Before the Crash

Ferrari, Carrera Panamericana, Jack McAfee, Ford Robinson

For 1954 Enzo Ferrari needed more power for his front line sports cars, so he built a successor to the 1953 375MM called the 375 Plus. There were a half dozen of these cars constructed, using a 4.9 liter version of the 4.5 liter motor of the 375MM. With one notable exception the 375 Plus was not successful in the hands of Scuderia Ferrari with the cars being sold off during season to private owners in the United States and South America. The exception in terms of racing success was the car above, chassis number 0396AM, which had won the 1954 24 Hours of Le Mans, driven by Froilán González and Maurice Trintignant.

The Le Mans-winning 375 Plus was then sold to John Edgar in California who ran a successful racing team there in the 1950s. The 375 Plus was flown into Los Angeles on American Airlines and after some preparation was entered by Edgar for the 1954 Carrera Panamericana to take place over November 19-23. Edgar’s lead driver was Jack McAfee, a Porsche dealer from Sherman Oaks, CA who had quite a bit of racing experience, starting with a modified MG TD.  McAfee would  drive the Ferrari with his old hot rod buddy Ford Robinson as his navigator. The Carrera was not new to them as they had competed in several prior runnings of the race. The Ferrari was certainly fast enough because McAfee later claimed they were exceeding 200 mph. On the first day they were at top speed when the Ferrari literally turned right due to a locked rear axle and went end for end down an incline. McAfee was amazingly unhurt but Robinson was killed. The Ferrari was sent back to Italy to be rebodied by Scaglietti and was away for a year. Both McAfee and Carroll Shelby would drive it over the next several years.

Interestingly, the 1954 Carrera, the last of these challenging and dangerous events, was in fact won by another 375 Plus driven by the factory open road specialist Umberto Maglioli and entered by its New York owner Erwin Goldschmidt.

We are sure that William Edgar may have some comments about the history of his father’s team.

Photo by Günther Molter ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com

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11 comments

  1. Were it not for the late hour on this night of March 25th, I would indeed post comments on this car, my father, Jack and Ford, the John Edgar Enterprises team and Carrera V itself. I shall return here on the 26th.

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  2. Anxious to read it Will. Only 2 minutes to wait, now one.

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  3. Jack Brewer · · Reply

    We’ll look forward to that!

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  4. John Edgar, my father, owner of 375 Plus chassis number 0396AM Spyder when entered in November 1954’s La Carrera Panamericana V, had read of this Ferrari’s overall victory at Le Mans and was impressed with the new 4.9-liter’s power that seemed perfectly suited for what we in the States called The Mexican Road Race. To that goal, he arranged to buy the car from Ferrari through Luigi Chinetti. John’s favorite driver, Jack McAfee, winner of the March 1953 Palm Springs Road Race in Edgar’s Ferrari 340 America Barchetta, would further tune and drive the 375 Plus in Mexico. Jack’s friend, fellow Throttlers club member Ford Robinson, would ride as navigator and record the car’s view in the race on 16mm movie film and sound for NBC National Television. Wearing race number 1, and first off the start line at Tuxtla Gutierrez, this was the entry favored to win the 1,908-mile race overall.

    The Ferrari’s speed was terrific. Running two tachometers and figuring gear ratio and tire size, the McAfee/Robinson car hit a calculated 208 mph on La Carrera’s 8-mile Tehuantepec Straight that led to the rising curvy road that would end with the starting day’s layover at Oaxaca.

    Fifty years later I wrote an article [FORZA, April 2004] about it all, titled “Fame and Misfortune”—for what the car had won at Le Mans for the factory, and had met with tragedy that same year as a privateer customer car. The article reiterated what Jack McAfee had told about that day of November 19, 1954 in Mexico:

    “So, I started slowing down, and at the end of the straightaway there’s a bridge that’s got steel plates on it. It crosses a river at an angle, and I had this in mind—I can’t come sliding into this thing sideways or we are in trouble. Anyway, I got the thing slowed down and we got across the bridge, and out of that it was curvy into the mountains, and just all of a sudden the car veered right off the road. Team mechanic Joe Landaker later found a bearing that was all blue in the differential. After that tremendous speed, with the heat buildup, when you slow down the heat has a tendency to go into the metal. It probably couldn’t lock up at the speed I was going with the horsepower I was putting through it, so when it slowed down, then the heat magnifies in that spot and it locked up. We just went straight off the road end over end.”

    William Edgar

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  5. William,

    Thanks very much for that first person history.

    THE KLEMANTASKI COLLECTION
    http://www.klemcoll.com

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  6. Peter,

    The last I knew about 0396AM was that it wound up in Pierre Bardinon’s collection in France, whereupon it was re-bodied from its after-crash Scaglietti re-do coachwork back to its factory original Pininfarina configuration. Now that Bardinon is gone, I would like to know where 0396AM is today and, if anyone should have an answer to that, it would be most appreciated to be informed.

    Thank you all,
    William Edgar
    http://www.edgarmotorsport.com

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  7. 0396AM is still in the Mas du Clos (Bardinon) collection near Aubusson France. The collection is owned by the three children of Pierre Bardinon.

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  8. Thank you, Peter. I was not sure if the 375 Plus had gone to a private buyer or not. I like to be able to imagine the settings in which these ex-John Edgar cars now reside. The one that does remain at least somewhat of a mystery is the exact whereabouts of Ferrari 275/340 America chassis number 0032MT that has factory history which includes Ascari and Villoresi, as well as Pasquale Cassini and Senescio Nicolini, and Luigi Chinetti with Jean Lucas at Le Mans … and never to forget its first customer owner, Henry Manney III.

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  9. Jack Brewer · · Reply

    Thanks for the story, William, and for the update, Peter.

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  10. Parker Hall · · Reply

    Dear Peter: When I saw this article I thought of Tom Shaughnessy and asked him if he is on the mailing list. He said that he wasn’t but I know that he would like to get these. Perhaps you could add him at “mailto:“tshaughnessy375@gmail.com”. Hope you and your family are having a wonderful Spring.

    Best Wishes,

    Parker Hall

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  11. Done,Parker. Tom is included. Thank you!

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