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Panamericana 2000 Adventures
– Gil Stuart
Panamericana Link:  http://www.lacarrera.com/

In early 2000, when Nick Woodhouse asked if I would be interested in going with him to Mexico to run La Carrera Panamericana 2000, there was not a moment of hesitation to shout out a resounding "Yes!"  My head was still filled with memories of 1995 Panamericana adventures in my Volvo PV444 and I have longed to return for more of the same.  This time, the race car would be Nick's newly prepared 1965 Ford Anglia 1200 Super with a 1600 plus cc push rod engine.  Since the car is nimble and considerably less than a tonne, it will be fast on the twisty Panamericana pavement but will it stand up to the pounding of 7 days and 3200 kilometers of high speed driving?

La Carrera Panamericana is a recreation of the original races of the same name which took place between 1950 and 1955 to celebrate the opening of the Panamerican Highway in Mexico.  The original races traversed the full length of Mexico mainly starting near the Guatemala border and they attracted international attention becoming historically famous motorsports events.  The Mexican Automobile Sport Federation has successfully run the retro Panamericana events since 1988 also mainly traversing the 3200 kilometer length of Mexico from Tuxtla Gutierrez in Chiapas province to Nuevo Laredo on the Texas border.  This year's event started from Tuxtla on October 27 and finished in Nuevo Laredo on November 2.

A total of 88 cars started this year in eight classes broken into two age categories.  Pre-1955 has five classes: for sedans, Tourismo Mayor and Tourismo Produccion; for sports and GT cars, Sport Mayor and Sport Menor; and a class for Original Panam cars.  The 1955 to 1965 cars have three classes: Historic "C" for eight or more cylinder engines; Historic "B" for six cylinders; and Historic "A" for four cylinders.

Entries came from Europe (20), Mexico (22), USA (44) and Canada (2).  The other Canadian entry was a Porsche 904 replica also from Vancouver.  Our 1965 Ford Anglia 1200 Super was in Historic "A with two Porsche 356, one Porsche 912, two Alfa Romeo, one MGB, one Karmann Ghia and three Volvos.

The overall first to third placing cars at the finish line were 1954 Studebaker (Tourismo Mayor) driven by the French team of deThoisy/Tropenat; 1954 Oldsmobile (Tourismo Mayor) driven by Mockett (USA) and Bailie (UK); and 1949 Oldsmobile (Tourismo Mayor) driven by the USA team of O'dell and Dunaway.  In Historic "A", the MGB from Mexico City placed first in class just 3 seconds ahead of the Porsche 912 of famous rally driver Scott Harvey of California.   The following narrative offers a snapshot of adventures with the Woodhouse/Stuart entry in La Carrera Panamericana 2000:

Last minute preparations included installing rally equipment in the Ford Anglia race car and a steering dampener to fix the "death wobble" experienced by Nick during pre-race testing. On October 16, after loading up, Charlie Teetzel and I left Vancouver and drove Nick's Dodge Ram cargo van, trailer and Anglia race car to Laredo, Texas where we picked Nick up at the airport on October 20.  It took five frustrating hours on October 21 to get temporary vehicle import permits, but once obtained, the three of us headed south into the heart of Mexico.  First night was spent in Matehuala; second night in Oaxaca; third night in destination Tuxtla Gutierrez (October 23) – locate these places on your Mexico map if you are not familiar with them.  The driving was trouble free (since Nick's van was fairly new and up to the task) except for the $US100 ticket in Mexico City for pulling a trailer on a banned road or something.

Tech inspection and display of the cars was at Tuxtla Gutierrez fair grounds where the locals look forward to the Panamericana cars coming each year and the people turned out by the thousands.  We had printed up 500 post cards showing the car and could have given out many more at Tuxtla alone.  Nick's wife Olga and daughter Natasha arrived by plane and the chase crew was complete.

Race start was from the central plaza on October 27 and probably 10000 people were there at 7 am to watch the cars leave.  This was a thrilling sight for everyone.  On the road, race cars are separated at 30 second intervals per performance rally format.  Because the Anglia was in the slowest class, we were among the last to leave and, as it turns out, we never got to see the cars at the front. On the first day, the first three performance stages went well but the car just quit on the transit between stages 3 and 4.   The electrical wiring failure took 15 minutes to find and fix and we never caught up to the rally for the rest of the day. On the second day, we started at the rear once more because of the lost time on day one. All five stages went well and the car was really flying except for another wiring failure on stage 3 during which we lost about three minutes.  The wiring failure, in fact, involved a failed distributor which meant the car ran on the battery all day.  Only 20 kilometers from the finish in decreasing daylight, the battery gave up and we stopped at the side of the road.  To get credit for the day's performance stages, the car has to reach the finish under its own power, so there I was out on the road flagging down passers by and trying to buy a battery.  Eventually, a young fellow stopped and took me into the nearest town where I bought a battery, returned, installed it and made the finish before the maximum time limit. A new alternator was installed ready for day three.  The first two stages were perfect and we were moving up the field but on stage 3, the transmission failed leaving only first and third gears.  We finished the stage without much loss of time but had to start stage 4 with only third gear.  About half way through the 20 kilometer stage 4, all drive stopped and the left rear wheel and axle departed the car disappearing over a cliff narrowly missing a Mexican family spectating in a small car.  After skidding to a stop, our day done, we found the wheel and axle in a pine tree, jacked up the car and put the axle back in place.  About that time, the service crew for a USA based Alfa Romeo sedan came by with a trailer and offered to take us to the finish about 50 kilometers away. We had a spare axle so repairs to the axle were easy at a small local shop but the gear box was toast.  Arrangements were made for another gearbox to be flown down from Oregon; and 3 frustrating days were spent trying to get it out of Mexican customs which never happened.  The gearbox is still in Mexico. The bottom line: the car lasted three days.  We followed the rally the remainder of the way back to Texas at a leisurely pace and were at the finish line to watch the cars come in on November 2.  The Woodhouse family flew back to Vancouver from Laredo to attend to business; and Charlie and I drove the rig back to Vancouver at a leisurely pace through California and up Interstate 5 arriving in Vancouver on November 7.  Total distance traveled was 14200 kilometers in 22 days.

The trip was a lot of fun but tiring due to the long distances involved.  I don't know whether or not Nick would do it again but I wouldn't hesitate except for the cost.  We all got back safely and the car is relatively intact.  Driving across the finish line with the race car was our objective but such was not to be – perhaps next time."

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