The Trieste-Opicina car race debuted in the summer of 1911 with a purse of 10,000 crowns put forth by Prince Erich von Thurn und Taxis. At that time, Trieste was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the cars participating represented some of the most famous names from the realms of aristocracy and industry of both Austria and Trieste. Unfortunately, unlike the fast cars that participated over the years, the race itself fell victim to a series of fits and starts due to the unpredictable and inevitable course of history; from interruptions due to World Wars to urban sprawl that claimed the race course itself, the race was on and off and on again, over the course of many years.
All told, the race ran for 30 editions up to 1971.Throughout the existence of the Trieste-Opicina Race, top drivers and premiere factory teams, most notably, Tazio Nuvolari (who won the first race ever for Ferrari) were clamoring to participate. Over the years, the race experimented with different car categories, from touring cars, to tricked out Fiat 500s, 850s to the inclusion of Formula Junior and Formula 3 cars. The course was also modified over the years both in terms of conditions and length. Even the time of year of the race, changed from summer, to early fall and spring.
What made the race unique and memorable? To start, the fact that it was a break-neck 10km uphill course from downtown Trieste to Opicina, hugging treacherous curves made it unlike any other. Also, the history behind the race was so long and storied that for many drivers who participated in it, it was a badge of honor — and — for those who missed it, a lost opportunity. Add to that, the enthusiasm that enthralled the entire city of Trieste, made it an exciting event with a week-long celebration leading up to race day. Of course, the beautiful setting of the Carso hillside overlooking the gulf of Trieste made it extra special.
Over the lifetime of Trieste-Opicina, the top speed reached on the course was around 138 kmph, which looking at the course, seems unfathomable. However, the race was marked often by bad weather making it more dangerous, add to that increasing numbers of participants and faster cars and more sideline spectators; eventually, it was scrapped out of fear of dangerous injury.
Since 1982, the Club dei Venti all’Ora (20kmph) has organized re-enactments of the Trieste-Opicina race known as the Trieste-Opicina Historic. The objective of the competition is no longer speed, but rather a steady pace on timed stretches of the course, featuring vintage cars. They depart from the Foro Ulpiano in front of the Trieste courthouse and end up in Opicina under the Obelisk. The week leading up to the race is chock full of exhibits, “beauty contests” and special events interspersed throughout the city.
Despite the lack of adrenaline and daring that accompanied the race, Trieste-Opicina is still fun, the cars are sexy and there is still enthusiasm from the part of the owners and the spectators alike.