A very rare and almost forgotten Australian sportscar with strong Italian links bounced right back into the limelight last week when Adam and David Kaplan set the fastest time in the Targa Tasmania Shannons Class Prologue, held in George Town, the pair driving the unusual Giocattolo Group B.

The 210kW mid-engined V8 Australian-built Giocattolo (which means ‘toy’ in Italian) uses an Alfa Romeo Sprint body shell, and it upstaged its much more favoured Australian muscle car and Porsche rivals to set a fastest time of 3min.21.21sec over the 4.82km course. This meant that the New South Wales crew not only raced to the quickest time in the classic category, but they posted the 11th fastest overall time of the day, a feat that includes all drivetravel.com Modern category competitors. In the Shannons Classic category, where the car competes, even a crowd-pleasing performance by flamboyant Victorians Steve and Rachael Coad in their 400kW Holden Monaro GTS was not enough to overcome the Giocattolo’s agility on the tight suburban street course, and they had to settle for second fastest in Classic on 3min.21.84sec.

The Giocattolo has almost vanished in the two decades since a handful were built in Australia, although in recent years an example has become a regular fixture on the Targa Tasmania. The story of this car begins in 1986, when sports car enthusiast and previous owner of the Toy Shop performance car dealership, Paul Halstead and F1 car designer - Barry Lock, teamed together to build a sports car. A car of speed and handling, yet beautiful looks which rivalled names like Porsche and Ferrari - this was the objective. The start was to redesign an Alfa Romeo Sprint and insert a mid-mounted Alfa V6 engine. The Alfa engine then became hard and expensive to import and put in the cars, so they went looking for a new engine.

The option they found was the Holden 5.0L Walkinshaw Group A V8 engine. After redesigning the mid engine bay and moving the barrier behind the front seats forward an inch they were able to make it fit. With more 'mumbo' than the Alfa V6 and a much cheaper price tag they decided that the Holden engine was right for what was to become one of Australia's top super cars. After upgrading the engine and fabricating some parts themselves they were happy with the performance output and so the 'Group B' tag was given to the car.

Of the 15 cars made all ended up with V8 engines, including the Alfa V6 prototype which was nearly written off by a Police 4WD. It was then rebuilt and became production car 001. The body panels were re-done with Kevlar body panels, then came the Brembo brakes and F1 type Suspension components. The right package at the wrong time was how it panned out for Lock and Halstead, when the company closed in 1989.


The Giocattolo Group B sports car utilised a Holden 5.0L Walkinshaw Group A V8 engine which was fitted mid-engine in a Alfa Romeo Sprint body shell.


The New South Wales crew not only raced to the fastest time in the classic category of the Prologue, but they posted the 11th fastest time of the day, a feat that includes all drivetravel.com Modern competitors.


A very rare and almost forgotten Australian sportscar with strong Italian links bounced right back into the limelight last week when Adam and David Kaplan set the fastest time in the Targa Tasmania Shannons Class prologue in George Town driving the Giocattolo Group B.

Meanwhile on the Targa Tasmania this week the Giocattolo saw off many fancied machines during the opening prologue.  And disappointed with their third fastest time were Victorians Gavin James and Neil McLeod in their 1989 Porsche 944 S2, who posted 3min.24.38sec. Their ABS brake warning light came on after just two corners and unsure of their braking performance James erred on the side of caution. “Otherwise we could possibly have gone a couple of seconds faster,” he said. “It seems like it’s a faulty sensor.” Until their re-classification, James has previously been one of the quiet achievers of the Targa Modern competition, always finishing in the top 20 in his 185kW four cylinder naturally-aspirated Porsche against considerably faster and more powerful cars including eight-time winner Jim Richards. His best Modern finishing place was 13th outright in 2005 and he and McLeod are very much the dark horses for a podium position in the Shannons Classic.

Despite their sensor glitch, they were still faster than Tasmanians Kim Barwick and Paul walker, who followed them home with a time of 3min.25.00sec in their potent 1977 Torana A9X. Perhaps conserving their tyres and playing a waiting game were pre-event Classic favourites, Rex Broadbent/Michael Goedheer and Bill Pye/Grant Geelan in Porsche 911s and Hobart’s Peter O’Keefe/Julie Winton-Monet in their thundering 1977 Torana SL/R 5000 with times of 3min.25.30sec, 3min.25.48sec. and 3min.25.94sec, respectively, indicating that the contest among them in the rally proper will be enthralling.

However it was the 57th fastest crew of actor Eric Bana/Tony Ramunno in Bana’s spectacular bright red, 420kW 1974 Ford XB Coupe that drew the most attention, although they were caught and passed near the end of the stage by the Coads, who started 30 seconds behind them. “Just dialling ourselves and the car in,” said Bana, who was kept busy before and after his run being photographed with babies and signing programmes and even prams. “The rally starts tomorrow doesn’t it?”

Targa Tasmania Shannons Classic, Prologue: Fastest Times: 1st Kaplan/Kaplan (Giocattolo Group B) 03:21.21; 2nd Coad/Vandenburg (Holden Monaro GTS) 03:21.84; 3rd James/Mcleod (Porsche 944 S2) 03:24.38; 4th Barwick/Walker (Holden Torana A9X) 03:25.00; 5th Broadbent/Goadheer (Porsche 911 RS) 03:25.30; 6th Pye/Geelan (Porsche 911 Carrera 3) 03:25.48; 7th O’Keefe/Winton-Monet (Holden Torana SLR 5000) 03:25.94; 8th Morton/McDonald (Porsche 944 Turbo) 03:26.58; 9th Eames/Eames (Holden Torana A9X) 03:29.58; 10th Todd/Tighe (Holden Torana A9X) 03:31.91.

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Text & Photos: Targa Tasmania & Giocattolo / © 2007 Interfuture Media/Italiaspeed