Yesterday, we talked briefly about the Carrera Panamerican Road Race. That 4 stock vochos completed the race cannot be appreciated enough. Granted, they were the last cars to cross the finish line (#82, 83, 84 and 85), but with nearly half of the entrants (there were 150 entries in 1954), it was a statement that launched an icon in Mexico!
But, let’s go back to the race for a moment so you can get an idea of how brutal it really was. First off, it only lasted 5 years due to the vast amount of crashes and fatalities for drivers and fans alike. Originally organized to celebrate the new Panamerican Highway through Mexico, the race started in Ciudad de Juarez on the Texas border and wound its way south to the border of Guatemala. 3000 kilometers of “roads in name only” through desert, mountains and jungle, on surfaces that ranged from dirt to sorta paved, through villages, mountain passes and long straightaways, speeds would often exceed an average of 100 miles per hour over it’s 8 stages.
The lineup in 1954 included custom built Ferraris, Porsche, Fords, Oldsmobiles, Alfa Romeos and ….. Vochos, four of em, all stock without modification. There was no guarantee the race would even let the vochos enter, as there was a time limit on the race. Race organizers were even forced by US car manufacturers to certify the engines were not Porsche engines and were, in fact, unmodified vocho 1200cc’s (they were).
The vochos had zero, like zero chance of winning any class in the race, and the team of drivers knew that. In fact, the vochos completed the entire race together, racing bumper to bumper the whole way to take advantage of air resistance. The vochos needed to maintain an average of at least 50 miles per hour if they had a chance to finish the race. They finished with a speed average of 63 miles per hour, which was more than the 62 miles per hour max said the 25hp engines could push them.
In a classic tortoise vs hare race, the vochos may have finished last, but they finished. They proved to a country that they were rugged machines, able to navigate the roads of Mexico, and in that, became legend in Mexico. Within months of the race, the very first Volkswagen dealership opened in Mexico City, and within a decade, a 500 acre manufacturing plant was pumping out Mexican built vochos by the thousands. Mexico may have come late to the vocho party (which started in Germany 16 years earlier, in 1938. (Fun fact: Brazil continued to manufacture the air cooled engines for VW microbusses, or Kombis, until 2006)