There were two showcases on the Monterey Peninsula this past week for cars that have raced in the La Carrera Panamericana.
The first was at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, where several of the cars took part in exhibition laps during the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. The other was on the 18th Fairway of the prestigious Pebble Beach Golf Links, where one of the featured special classes was La Carrera Panamericana 1950-1954.
An article in the Pebble Beach program noted that the La Carrera Panamericana was “the race that brought the world to Mexico,” and also “would forever change the way automobiles were made, from Michigan to Modena.”
The article’s author, Roberto Ramirez Macias, says the inaugural event in 1950 took Mexico from “an unknown third world country to perhaps the most coveted place to race,” and especially so in the second year when the route went south to north instead of north to south, finishing just across the Texas/Mexico border to be more accessible to news coverage from US media.
The original race lasted only into 1954, halted because of the dangers involved and changes within the Mexican government. But it was revived in the late 1980s and is scheduled again this year for October 15-21.
1950 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Pinin Farina coupe
This car, now part of the Keller Collection, won its class and was fourth overall in the inaugural running of the Mexican Road Race in 1950, when the race was a celebration of the opening of Mexico’s section of the Pan American Highway, highway being loosely applied to the road. Of 126 starters, only 57 reached the finish line.
1952 Ferrari 212 Inter Vignale coupe
Soccer star Efrain Ruiz Echevarria ordered this Ferrari with Vignale coachwork to race in 1952, and was in 9th place when he crashed, reportedly while trying to catch up with Phil Hill in another Ferrari 212. Echevarria ordered a new 250 MM for 1953 in a deal that had him return the 1952 car to Ferrari.
The car was repaired and given a new serial number, 0292 MM, and sold to the appropriately named Jan De Vroom of the Netherlands. The car has been part of the Lisa and Jimmy Dobbs collection since 1995.
1952 Ferrari 340 Mexico Vignale Berlinetta
Designed by Giovanni Michelotti, the Mexico Vignale was one of three built for the 1952 Panamerican race. With its 4.1-liter V12, the car reportedly was capable of speeds up to 175 mph. Texas oilman Allen Gulberson owned the car, which he turned over to drivers Alberto Ascari and Guiseppe Scotuzzi. Ascari passed a series of cars but crashed in dense fog.
The car, now owned by Les Wexner and returned to its La Carrera specifications, went back to Ferrari for repairs and later was driven in American sports car events by Carroll Shelby and Jack McAfee.
1952 Jaguar C-type roadster
Now part of the Keller Collection, this Jaguar was raced in Mexico in 1953 and 1954 by Francisco “Paco” Ibarra.
1953 Ferrari 340/375 MM Vignale Spyder
This car won the 1953 Portuguese Grand Prix and the Nürburgring 1000 but didn’t finish the Mexican race, where it was driven by Luigi Chinetti and Alfonso de Portago. Chinetti sold the car to Texas oilman Allen Gulberson, who had it modified for the 1954 Mexican race and persuaded Phil Hill and Richie Ginther to drive it. They did, and finished second.
The car later was raced to victories in the US by Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles. California racer Louis Brero got the car and it remained in his family until 1995, when it was purchased by Bruce McCaw.
1954 Ferrari 735 S Monza Scaglietti Spyder
This was Ferrari’s first car with a 3.o-liter 4-cylinder engine. It won at Imola and in Portugal but was damaged in a later race. The car was repaired, upgraded to type 750 specification and sold to Alfonso de Portago, who attempted unsuccessfully to compete in the Mexican race without a co-driver. De Portago won with the car during the Bahamas Speed Week and Sterling Edwards drove it at Sebring and then at Pebble Beach in 1955, finishing second to Phil Hill in the rain.
Edwards sold the car to Bob Whitmer, who put a Chevy V8 under the hood. Thomas Peck acquired the car in 2016 and reunited the original chassis, engine and transmission,
1954 Lincoln Capri Custom coupe
Ford’s Lincoln brand entered a multi-car team — as many as 13 cars — in La Carrera Panamericana and swept the first four places in the stock car category in 1952 and again in 1954. This car won the stock car class in 1954 and was 9th overall with drivers Ray Crawford and Enrique Iglesias.
When not at Pebble Beach, it is displayed at the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada.
1954 OSCA MT4 1500 Morelli Spyder
Famed Guatemalan racer Manfredo Lippmann ordered this car for the 1954 La Carrera Panamericana race. He sold the car in 2007 to Michael and Katherine Leventhal and it remains in its original spec, including the period-correct decals.
1954 Porsche 356 Pre-A 1500 Reutter coupe
This car apparently raced only once, with Otto Becker driving in the Mexican race in 1954. It became the daily driver of a US Navy personnel in Virginia, was then owned by other Porsche enthusiasts, and in 2018 was obtained by the Porsche Club of Mexico, which had it restored.
1952 Mercedes-Benz W194 300 SL
Mercedes-Benz entered a pair of 300 SL Gullwing coupes and a pair of roadsters in the 1954 La Carrera Panamericana. This car, displayed at Pebble Beach by the Mercedes-Benz Museum, was driven in 1954 by Hermann Lang and Erwin Grupp and finished second behind one of its teammates.
(Editor’s note: Several cars coming from overseas were not present on the lawn because of the coronavirus and huge delays in international shipping.)
1953 Siata 208S Motto Spyder Competition
Siata built this car for racer and American importer Ernie McAfee to use to promote the brand. It was an alloy-bodied pre-production model with a 5-speed transmission. The car raced in Mexico in 1953, and then in sports car races in the US before being sold to Dirk Libert of Belgium, who had it restored.
1951 Lancia Aurelia B20 GT Pinin Farina coupe
When Formula 1 racer Felice Bonetto told Gianni Lancia that he’d drive the new B20 GT in the 1951 La Carrera race, Lancia produced 5 special competition models, two of them with lowered roofs, aluminum body panels and larger fuel tanks for the Mexican race.
Bonetto didn’t finish the race, but sold the car to Enrique Ortiz Peredo, who drove it in 1952 and finished 28th of 157 starters. The car went into storage for 52 years before being rescued by Strada E Corsa of the Netherlands in 2016.