Sunburned and oil-streaked, Umberto Maglioli climbs out of the 550 A Spyder after driving to the greatest victory yet for the young Porsche brand.
Targa Florio, Sicily, Italy, June 10, 1956. There is a little-known story behind Umberto Maglioli’s entry in the race on this day in early summer. On the Monday evening following the 1,000-kilometer race on the Nürburgring, several motorsport enthusiasts gather at the home of Porsche racing director Huschke von Hanstein to hatch an idea: “Why don’t we enter the new 550 A Spyder in the Targa Florio?”
It’s a daring plan, because Porsche has been dead set on sending the car to the Autodrome de Linas-Montlhéry track in Montlhéry, France, for the 1,000-kilometer race. In this small town south of the French capital, the agile car’s displacement of just 1,500 cc could be enough for a class victory—the chances are good, at any rate. In Sicily, however, a real sensation could be in the cards if the apparently less powerful car can beat out the entire field. The prospect is enticing, as is the generous prize money at the Targa, founded by wine and spice merchant Vincenzo Florio. Maglioli would be the right man for the job, for he already won the event three years earlier, in 1953. As it turns out, the 28-year-old Italian does not disappoint. He puts in a commanding performance in the white Spyder bearing starting number 84. His driving style is both subtle and supple—although the race, with its 72-kilometer laps, is a veritable battlefield of innumerable curves, bends, switchbacks, and uphill and downhill stretches, not to mention the necessity of navigating narrow alleyways in towns and the chaotically parked automobiles of the enthusiastic tifosi.
Maglioli’s Porsche runs like clockwork while the competitors gradually drop out, even in the practice rounds. The factory cars from Ferrari, Maserati, and Aston Martin prove to be either too heavy or too delicate. Maglioli takes the lead in the second lap and never relinquishes it. He drives ten laps, or 720 kilometers, including well over 8,000 curves. He completely outdoes himself on this hot day in June. Only after crossing the finish line about 15 minutes ahead of runner-up Piero Taruffi does he show the strain of the ravaging drive. Stiff as a board, with arms singed by the sun, he climbs out of the oil- and mud-streaked Spyder. He has taken that Monday evening vision of the racing enthusiasts in Stuttgart and made it a reality. It marks the greatest victory thus far for the young brand from Zuffenhausen.
By Gregor Messer