Legacy of the Race

"The Last Great Road Race | La Carrera Panamericana," Courtesy of Valkyr, Youtube.

Route of the Carrera Panamericana, 1953

Route of the Carrera Panamericana, 1953 

Although the Carrera Panamericana was drawing large crowds and lots of publicity, the race only ran for 5 years, from 1950-1954. One of the main reasons for its cancellation was the high number of fatalities for the race. After the tragic Le Mans catastrophe where 87 people died, the public was all too aware of the inherent dangers of racing for both the driver and spectator. The Carrera Panamericana had a history of numerous drivers being killed during the race, but in addition to this track record, there were people who died before the race even began.

In Johnny Tipler's book La Carrera Panamericana: "The World's Greatest Road Race!" Tipler states that in the 1954 race "fatalities occurred before the race began. A crew of Argentinean entrants was involved in a fatal accident driving to Tuxtla-Gutierrez, and two US fans, who simply wanted to watch the start, overturned their Jaguar XK120 and were both killed. The Lincoln service van also flipped during the trip to Tuxtla-Gutierrez, seriously injuring some mechanics."  

The other overriding concern was the cost of putting on the race. There are conflicting reports of how much money the race really brought in and how much the government actually spent on it. In any case, racing events are expensive and coupled with the public outcry over the dangers of racing, the Carrera Panamericana was cancelled. 

Even though the Carrera Panamericana only lasted for those five years, it has had an enduring legacy. The history of this daredevil race lives on in the current incarnation of the race that was brought back by Pedro Davila, Loyal Truesdale, and Eduardo de Leon Camargo in 1988 and runs to this day. The current race bears little resemblance to the original, but is still popular.

As far as the cars of the Carrera Panamericana, there are many shining stars. Lincoln was a marque that really shone during this race because Lincoln Capris won their class from 1952-1954. In 1952 and 1953, Chuck Stevenson and Clay Smith finished seventh overall and first in class in a Lincoln Capri. In 1954, Ray Crawford and Enrique Iglesias finished ninth overall and first in class in their Lincoln Capri. Also during this period from 1952 to 1954, the Lincoln factory sponsored Lincoln teams.  

This race is also where aspects of two famous cars got their start: the Porsche Carrera and the Mercedes 300 SL. Generally associated with the Porsche 911, Porsche Carreras are so named in honor of their triumphs at the Carrera Panamericana race. In the final year of the race, 1954, Porsche won its class and finished third and fourth overall.

The Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing was another iconic car that is associated with the race. The Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing was released in the early 1950s, and Karl Kling and Hans Klenk raced the car in the 1952 Carrera Panamericana. They had a memorable accident, where a vulture flew into the windshield of their car, which led to them installing bars over the windshield to avoid a repeat occurrence. For many reasons, the Gullwing became a very popular street car, but the 1952 Carrera Panamericana made it stick out in collective racing memory.

The Carrera Panamericana was an unforgettable race; it had all of the needed components: danger, an international setting and participants, high performance cars mixed with everyday cars, prize money, skilled drivers, a slew of interesting stories, and a brief history. This race with its daredevil, free-wheeling nature still captivates those who read about it to this day.