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Is it Time for a Classic Targa?


Photo: Groundsky Photography

Last year, Targa New Zealand’s drawcard for its main event revolved around celebrations to mark the event’s 20th anniversary, including the opportunity to take part in the first South Island Targa. This year, the event returns to more familiar territory — the North Island — with the chief lure being the opportunity to compete over a recordbreaking 1000-plus kilometres of closed-road special stages.

Interestingly, this initiative by Targa New Zealand organizers has met with a mixed reaction — while some say they relish the chance to challenge themselves and their machinery further, others feel that the extra distances involved will make an event already notable for its toughness on cars and drivers an even harder proposition.

One or two of the Targa veterans who prefer to run older, classic vehicles went so far as to say they would not be entering this year’s Targa as they believe the additional strain that would be put on their classics by 1000 kilometres of hard, special-stage driving would be too much for their cars to handle. However, those sentiments are not really all that new.

Back in 1995, while the majority of the cars that took part in the inaugural Targa New Zealand were bona fide classics, the field also included a handful of modern cars. Over the following years, Targa events saw the number of genuine classic cars slowly dwindle, as many competitors turned to more reliable modern machinery. That’s an understandable trend — after all, hundreds of kilometres of full-on special-stage competition is always going to be an easier ask in a well-equipped, up-to-date 4WD rally weapon than in a low-tech classic car. Also, those who’d baulk at tearing out the interior of an E-Type Jaguar in order to weld in a roll cage would not worry too much about performing the same type of surgery on a Mitsubishi or a Subaru.

As a result, while there’ll always be some classic cars on Targa, their numbers have been on the decline since 1995 — and even hard-bitten Targa veterans have chosen to tread a more modern path.

As an indication of this trend, over the course of Targa’s history, only two drivers have taken part in each Targa New Zealand. Barry Kirk-Burnnand swapped his original Cortina-Lotus Mk2 for a BMW M3 more than a decade ago, while this year sees that intrepid Fiat automobilist, Mike Lowe, finally make the move to a modern car after 20 years of Targa competition at the wheel of his iconic ’60s Fiat Abarth. Mind you, Mike hasn’t strayed too far from the beaten path — his new mount is a 2008 Fiat Abarth Assetto Corse.

Twenty-one years in, perhaps it’s time for Targa New Zealand — under the aegis of Peter Martin’s newly formed Ultimate Rally Group — to look at the possibility of organizing a Classic Targa New Zealand, an event that would cater specifically for classic cars, for example, pre ’75. Classic Targa could run over two to three days and, while offering enough closed-road stages to make the event fun and exciting, keep competitive mileage down to more manageable numbers. For those not wanting to add roll cages and other safety gear to their classic cars, the event could include a matching Classic Targa Tour.

Of course, the overall viability of such an event would depend upon whether enough classic car owners could be enticed to enter — if you reckon you’d like to participate in something along the lines of a Classic Targa, why not get in touch with Peter Martin and his enthusiastic team and express your interest.

Such an event would, I’m sure, easily gain New Zealand Classic Car’ full support.


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