars came in the early 1920s, with the introduction of the six-cylinder 2-litre Tipo 24. However, from 1924, the company was being run under receivership, and Giulio Cesare Cappa from Fiat was appointed as the general manager. Ing. Cappa produced a just new car, the Tipo 61 with a 6-cylinder alloy engine, which was well-received.


A 1907 Itala Grand Prix, entered by the National Motor Museum in the “True Grit – Pioneers of the Targa Florio, 1906-39” category, was a star of the Festival of Speed.


A 1911 Fiat S74 Grand Prix was entered at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in the category: “In the Beginning – Motor Sport Pioneers, 1886-1914”.

Also produced under Cappa’s regime was the Tipo 11 for
Conelli de Prosperi, a highly advanced competition car with front-wheel drive, V12 engine and all-round independent suspension. Built between 1925 and 1926 for the 1926 Grand Prix season, only two prototypes were constructed with an aluminium body over a wooden chassis. The diminutive V12 engines had only 1,094cc and 1,450cc capacities respectively, the later blown with a Roots-type supercharger. The unusual engineering, together with the huge amount of friction lost in the cylinders, rendered the project unsuccessful and the car unfortunately never competed. Despite this, two Tipo 61s entered the 1928 Le Mans 24 hour race, winning the 2-litre class.
In 1929 Itala was bought by truck manufacturer Officine Metallurgiche di Tortona, and a few more cars were produced up to 1935. In that year, the remains of the company were sold to Fiat.

The second Italian veteran racer on display at Goodwood was the 1911 Fiat S74 Grand Prix, entered in the category: “In the Beginning – Motor Sport Pioneers, 1886-1914”. Designed by Avocato Carlo Cavalli, and powered by a huge 120 bhp 4-cylinder 14.2-litre engine, with single overhead camshaft, the S74 was one of the last of the chain-drive monsters. The pioneer racer won several Grand Prix, including the 1911 American Grand Prize at Savannah driven by the wealthy 23-year old David Bruce-Brown. Here, t
he Fiat and “amateur” driver raced 24 laps to complete a total of 411.360 miles at an average speed of 74.45 mph. The S74 also won the 1912 American Grand Prize at Milwaukee driven by Caleb Bragg.

Ninety-five years later the car that actually won the 1912 race clocked a best time of 79.11 seconds up the 1.6 mile Goodwood Hill on Sunday, piloted by American owner George Wingard. This equates to an average speed of 72.8mph, a highly impressive speed for a 95-year old car when considering that the current record for the Goodwood hillclimb is held by a 1998 McLaren-Mercedes MP4/13 Formula 1 car driven by Nick Heidfeld at 41.6 seconds, or an average speed of 138.5mph.

by James Granger

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Photos © 2006 Interfuture Media/Italiaspeed