1951 Piero Taruffi "Italcorsa / Tarf II"


(1951 - present)

As a works driver for Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari, Maserati and Alfa Romeo, Piero Taruffi recorded a number of significant wins from 1930 to 1957, including the 1951 La Carrera Panamericana and the 1957 Mille Miglia, which is why many regard him as one of the great race drivers of his era. Yet he also used racing as a springboard for his many other achievements: He wrote a couple books about racing, he pursued a doctorate in industrial engineering, and he also designed his own record-breaking race cars, one of which will cross the block at RM’s Monaco auction next month.

In fact, the car in question, his Italcorsa/Tarf II bisiluro appears to have been the ultimate incarnation of Taruffi’s dream of reinventing the race car. Taruffi’s first attempt at a twin-boom car, the aluminum-bodied 1948 Italcorsa/Tarf I, which used a 50hp 500cc Guzzi V-twin engine mounted in the right-hand pod, set six 500cc records in November that year at speeds of up to 130 MPH. Its success led him to envision an even more radical race car – one with three booms – that he patented (U.S. Patent 2,608,264), claiming better aerodynamics and visibility than existing race cars.

While it appears he never built that “trisiluro,” over the next couple of years he did design a successor bisiluro that reversed driver and engine positions and used a 1,720cc Maserati four-cylinder engine with a dual-stage supercharger system that developed 290hp. The Tarf II, as it is now known, again transmitted power to the rear wheel via chain and used independently sprung wheels at all four corners along with adjustable tail fins to compensate for wind direction.

Its first outing, in March 1951, resulted in a pair of records: one for the flying mile at 185.49 MPH and one for the flying kilometer at 180.55 MPH. He would later set more records with it: in January 1952, averaging 144.00 MPH in the 50 mile; and in April 1952, averaging 140.87 MPH in the 50 kilometer, 139.66 MPH in the 100 kilometer, 136.60 MPH in the 200 kilometer, and 135.10 MPH in the one-hour.

Reportedly, he continued to set records in the Tarf II with different engines through 1957, when he retired from racing, but he also stated that he had planned a larger version – powered by a 4.5-liter Ferrari engine – to enter into the Indianapolis 500. “The importance of my car is that it embodies many new principles that will become standard in automobiles ten years from now,” he told Mechanix Illustrated for its January 1952 issue.

Despite the records and the publicity that Taruffi’s cars received, the bisiluro design never caught on with race car designers. Carlo Mollino most famously tried out the design on Nardi’s entry into the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans, and in 1967 OSI built the Silver Fox concept car as a tribute to Taruffi, but neither was successful. Over here in the States, hot rodders occasionally built cars using the twin-boom design for dry lakes and Bonneville land-speed racing, most notably Howard Johansen’s car, which made the cover of Hot Rod‘s December 1949 issue.

According to RM’s auction description, Taruffi held on to the Tarf II for some time afterward, but by 1986 it had made its way to Australia, where it was fitted with the Ferrari Dino V-6 engine currently in it for demonstration runs at the Vintage Sports Car Club’s Speed Classic Event in Fremantle. It was even later recommissioned for racing and scheduled to run at the 2007 Lake Gardiner Speed Week.

RM’s pre-auction estimate for Taruffi’s Tarf II ranges from €160,000 to €200,000 (about $210,000 to $263,000). The Monaco auction takes place May 11-12. For more information, visit RMAuctions.com.

UPDATE (14.May 2012): The bisiluro sold for €89,600 ($115,100), far short of its reserve.

Source: Hemmings Blog

Date Location Driver Driver Country Vehicle Power Speed Record Comments
20 March 1951   Piero Taruffi Italy Tarf II 290 bhp 290.552 km/h (180.55 mph) flying kilometre  
20 March 1951   Piero Taruffi Italy Tarf II 290 bhp 298.507 kph (185.49 mph) flying mile  
15 January 1952   Piero Taruffi Italy Tarf II 290 bhp 231.744 km/h (144.00 mph) 50-mile record  
3 April 1952   Piero Taruffi Italy Tarf II 290 bhp 226.700 km/h (140.87 mph) 50-km record  
3 April 1952   Piero Taruffi Italy Tarf II 290 bhp 224.747 km/h (139.66 mph) 100-km record  
3 April 1952   Piero Taruffi Italy Tarf II 290 bhp 219.833 km/h (136.60 mph) 200-km record  
3 April 1952   Piero Taruffi Italy Tarf II 290 bhp 217.414 km/h (135.10 mph) 1 hour record  

Chassis No. 2
195 bhp, 2,418 cc Ferrari 246 Dino DOHC V-6 engine with three twin-choke carburettors, Rover gearbox, independent front suspension, and chain-driven live rear axle.

• Designed by Piero Taruffi and piloted by him to seven official speed records from 1951-52
• Radical twin-boom “bisiluro” design and advanced engineering features
• Displayed for many years in Italian and Australian museums
• Ferrari 246 Dino V-6/Rover gearbox for ease of operation; maintained in running order

Piero Taruffi is rightly considered one of the greatest drivers and most innovative engineers of his era. Beginning with motorcycles, his stellar career included “Works” drives for Alfa Romeo, Bugatti, Cisitalia, Ferrari, Maserati and Mercedes-Benz, with victories including the 1951 Carrera Panamericana and the final Mille Miglia. His achievements, including several dozen speed records, have filled volumes of books.

Alternately known as “Italcorsa” and “Tarf II”, this amazing vehicle was designed by Taruffi and followed “Tarf I”, which set six 500 cc and two 1,500 cc speed records. Its radical “bisiluro”, or twin-boom, design was built in 1951 for the 2,000 cc class. Power was by a 1,720 cc Maserati four-cylinder engine with two-stage supercharging developing 290 bhp. A chain drove the rear axle, and steering was via simple control sticks. Adjustable rudders compensated for prevailing winds.

On 20 March 1951, Taruffi drove “Tarf II” to a pair of speed records for the “flying mile” and the “flying kilometre” at 298.507 kph (185.49 mph) and 290.552 km/h (180.55 mph), respectively. On 15 January 1952, Taruffi broke the 50-mile record at 231.744 km/h (144.00 mph). On 3 April 1952, four more records were achieved: 50 km at 226.700 km/h (140.87 mph), 100 km at 224.747 km/h (139.66 mph), 200 km at 219.833 km/h (136.60 mph) and a one-hour record at 217.414 km/h (135.10) mph.

After 1952, “Tarf II” remained within the collection of Dott. Ing. Taruffi, followed by a museum display at Monza. It later made its way to Australia, and then, in 1986, it was acquired without engine by Mr T. Valmorbida of Victoria, for display at the York Motor Museum. It was restored for the Museum by Mike Rodsted, who also fitted the present Ferrari 246 Dino V-6 engine. Demonstration runs followed in March 1987 at the Vintage Sports Car Club’s Speed Classic Event in Fremantle. Between 2002 and 2008, “Tarf II” was displayed at the Fremantle Motor Museum. The car was recommissioned for racing, in anticipation of the 2007 Lake Gardiner Speed Week, and whilst the event was rained out, “Tarf II” has been maintained in running order ever since. Striking and impressively documented in Tarf II: World Land Speed Record Breaker by Graham Cocks, Tarf II is a fascinating and important part of engineering and motorsports history.


This clip from youtube actually puts together two different events with different layouts. In the first one the so called "bisiluro" (not to be confused with Carlo Mollino's equally amazing Le Mans racer from 1955) branded "Italcorsa" is equipped with a 4 cyl 1720cc Maserati engine, with two compressors. In the second one the car is equipped with a Gilera Rondine derived plant of only 500cc not compressed, making it the first vehicle of that capacity to break the record of 200km/h. Taruffi was an amazing man and one of the forgotten heroes of motorsport.

Source: RM Auctions


Studio photos by Paul Kane, courtesy RM Auctions

“Double Bullet On Wheels”

From Mechanix Illustrated, 1952:

“An amazing contraption, I thought, as the odd-looking car was unloaded from a truck onto the Appian Way, just south of Rome. The kind of vehicle that springs full-grown out of fantastic comic books. But, it was an automobile, all right – a pair of sleek silver-and-blue torpedoes, shaped very much like the deadly fish launched by submarines, connected by two thin strips of beveled aluminum.

I was one of the handful of racing enthusiasts and official timers who had traveled to this dangerous stretch of two-lane macadam road flanked by deep ditches out of which grew huge trees. Most of us had faith in the radical machine because it had been built – and was being driven – by Piero Taruffi, a brilliant automotive engineer and one of the world’s best racers.

The wheels were seperately suspended and absolutely indepenedent. This suspension, instead of being parallelogramed sidewise, as is the case with American cars, functioned from front to back. The motor was a standard Maserati four cylinder, 1720 cc with four forward speeds. Power from this motor was transmitted to the rear wheels by a chain drive, as in a motorcycle. The tail fins sticking up from the torpedoes were adjustable to take advantage of prevailing wind conditions.

There had been almost insuperable engineering and financial handicaps to overcome before the vehicle was ready for this trial. And now, on this ancient Roman roadway stretching like a narrow ribbon through the Pontine Marshes, Taruffi was going to try to better the world’s record for sports cars in the two-litres class. The record was held by Britain’s Goldie Gardner who, the year before, had rolled up the incredible speed of 284.470 kilometers per hour in an MG.

Mechanics poured preheated oil into the Maserati motor, Taruffi donned his white helmet and climbed into the cockpit. He grasped the rudders that took the place of the steering wheel and drove to the starting line. The first two laps were warmups. On the third, coming downwind, he zoomed like a silver streak past us. The timer announced that he had done a breathtaking 313.588 kilometers per hour.

The upwind leg was slower. But the average, necessary in fixing the official time, was 298.507 kilometers per hour, or approximately 185 mph. Taruffi’s double torpedo had broken Gardner’s mark by better than 14 kilometers!

‘The importance of my car,’ Taruffi told me after the race, ‘is that it embodies many new principles that will become standard in automobiles ten years from now. It was important, also, for me to prove in a controlled test that my design is feasible because I wish to get financial support to build another, larger double-torpedo – one powered by a four-and-a-half litre Ferrari motor for entry in your Indianapolis classic.’”