Panamericana in Mexico with Porsche, Mercedes, Studebakers
Panamericana, is it not something about secret bank accounts? No, it’s about once the world’s most iconic dangerous car race – of course in Mexico. And if you are in Mexico, typically in October, then you have to look along. It’s pure fiesta time but keep some distance to the roaring cars in the race.
It is still on, but in 2020 due to the Corona virus, Panamericana took a break.
Panamericana takes us back to 1950
It is one of the world’s most iconic car races, which first took place in Mexico in the 1950s and was closed for the same reason, simply too many accidents during the race. 24 deaths in the 50s alone, however, surpassed by Le Mans. One learned on the public Mexican country roads and the main road down through Mexico, and at full speed through small sleepy (until the Panamericana came by) villages, so that chickens, dogs, and cats ran for their lives. And by the way, it was also too expensive. It was before the big sponsorship contributions and advertising revenue that today’s big car races benefit.
But then the race was resumed in a safer format in the 80s and the Chihuana race was added in the same area of Mexico. Together, the two races constitute the absolute last car races on public roads. In Formula 1, of course, we have several city settlements throughout the season: in Monaco and the night race in Singapore in September, but this is something completely different. Buckle up!
The story of La Carrera Panamericana
In the 1950s, this racing event was huge under the name Mexican Road Race, which later got the name La Carrera Panamericana (Porsche took the name of their models from here, not the other way around), La Carrera, or La Pana. The format of the race was a high-speed stage rally on public roads, typically dangerous mountain losses with speeds up to 290 km / h in 6 days, and unique races due to the length of the race, which even surpassed two other classics Mille Miglia and Targa Florio in Italy, which are also great races.
The news of Panamericana spread like wildfire
The news of the exotic car race in Mexico with the high stakes spread like wildfire in the 1950s, despite the race only being broadcast on radio and in the cinemas’ newsreels. Mexico was so new and exotic at the time. It was the perfect match with the full backing of official Mexico, who realized the PR value and even entered local contestants, and so did the American Automobile Association and US automakers.
You could even see some of the world’s best racing drivers in the world’s most exotic cars such as Ferrari, Osca, Lancia, Mercedes, Porsche Alfa Romeo, and Maserati as well as American Ford and Oldsmobile. In the new version of the race, the chassis and appearance of the cars are still classic, but there are engines in the cars that are top-tuned with over 500 hp.
The first Panamericana race took place in 1950
Let’s take a look at the first race in 1950 to get a little closer to the race’s DNA.
It was held in May 1950. Later, the race was moved to November, so as not to conflict with the race calendar of the participants for the year. Race drivers from all over the world signed up and from all kinds of car races. Formula 1, sportscar racing, rally, stock cars, endurance racing, hill climbing and drag racing. The race began at the border with Mexico from the US, and therefore there were and are many top American profiles from Nascar and Indy 500. Bill France, who created Nascar, was in the first race. The Americans were excited about this maverick format that allowed much more than most other races in the world and geographically started right in their backyard. Piero Taruffi and Felice Bonetto, both Italian F1 drivers, each lined up in the Alfa Romeo Coupé specially designed for the event. In short, everybody went all-in. Many of the 132 participants were without sponsors, and there were 9 female “pilots” in the race.
The first races in the 50’s started from the north and went south, later the race was reversed. It started in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua then crossed the border from El Paso, Texas, and ended in Ciudad Cuauhtémoc, Chiapas on the border with Guatemala-Mexico opposite La Mesilla, Guatemala.
There were nine stages in 5 days, and you also got up and down the terrain well thanks to the many mountains: the lowest place in the race was 100 meters above sea level and the highest was 3,195 meters. Imagine the hardships on bad roads with lack of shielding and the thin air that taxed both “man and machine”.
Studebaker has won the Panamericana 20 times since 1993
The original race takes place from 1950 to 1954, and the modern one that is still being run is from 1988. Today it is a 7-day race, and the participants will sign on, it is also the toughest race in the world. American beautiful Studebaker, not produced for many years, (1852–1967), wins time and time again. This is due to a perfect construction for mountain running with good weight distribution and a large foot / wheel print (it is a really big car) and with huge US engines. It’s still amazing that a car taken out of production more than 50 years ago can win 20 times since 1993, and it’s hardly over. So the race should have been called Studebakericana.
So take a trip to Mexico if you want to see something absolutely incredible and have a party for a few days. The races typically take place in October / November.
Another amazing classic car race is Mille Miglia (1ooo miles) In Northern Italy each year in May/June
More about amazing Mexico