Alessandro Cagno was employee number 3 at F.I.A.T. and won the first running of the Targa Florio. He was also aviation pioneer and competed in powerboat races using F.I.A.T. powered boats, winning the Monaco meeting in 1906.
Alessandro Cagno died 50 years ago, he was 88
Alessandro Cagno was born in Turin and was apprenticed at 13 to a Turin engineering factory, Storero, his mechanical knowledge and ability lead him to become Luigi Storero's riding mechanic on his boss's De Dion-Bouton tricycle and then on his own design of 1.75HP Daimler engined Phoenix tricycle in early cyclecar competitions. They competed at the Piacenza Trotting track (Pista del Trotto) and in the Piacenza-Cremona-Borgo-Piacenza road race.
He was then recruited by Giovanni Agnelli as employee number 3 at F.I.A.T. where he became a test driver, Agnelli's personal driver and works driver in a team set up by his old boss, Luigi Storero. F.I.A.T. staff at the time included Cagno, Vincenzo Lancia and Felice Nazzaro. Togther they raced in Italy, France, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, Russia and the USA.
Cagno a busy man aside for his racing he was also the personal driver of Giovanni Agnelli and the first person to drive a truck from Turin to Moscow. He opened the first Fiat branch in Turin and was competed in powerboat races using F.I.A.T. powered boats, winning the Monaco meeting in 1906.
From 1901 to 1905 he raced for F.I.A.T., predominantly at Italian Hill Climbs, making his debut at Saluzzo in 1901 finishing third and fourth in two handicap events. His first international race came the following year, 1902, finishing second at the Circuit of Ardennes in Belgium.
In addition to driving for F.I.A.T. he still competed with Luigi Storero as his riding mechanic, so in 1902 he also competed in the Sassi–Superga hillclimb, the Susa–Moncenisio hillclimb and the Padua Sprint race on the 10 km road between Padua and Bovolenta.
In 1903 he was the riding-mechanic for Vincenzo Lancia in the ill fated Paris to Madrid race. 224 vehicle and motorcycles departed from the gardens at Versailles on the morning of May 24, 1903 with the first car expected to arrive in Bordeaux around noon. That proved correct as Louis Renault reached Bordeaux in first place at noon. However behind him around half the cars had crashed or retired and at least twelve people were reported dead and over 100 injured. This turned out to be an exageration, nevertheless there were still eight people dead, three spectators and five competitors. Vincenzo and Cagno had laready become one of the many retirments their F.I.A.T. 24 hp before the race was stopped at Bordeaux.
In 1904 he competed mainly in hillclimbs and the following year, 1905, he won the Mont Ventoux hillclimb driving a F.I.A.T.
In 1906 he switched to the Itala team (Fab Auto Itala SA.) and took part in the inaugural Targa Florio winning the race driving a Fab Auto Itala SA completing the 3 laps covering the 446 kilometres (277 mi) of the Grande Circuit of the Targa Florio, in 9 hours 32 minutes 22 seconds, an average speed of 29 mph (46.8 kph). He aslo won the Coppa della Velocita in 1907 completing the 486 kilometres (302 mi) in 4 hours 37 minutes 26.6 seconds, an average speed of 65 mph (104.8 kph).
In 1908 he drove the new 12-cylinder Itala finishing a dissapointing 11th at the French Grand Prix but a better 3rd in the Coppa Florio at Bologna. The team then entered the 1908 American Grand Prize at Savannah but he retired after a spring broke on lap 1.2
By 1909 Cagno had lost interest in racing and, being a flying enthusiast he turned his attention to aviation, getting his pilot's licence and becoming an instructor at the airfield at Cameri, about 90 km northeast of Turin. Then in October of that year he co-founded 'AVIS-Voisin' (Atelier Voisin. Italie Septentrionale) with two engineers at Cameri, Clovis Thouvenot and Gino Galli. They set up to build Voisin aircraft under licence. He also designed and tested aircraft, founded Italy's first flying school in Pordenone and was the first person to fly above Venice. After volunteering as a pilot for the Italo-Turkish War (1911–1912) in Libya he invented a bomb aiming device (this was basically a grenade launcher with crude aiming device consisting of an angled tube).
In 1912, Cagno returned to Fiat as Chief Tester of racing cars and road cars. He retuned to racing briefly in 1914 at the French Grand Prix but retired after 10 laps with a damaged a valve.
With the onsey of WWI he ran the General Testing Office for the Italian and French armies. After the war he returned to racing and concluded his career in 1923, leading the Fiat team to victory in the Leningrad-Tiblisi-Moscow race.
Cagno retired from motor-racing in 1923, but continued living in his family home in Turin until his death in 1971. At the time of his death, he was the last surviving participant of the first International Grand Prix ever held.