Carrera Panamericana Mexico – 1952

Mexico, Carrera, Mercedes

Carrera Panamericana Mexico – 1952

This was the Mercedes-Benz official team photo when the German manufacturer sent three cars to compete in the 1952 running of the 1934-mile open road race up the length of Mexico. The “Carrera” as it was called began in 1950 and was run for five years. Like many other races, it fell victim to the reactions to the terrible crash at Le Mans in 1955, as well as the number of drivers who were injured or killed in the Carreras, and a lack of funding to repair the Panamerican Highway.  The 1952 race which lasted five days over eight stages, started at  Tuxtla Gutiérrez not far from the border with Guatemala and continued north to Cuidad Juárez.

The Mercedes drivers and co-driver/navigators, from the left, were Hermann Lang and Edwin Grupp, then Hans Klenk and Karl Kling and finally American John Fitch and Eugen Geiger, the primary divers being Lang, Kling and Fitch. The cars, two “gull wing” door coupés and one roadster, were the new Mercedes-Benz 300SLs, which already had finished one-two at the Le Mans 24 Hours in June, with the win going to Lang, partnered with Fritz Reiss. Mercedes put on their usual high level of planning, organization and race preparation, sending a total of 23 people and 13 vehicles to Mexico for extensive orientation and practice before the race, including a spare 300SL spider as a backup car which was driven by our photographer Günther Molter.

The main challenge to Mercedes was from Ferrari which had three 340 Mexico works-supported entries and Bracco’s 250 Sport with which he had won the Mille Miglia in May, plus a number of privately entered Ferraris. There was also a Touring class, primarily for American sedans, which was led by a team from Ford’s Lincoln division. In the race itself the Ferraris were definitely faster than the Mercedes, but less well prepared, and that factor began to take its toll as the stages wore on. At the finish, Kling and Klenk had the best overall time 18 Hours 51 minutes and 19 seconds for an average speed over the 1934 miles of just over 103 mph. Even so they had had their adventures with several tire blowouts and a bird strike. On the first day a large bird, perhaps a buzzard, struck and destroyed their windshield when they were going well over 100 mph, slightly injuring Klenck.

Lang and and Grupp finished in second place, some 35 minutes behind. Fitch and Geiger had been in seventh at the start of the final stage but were disqualified for outside mechanical assistance after the start. The first Ferrari was one of the 340 Mexicos, driven by Luigi Chinetti and Jean Lucas in third place.

The Italian driver Umberto Maglioli drove an Lancia in the 1952 race and would win the Carrera with a Ferrari in 1954. He described his love of the great open road races as follows, as reported in Adriano Cimarosti’s monumental book about the Carrera. “A road classic, because of its length, which could vary from a few hundred miles to a few thousand, was raced over a course that was ever “new” at each curve and at each instant, with the surface constantly changing, with sun or rain, with fog or, in the extreme case, with the film of sand on the last legs of the Carrera.”

Photo by Günther Molter. ©The Klemantaski Collection

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  1. Dlparker · · Reply

    This is a wonderful photograph, but there is one non-automotive puzzle: what sort of belts or belt buckles are the drivers wearing? Are they related to the cars, or are they a souvenir?


    1. That is avery good question. It would appear that these are some sort of souvenir Mexican belt buckles, probably silver.


  2. Here is a preview to a documentary that has the last interview with John Fitch about the Carrera Panamericana. Check it out in the about section is a link to the actual DVD.


    1. Excellent video.


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