On the way to the targa Florio 1961 parts two & three added for your pleasure.
The crew was assembled and ready to go. We were waiting on a
new set of wire wheels for the Stanguellini and it was already
afternoon. Three o'clock came and still no wheels. Willie says we
go without them. So Willie and Sonny Goff in the Stang, Coy
Piercey, Don Porter and myself in the "54 Pontiac start out of
Naples headed South for Sicily and the 45th running of the Targa
We had hoped for a much earlier start as the roads were
unfamiliar. Just before dark we stopped for supper in a little
village south of Naples where we consumed far too much vino for a
long nights drive. So Don crawls into the back seat of the Pontiac
and goes off to dreamland. Coy is driving and I'm napping in the
front seat. Willie and Sonny have blasted away in the Stanguellini.
Some time later I am shaken awake by Coy saying he is getting
too sleepy to continue and it was time for me to take over as Don
had refused to drive the Pontiac at all. As I am preparing to
start, Coy says the brakes are a bit spongy. Off we go into the
night and the road is narrow, dark and rough. Did I mention twisty?
Like a snake with a broken sense of humor.
I start out having to give the brakes a few pumps to really
have them effective at all. Then it is necessary to give them a
whole bunch of pumps to have any brake effect at all. As the road
seems to get a bit worse, I stop the car to have a look and see what
the fluid situation is. It is low, of course, so I find a bit of
fluid and top up. Coy wakes up and wants to know what is going on,
so I bring him up to date, Don is still sleeping.
About fifteen minutes or so later, I hit the brakes to slow
us down and there is no response, no resistance, no slowing. I
wrestle that big hunk of a car around the corner by dropping into
low range and having the engine hit some high rev's. That wakes up
Coy, but not Don. I find a place to pull over as best I can and we
start looking for the problem.
We find that the brake hard line at the right rear wheel has
cracked. Well, we try to repair the line by pinching it off so it
will not leak. We will go with three wheel brakes. Refill the brake
system, bleed out as much air as we can in the dark. Top off the
system with the rest of the fluid we had, which was only the one
can. Willie and Sonny are still somewhere ahead of us. Don is still
On about the seventh corner, I will not say hard corner, cause
they were all hard, the brakes went to the floor again. Again into
low, again we hit the high rev's, again Coy wakes right up. Don is
still sleeping. I pull over when I get it under control and we find
that the brake line we had fixed was no longer fixed and all our
brake fluid is now gone. We have no brakes except the useless
parking brake. It is dark, we are out in the middle of nowhere. We
do not know where Willie is (it's his car) and we have to be in
Sicily by the afternoon for race tech.
Coy and I work out a system. When we come to a corner, I shift
to low, Coy pulls on the parking brake and if it looks like we will
not make the corner, as a last resort, we will put her in reverse.
Knowing that if we do put her in reverse, we will probably blow the
engine and our goose is cooked………..continued next month
Last month we left our three stalwart race crew (one sleeping) brakeless, some where in the mountains south of Naples. Coy and I were getting good at slowing the old Pontiac down for the curves. We were not making much time though. Willie and Sonny finally show up wondering where we had been. We explain the situation. No brake fluid, busted line at right rear brake and what we were doing to try to get to the ferry. Willie listens to our tale of woe and then says “I have to get the race car there for tech inspection and race numbers, get there the best you can" and with that he and Sonny blast off down the road, in the dark. Coy takes over the "Steering" bit for a while and I stand by the emergency brake. At one point, as we are going through a small village, we come to a very tight, left hand down hill turn. We have scrubbed off as much speed as we can; it was looking as if we may not make the turn as we were already into low gear. It was emergency brake time, full on. Front end understeers and we are approaching a house which is right at the edge of the roadway. We detect the emergency brake starting to retard our progress, so we held off on hitting reverse. Luckily for us, there was a door because our front bumper ended up resting inside the doorway when we came to a halt. Reversed out of there and continued on, alto we both were a bit damper than before. After about another hour, Coy was ready for a rest from steering. Don was still sleeping. We were both pretty well exhausted by this time and were going on adrenalin alone. I drive for about a half hour on a fairly straight road with no real bad turns. I glance over and Coy has just dozed off. It is getting close to morning as we approach the toe of Italy. It is a down hill run from where we are to the ferry landing. The morning ferry has landed and all the big trucks that are making the run back to Naples are on their way up the mountain. The road up the mountain is a two lane blacktop with very few and I do mean few, guard rails to help you stay on the road. The trucks are not able to make the turns without using up all the road. Here we are going down this road as slow as we can, the trucks coming up as fast as they can and there is not enough room for both of us in a turn. Well, my Irish Saints were with me that early morning as the timing was perfect; I would go into a turn just as a truck was coming out and then I would come out just as a truck would turn in. There were a few times when I was close to acquiring a new bit of paint or losing some, depends on your point of view. We rolled into the parking lot at the ferry and Don woke up and says "I'm hungry". I collapsed into the back seat and said, “You guys get it fixed," The next thing I hear is two guys inhaling for all they are worth and sucking all the air out of the car. I quickly sit up just in time to see the front end of the Pontiac going under the back end of a Sicilian horse cart, with the lantern tied to the axle swinging back and forth as the horse ambles along.....
As the horse cart slowly pulls away from the hood of the Pontiac, I state the obvious, “ You didn’t get the brakes fixed !! No, they say, not enough time, we need to meet Willie at tech and get our credentials today. So I try to get more sleep in the back seat. Arrive at tech and watch a elderly Sicilian with a box of various colors of paint go from car to car and paint the race numbers on both sides. I do not remember just what sort of paint it was or how we got it off when we got back to Naples. We get some more brake fluid, patch the line so we can at least make the car stop. Finish up at tech. Credentials consist of cloth arm bands. Three for drivers and two for mechanics. Before we left Naples, we had packed a rather large( read Army) tent that we planned on staying in, along with all the other necessary camping gear, like stove, pots, pans and some food.
Willie, the car owner, decides we are not going to camp as there are no camping sites anywhere near enough for us to stay. So we go looking for a place and come upon the Hotel Termini. It is a three story hotel, sort of out of the way from anything else. It is empty as it had been reserved for a big wedding party that had just left. The place is a bit trashed but not that bad. We rent a suite of rooms for the five of us. Unload all the camping gear and food and set up the stove. We send Sonny Goff out for some bread and he comes back with a complete tray of rolls that were to die for delicious. We mix up what has become known as “ Targa Stew”. It consists of two cans Beeni-weenis, two cans beans, one can corn beef, one can tomatoes. Hot sauce; optional. We also have cans of sardines, soda crackers and other snacks. We are all a bit on the sour side and need a bath. We send Sonny off to find where the baths are located. He grabs his shower gear and off he goes. We down a beer or three and Sonny comes back and says “ You will not believe the bath !” It seems that Hotel Termini is sitting on top of a thermal stream. The baths are located in the basement, if you will. They are carved out of stone and would measure about eight feet by ten feet and a good four feet deep. A sitting shelf is cut into one side. There is a large pipe coming out of the wall on the left with very very warm water pouring out with no control at all. On the right hand wall is the exit for the water. Just inside the door is a bed covered with clean sheet that you use to lay on and dry off. Talk about your ‘Hot Tub’. Boy, did it feel good! Later we discover the ‘Family’ bath. It was a small swimming pool with room for the whole family to bath in.
Tomorrow is practice, altho the roads are still open to local traffic, so you have to be cautious of other cars and animals. I almost hit a horse that was just ambling along. We find our pit spot and as we do not have lot of equipment, it does not take long to get set up.
We are car number 112, Class 1000cc to 1600cc. Count Von Trips comes by to take a look at the Stanguellini and asks how we are doing. Then one of the officials comes over checking for the rules that say you have to have a top on open roadsters. Well, I had discussed this very point with Willie before and was told that he had it covered. Willie’s Italian was about as good as mine and I could but order a beer!!! Willie is talking to the official all the while pulling a plastic tarp and some aluminum tubes from behind the seat. Lays the tubes across the windscreen and to the back of the cockpit, covers them up with the bit of plastic and the arm waving begins in earnest. Willie is able to convince the official that the rules state that the car must have a top, but does not say it must work while the car is in motion!!!!
On my practice run, the distributor points come undone so I coast to a wide spot in the road and I get to ride the rest of the way in a Fiat driven by a local who thinks he is Juan Manuel Fangio and is out to prove it. We get the points fixed and while we are working in the engine bay, we spill some fuel on the track. Fearing that the officials will pull us out of the race, Willie says “ What are we going to do about the spill ?” I say, “ Don’t worry, Willie, I will just wash the car !” Fuel spill gone, no worries.
Now these were the days when your driving suit was a pair of the blue Dunlop or other freebie coveralls and your Italian leather driving gloves and your Les Leston cork lined helmet, On race morning, we are told to go and line up in front of the big white tent with the large red cross on it. There, in line, is Ginther, Vaccarella, Von Trips, Mairesse and Rodriquez, as well as Phil Hill, Gurney, Hermann, Trintignant and Jo Bonnier. Each one gets to the tent, it opens, they go inside and the tent opens again and another goes in. When it comes to my turn, I step inside and a nurse tells me to open up my suit and bare my chest which I do and there is a Sicilian doctor standing there with a stethoscope hanging around his neck, but instead of putting them on, he leans over and places his ear to my chest, listens a bit, stands up, pats me on the shoulder and says “Va. Bene” and out the tent I go. Medical checkup completed, I’m good to go . . .
We last five laps before we retire with a very cooked engine due to crankshaft nut coming loose allowing a great loss of oil. We make arrangements to get the car to the docks in Palermo for the ship back to Naples. It must have some one to go with it. Willie says we have to go do the awards dinner so we need to get cleaned up some. Then we need to find a place for Sonny to stay overnight as he has been chosen to be the one to go back with the car. We get to the dock, make sure the car will be loaded aboard. Ask about a place for Sonny to stay and are directed to a place just up the street where Sonny can walk down to get on the ship. We find the place, it has a very nice woman in charge, says she will make sure that Sonny gets to the ship in the morning, shows Willie a place he can change his clothes and clean up a bit. We all freshen up some and take off for the awards dinner. We all hang around on the outer edge, watching all the going ons and spotting various people and drivers. Hunger comes upon us and we start thinking about getting some food, real food. The awards dinner consists mainly of hors d’ovures.
We find a place that looks good to us, sit down and start to order dinner.
Now Coy likes calamari, but at this time he can not think of its name. All he can remember is that it’s squid, so he starts trying to tell the waiter his interpretation of fried squid. The waiter finally says he understands and off he goes. Soon he comes back with a complete very large squid, sitting on a plate with its legs hanging over the edge and proceeds to ask Coy if that is what he wants. All this time, the waiter is waving this plate in front of Don Porter, ( our sleeping-in-the-back seat-person) who can not stand any sort of sea food. Porter is getting sicker by the moment, the waiter keeps waving. Coy is still trying to explain “ Calamari” so he is trying to describe the squid all cut up and fried. Waiter says he understands, leaves us for a while, comes back with the same squid all cut up with olive oil. But not fried....Porter bolts from the table and later meets us at the Pontiac.
I do not remember where we slept that night, if we ever did. The next morning finds us tooling up the road toward Naples. We later learned that the place we left Sonny was not a boarding house as we thought, but a ‘sporting house’. Poor Sonny was never ever the same after that night.
Late in the afternoon I was driving the Pontiac when she gets a bit erratic, I pull over and we have a flat tire. Do we have a spare ? No. We needed room for race spares. So we pull the wheel off and wait, soon a three-wheeler motorcycle type vehicle comes by with the back end loaded to the hilt with produce and stops. After explaining what we needed, we throw the wheel on top of the produce, I climb in along side him in the tiny cab and off we go up the mountainside to the town hanging by its fingernails. He takes me to the local tire shop where the flat is very quickly fixed. Meanwhile the three-wheeler has unloaded his produce and comes back by, picks me and the tire up and down the mountain we go. Coming up, fully loaded was quite slow, not so on the trip down. We were flying, tucked in turns, sliding thru apexes. It was quite a trip. Cost ? To repair the tire was 500 lire, about eighty cents. The trip up and back, Nada, not one Lira... would he take.
The next year 1962, we shipped the car down, rather than drive it. Lasted one lap. A whole nother story...But fun, you bet.....
Trying to write this some forty-five years later without any notes, there is a lot I do not remember. As far as I know, out of the five of us that went to Sicily, there are but two of us left
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Last edited by Pat Garrett; 08-09-2006 at 08:23 PM.
Reason: adding parts two & three