The Targa Florio track had 800 corners woven through the Sicilian mountains. For decades the open road endurance race thwarted the world’s race cars. But in 1960, it belonged to the Porsche 718 RS 60.
Even with one of the smaller engines in the race, the skilled drivers Jo Bonnier and Hans Herrmann slogged through 10 laps - covering over 700 kilometres in 7.5 hours of racing – and we eventually saw the 718 come out on top. The car’s mid-engined design made light work of the mountainous bends; its handling and efficient use of power made it devastatingly quick and nimble.
It was the second time in two years that a Porsche 718 had claimed victory on the Targa – the 1959 win went to an RSK helmed by Edgar Barth and Wolfgang Seidel. This marked an astonishing stretch of motorsport dominance for the 718, which claimed 700 class podium places and more than 250 victories in just a few years.
Built as a successor to the legendary 550A, the 718 made its début at the Le Mans ’57. Yet it never finished, crashing out thanks to an overzealous competitor. However, just a week later, the 718 was back, medalling silver and bronze at the Mont Ventoux Hill Climb in France. During the first year out, the 718 also scored first and second place at Montagne Lenzeheide Hill Climb in Switzerland, and another 1-2 victory at the 1957 European Hill Climb Championship in Germany.
The 718s were built to be road legal so that they could compete in the sports car class, but were clearly designed for racing. Offering different rear suspension arrangements, replaceable nose panels, side intakes, oil cooling front lids, and eyebrow-raising tail fins.
This sprightly version of a Porsche finished 1-2 at Mont Ventoux Hill Climb, first in the European Hill Climb Championship, second at Targa Florio (1st in 1.5-litre) and third at Le Mans.
The 718 RSK was also built with Formula 2 races in mind, so its wheel and seat could be installed in the centre of the car. The gear lever was also moved, but the handbrake stayed in position – right between the legs of the driver. This Formula 2 718 was known as the RSK Mittellenker (“central steering”), and, against all odds, Behra took it to victory in the 1958 II Coupe Internationale de Vitesse Formula 2 race in Reims.
One month later, the 718 won the Nürburgring Nordschleife, again driven by Behra. Wherever the car went, trophies soon followed.
The season started well for Porsche in the USA, with a 1-2 win in Daytona among other North American victories. Next was a stunning win at Targa Florio, followed by an unforgettable German Grand Prix at AVUS in Berlin, where seven 718s competed, ending in a 1-2-3-4 victory for Porsche.
By now, the 718 was a bona fide racing icon, winning the Targo Florio yet again, and scoring more than 100 podium finishes, including more than 50 victories across North America, Europe and Africa, during that one epic racing season.
But, like they say, all good things must come to an end. The final moments of glory for the 718 came via a privately-owned RS 61, which won 12 South African races in 1964, then claimed victory in the South African Six Hour Race in 1965 and 1966.