The Carrera Panamericana is famous for the daredevil nature of the race, but also for the cars that it attracted. Huge, powerful production cars raced beside sprightly sports cars, not to mention the customized cars that some drivers raced. All in all, it made for a visually exciting race.
Shown below are just a few examples of the different types of cars that raced the Carrera Panamericana over the years.
"Carrera Panamericana (1950-54)" Courtesy of GTO3987 on Youtube.
The Ham Special (at left), car number 35, raced by Mexican drivers Jose Ham Gunam and Armando Santamaria in the 1953 Carrera Panamericana was a customized car that drew lots of attention. Unfortunately, this car did not finish the first round in time, so it was eliminated and did not finish the race.
However, this photograph shows the uniqueness of this Ford that Jose Ham Gunam modified by adding the distinctive transparent hood over the car. The hood was actually an aircraft canopy, a Consolidated-Vultee BT-13 Trainer that was affixed to the car. The canopy would protect the driver from the dirt and gravel while simultaneously allowing him to see more of his surroundings. It married the best parts of having an open cockpit with the best parts of having a closed cockpit. Overall, this car exemplifies the playful ingenuity of the Carrera Panamericana.
Similar to the Ham Special is another larger touring car, the Lincoln Capri seen on the right. This is the Lincoln Capri raced by Chuck Stevenson and Clay Smith during the 1953 Carrera Panamericana race. This Lincoln Capri represents an important model of car during the 1953 race. As Johnny Tipler describes in his book La Carrera Panamericana: "The World's Greatest Road Race!" for the first time in this race, touring cars were given two separate classes: Turismo Especial and Turismo Internacional. This differentiation was based on the power it produced. If it produced 75 to 115 bhp it was in Turismo Especial, and any car that produced over 115 bhp was entered in the Turismo Internacional class.
The Lincoln Capri, as a powerful touring car, fell into the Turismo Internacional class, and generally performed well in the race. This chart breaks down the technical specifications of a 1954 Lincoln Capri. The car was massive but was also incredibly powerful with a large engine that was almost three times bigger than a Porsche engine. Adding to the imposing nature of the car, it was a body-on-frame construction made of all steel, which would have made this car relatively heavy compared to the lighter European aluminum bodied cars. Interestingly, it went from zero to sixty in twelve seconds, which is rather slow for a race car by modern standards.
However, Chuck Stevenson finished first in class this year with a time of 20 hours, 31 minutes, and 32 seconds. He had also won the previous year in the general touring car class, Turismo Standard, also in a Lincoln Capri. He has the supreme distinction of being the only two-time winner of the Carrera Panamericana.
The Carrera Panamericana attracted a variety of different marques, classes of cars, outside-the-box designs, and also eye-catching paint jobs and decals. One of the most famous being Jacqueline Evans, an English actress, who had her Porsche 356 custom painted with Eva Peron's portrait. Eva Peron had died on July 26, 1952, and Jacqueline Evans wanted to race in her memory. In addition to the portrait on the front hood and the "In Memory" on the sides, Evans had "representing the women of the world" painted on the fenders of the car. Besides standing out for her car, Jacqueline Evans also had the distinction of being the only female driver in the race. Unfortunately, Jacqueline Evans only competed in the first leg of the race from Tuxtla-Gutierrez to Oaxaca. She did not finish the first leg in time and was thus eliminated from the race. Even though Jacqueline Evans did not win the race, her Eva Peron themed car stands out as one of the most memorable in the race's history.
An important car to the Carrera Panamericana is the Porsche 550 Spyder. This photograph captures the moment that Hans Hermann raced across the finish line in a Porsche 550 Spyder. The 550 Spyder served as stark contrast to the much larger and more powerful American machinery that was entered in the race. The Porsche had a modest 1.5 liter four cylinder engine and yet Hans Hermann won the Sport Menor class (under 1.5) in the 1954 Carrera Panamericana in a nail-biter of a race. He beat his closest competitor, Jaroslav Juhan, by only 38 seconds with a final time of 19 hours, 32 minutes, and 33 seconds. He finished third overall behind Umberto Maglioli in a Ferrari 375 and Phil Hill and Richie Ginther also in a Ferrari 375.