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Gregor Tarjan will be driving his 1973 Porsche 914 in the Targa Newfoundland this year. (Gregor Tarjan)
Gregor Tarjan will be driving his 1973 Porsche 914 in the Targa Newfoundland this year. (Gregor Tarjan)

Classic Cars

Targa Newfoundland: Frankenstein takes on The Rock Add to ...

More than 80 competitors will click their cars into gear and accelerate out of St. John’s next Monday morning to face five days of the best, and maybe the worst, this rugged part of Canada can throw at them as they take part in the milestone 10th annual edition of the 2,200-kilometre Targa Newfoundland Rally.

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Included in the strong international field facing what promises to be one of the toughest Targas ever staged will be factory-backed rally racers and some very serious private entries driving modern machinery bearing the badges of Dodge, Fiat, Porsche, Subaru, Mini, Kia, Lotus, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Nissan, BMW, VW and Toyota as well as classics such as a Ford Falcon Sprint, Acadian Canso, Chevy Camaro and a Datsun 240Z.

Plus a lone 1973 Porsche 914 – affectionately known as Frankenstein – steered by an American more familiar with facing the challenges of rugged coasts from offshore at the helm of a twin-hulled yacht than on twisting shoreline roads behind the wheel of a vintage mid-engined rally car. Adding to the drama is that Targa will also be he and his co-driver’s first rally.

Gregor Tarjan of East Setauket, N.Y., is a very unusual guy in many ways, but not untypical of those who decide to test themselves in Targa. “I love to drive. It’s the core of my love of cars,” says Tarjan, and he expects Targa to represent a unique challenge.

“My brother Michael and I have dreamed of doing the Paris Dakar rally and the Carrera Panamericana, but they’re big-ticket events and far away.” And maybe they’ll do them, he says, but Targa was right on the doorstop.

“I’d been eyeing Targa for six or seven years, but never had the right car, or the funds or the time. But this year I said I’m going to pull the trigger.” His brother’s schedule won’t allow him to be in the co-driver’s seat, but good friend Peter Archey, a mechanic and ex-racer, will fill that role.

For Tarjan, now 49, Targa likely will, as it has for many, prove the high point of their involvement with automobiles, which in his case goes back a long way. Born in Vienna into an Armenian family, he developed an early passion for motor sport and sailing, which developed further on his arrival in New York as a teenager.

After completing a degree in art history, he tacked into a job as a photographer with the New York Times, then altered course into yacht design, helping to create America’s Cup winner Stars and Stripes in 1986. He then found a berth in high-end auto auctioneering before moving back to Europe to establish a couple of art galleries and manufacture carpets.

He’s also an expert on pre-Columbian textiles, on which he’s written a book. But he now earns his living as a specialist in, and distributor, of cruising multi-hull and international catamarans – he’s written a couple of books on these too – through his company Aeroyacht Inc.

Plans to compete in Targa began to coalesce with the purchase of the 1973 Porsche 914 a couple of years ago.

Tarjan had spent time on the track driving about as fierce a car as most would ever want to run, a Porsche Turbo S, but decided to back things down a notch – “I’m not a superhero” - and go vintage racing as “ a form of risk management.” This he did initially in a 1958 Peerless GT (he also owns a 1925 Stutz 695 Speedster), but decided he wanted something that handled like the twin-turbo but without its “killer instincts.”

Enter the Porsche 914, fresh from winning the Porsche Club of America’s California autocross championship in 2009.

The Porsche 914 was the product of an alliance between Porsche and Volkswagen in the late 1960s when the former needed a new entry-level car and the latter wanted something sportier than its Karmann Ghia. The partnership would combine VW production brawn and Porsche panache and brains, but the result wasn’t quite what either had hoped for.

The car that emerged was mid-engined – in 914/4 form with VW’s 80-hp, 1.7-litre, flat-four and in 914/6 versions with Porsche’s 2.0-litre flat-six – and clad in two-seater bodywork that was immediately controversial.

The 914 was produced from 1969 to 1976 and sold in Europe as a VW-Porsche and in North America as a Porsche only. Porsche-philes proved 914-phobic, however, and only 3,360 914/6s were built, but the 914/4 did better with a total of 115,646.

Tarjan’s 914/4 has been improved to GT spec and its engine modified to make 140 hp. He uses it on the track and for autocrossing, and now with some additional mods to suit Newfoundland roads, it will make its rallying debut in the Targa class on Monday.

Having the personal signature of Vic Elford on the hood – a racer who became a legend driving Porsches in Sicily’s Targa Florio open-road race – should serve well as a go-fast talisman in that event’s Newfoundland namesake.

Tarjan says that for a road-racer the thought of arriving at corner apexes he’s never seen before in half a dozen special stages a day for five days is a bit daunting, although after three Atlantic crossings under sail and countless other long hauls he figures he can deal with the mental stress. “But they say this is the iron man of motorsports events and I’m expecting it to be a very special challenge.”

And it will likely live up to his expectations, as it has for others over the event’s now decade-long history.

You can follow next week’s event at targanewfoundland.com

Back in 1973

Pink Floyd releases its 8th album, The Dark Side of The Moon, which becomes an immediate Billboard hit and stays on the charts for a record 741 weeks from 1973-88, the longest run in history.

Construction begins on the CN Tower in Toronto, which is topped off at 553.35 metres in 1976 and holds the record as the world's tallest free-standing structure for the next 34 years.

Forties era tennis star and later hustler Bobby Riggs, then 55, takes on Billie Jean King in a Battle of the Sexes match at the Houston Astrodome. King takes home the $100,000 winnings.

Summer Jam at Watkins Glen, a sort of 1970s version of Woodstock, attracts 600,000 to hear The Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers Band and The Band.

Motorola's Martin Cooper wins the race with Bell Labs to come up with the first personal mobile phone. Martin makes the first call on a hand-held (but heavy) cell phone to rival researcher Joel Engel at Bell Labs.

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