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Targa Tasmania Preview

Toronto Star Wheels

by Jim Kenzie


About four years ago, I was having a coffee with Harm Lagaay, chief designer for Porsche (name-dropper, name-dropper...) at the Frankfurt Auto Show.

He mentioned a lunatic road rally he had attended in Australia called the Targa Tasmania. Not a time-and-distance thing, not a parade, but a flat-out, first-is-first, second-in-nowhere, race on public roads.

He said it was the most fantastic car event he had ever attended.

When I got home from that trip, I found a letter on my desk from Bill McVean, former CFRB radio personality. Friends of his in Australia ran a travel agency, and were trying to promote this wicked Antipodean car rally called the Targa Tasmania.

For me to hear about this event, twice, from diametrically opposite ends of the earth, within a span of ten days, was a message from God - one day, I was intended to do this thing.

The Targa Tasmania was first run in 1992, not only to provide car enthusiasts with an opportunity to drive their cars as they were meant to be driven, but also to give the island state of this island nation a bit of tourism visibility.

Initially, the Targa was the best-kept secret in motorsports; the entry list is still dominated by Aussies. Thanks to blabbermouths like Lagaay, it is attracting more international exposure every year.

Such luminaries at Formula One aces Sir Jack Brabham, Dennis Hulme and Stirling Moss, rally greats like Walter Roehrl, Sandro Munari and Roger Clark, even motorcycle wizard Mick Doohan, have run this event.

This year will be the tenth anniversary. It’ll be the biggest, best-attended event yet, with over 300 cars.

“Targa” is Italian for “plate”; the name of the Tasmanian event derives from the trophy presented to the winners of one of history’s longest-running and best-known open-road car races, Sicily’s Targa Florio.

The Targa Tasmania pays homage to this history by running four competitions simultaneously. “Historic” cars, built from 1900 to 1946, and “Touring Classic” cars, from 1947 to 1965, run a shorter, less onerous course.

“Classics”, built up to 1981, or “Modern” cars - from 1977 to straight from the factory if you like - run the full route. 1977 to 1981 cars can choose which class they want to run.

So you end up with everything from a 1908 MAB replica with a 27-litre aircraft engine - described as Australia‘s own “Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang’‘ - and a trio of magical Bugatti Type 35Bs, to full-race Porsche 911 Carrera Turbo four-wheel drives, Nissan Skyline GT-Rs, and Mazda RX-7s.

Rule Number One for slower cars: watch your mirrors.

You just don’t show up and run the Targa Tasmania. You “nominate” yourself (apply) and the Vehicle Selection Committee “invites” you to compete - or not.

If you make it, the Technical Committee then decides if your car qualifies under Standard, Limited Modified or Modified classifications.

Cars are further sub-divided by age; you run against the clock, but only against cars in your own grouping.

Tasmania is blessed with a network of well-maintained tarmac roads, and with more sheep than people, these can be closed with minimal disruption to the public. The six-day event consists of 2,000 km, including 54 special stages, from one to 43 kilometres in length.

Late last year, fellow automotive writer Bob English, mentioned that he and his good friend Doug Mepham were going to contest the 2001 Targa in Doug’s 1971 Volvo 142 S.

Bob is also a good friend of mine, a brilliant writer (for Carguide magazine and one of those little papers down the road), and a fine driver. But by his own admission, he could barely navigate his way out of his own driveway.

He and I did a rally in GM pick-up trucks a couple of years ago - for both our sakes, he drove it all, I navigated it all. We did well.

“Are you SURE about this navigating thing?” I asked him.

“Well, not really...” he said. I told him that if he had second thoughts, to tell Doug that I’d be there in a heartbeat.

He did. I am.

Mepham is one of the best-organized people I know. I’ll bet he trims each hair of his beard individually with nail scissors every morning. When he exploded from his mother’s womb, his hair was probably combed.

In other words, he’s the kind of guy you’d trust to drive a rally car with you in the right seat (or, more to the point, the “wrong” seat).

Especially since we’ll be on the wrong side of the road.

His car was prepped by Frank and Dan Sprongl, of Georgetown, who have been at the very top of the Canadian rallying scene forever. Apart from safety mods - roll cage, racing seats and belts, fuel cell, fire extinguisher system - and rally navigation gear, the car isn’t hugely modified. Some suspension work, a bit of breathing on the engine. The objective is finishing, not melting the pavement.

The car has been assigned to the Limited Modification category in the Classic class.

Australians have nothing on the Germans for bureaucracy. Getting the paperwork sorted for this event was harder than getting the car done. Steam-clean the thing. Remove every drop of fluid. Disable and drain the fire extinguisher system.

Container the car, and ship it via Houston and the Panama Canal to Australia.

As you read this, we will be in Melbourne, getting ready to put the car on the Spirit of Tasmania ferry for shipment to Davenport, on Tasmania’s northern coast. A pre-run (“Prologue”) on Tuesday will determine the starting order - fastest cars last.


On Wednesday, we find out how well we will get along as a driver-navigator combination.

Mepham notes that we will run to finish, not necessarily go balls-to-the-wall. “I can’t beat the kids,” he notes, “but I can outlast ‘em!”

Amen to that, my man.

- 30 -


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