Porsche, the Targa Florio and the Crocodile

by James Kraus

Umberto Maglioli and Vic Elford savor their victory at the 52nd Targa Florio, 1968. Photo: Vic Elford Collection

Many manufacturers offer polo shirts these days, but they are all knock-offs; all but one, that is. The one true authentic original short-sleeve mesh polo shirt is the Lacoste Classic Piqué L1212 Polo. It’s been around for 77 years.

It was invented by René Lacoste, a French tennis champion who twice triumphed at Wimbledon, won the U.S. Open on two occasions and thrice took victory laurels at the French Open. He was ranked Number One Player in 1926 and 1927.

René, a tenacious and beloved competitor, was dubbed Le Crocodile by the press and his fans. The other three top French players (his Davis Cup teammates) were known for some time as the Bounding Basque, the Magician and Toto. Lacoste was last to be granted a popular sobriquet. In tribute, a friend had the image of a crocodile embroidered on a sport coat and presented it to René, who took to wearing the jacket to his matches.

René Lacoste

Monsieur Lacoste appeared on court at the 1926 U.S. Open wearing what seemed at the time a curiously strange new shirt. Instead of the traditional on-court attire of a long-sleeve oxford button-down (the earlier form of polo shirt originated by Brooks Brothers), he was sporting a short-sleeve white shirt of lightweight woven cotton piqué that he had designed with an eye to enhancing his mobility and warm-weather comfort. The new shirt may have indeed given him a boost, as he handily won the championship.

There was sufficient interest created by the new garment that René and a friend set up a business to manufacture it in Troyes, France in 1933. To promote the association with René and his victories on the court, his personal signature was added in the form of the now-famous crocodile. A new staple of men’s clothing was born.

Targa Florio, 10 June 1956. Umberto Maglioli and Porsche Competition Director Baron Huschke von Hanstein after achieving Porsche’s first-ever victory at the Targa in a 550 RS. Photo: Pino Fondi Collection

The performance and comfort of the shirt made it an immediate favourite of sportsmen, the first adopters being polo players and golfers. Not far behind were the top competitors in motorsport.

Targa Florio, 24 May 1959: Edgar Barth and Wolfgang Seidel after their 1st Place finish in a Porsche 718 RSK. Photo: Spezial Bild, Adriano Cimarosti Collection

Targa Florio, 5 May 1968: Umberto Maglioli gets a light from Vic Elford after the duo notched another triumph for Porsche at the wheel of a 907

Porsche drivers at the Targa weren’t alone. Another big fan was Count Wolfgang von Trips, who frequently wore red as well as the original white, quite appropriate to his position as works Ferrari driver.

Wolfgang von Trips in Ferrari 246 F1, 1960

In the classic days of Grand Prix and Sportscar racing, the Lacoste shirt became as nearly ubiquitous as the Dunlop driving suit.

1970 F1 World Champion Jochen Rindt with Lotus founder Colin Chapman

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9 thoughts on “Porsche, the Targa Florio and the Crocodile

  1. I notice in that lead photo that Umberto Maglioli was also sporting a pair of classic Persol 649 sunglasses.

  2. Yes! – and note that he is wearing 649′s a month before Steve McQueen was seen wearing them in The Thomas Crown Affair

    At that time they were pretty much known only to the citizens of Turin and theatergoers who saw Marcello Mastroianni wearing them in the classic Divorce, Italian Style.

    Umberto was The Man!

  3. Well done JK! You’ve done an artful job of integrating fashion and automotive history into one story. Well researched and laid out. Bravo.

    Out of curiousity, do you wear Lacoste?

    AM

    • Yes, although I have only three. This is due to the fact that I own no other visible-logo clothing, and I don’t wish to encourage others to think of me as The Crocodile Guy. Most good things in life are best in moderation.

      • Well, we won’t hold that against you JK. A little bit of logo wear does a body good. And, yes, moderation is the key to a long and prosperous life.

        I look forward to your next post.

        AM

  4. You can add Henry Taylor, who was Ford UK Competitions Manager in the Lotus Cortina rally car era (mid 1960′s). He was often seen sporting a Lacoste.

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