If the idea of driving flat out on beautiful, but very challenging public roads appeals to you, check out the La Carrera Panamericana Race. This modern reincarnation of the historic fifties road race, popularly known as the Pan Am, allows drivers of vintage race cars (or recreations) to race almost 2000 miles from southern Mexico to the Texas border.
The Pan Am is a revival of the 1950-1954 Mexican road race that was originally a promotional event of the Mexican government to publicize their new system of south to north highways. Many very famous racers such as Phil Hill and Juan Manuel Fangio participated during the fifties.
The modern event was started in 1988 by a group of Mexican and North American auto enthusiasts. The race is run as a “pro rally” format with special and transit stages that encompass seven days. The Mexican Federal Highway Patrol clears the highways before racers are sent off in thirty-second intervals. More specifics about the race and what it takes to participate can be found at the organization’s website: www.panamrace.com.
Car builder David Bell, of Winged Graphics in Roanoke, Texas, and driver/owner Payton Feltus (Dallas, TX) were both intrigued by the idea of running flat out for miles at a time on public roads. The result of their interest is the car featured here—the Terlingua Mustang. At first glance the Mustang appears pretty normal except for the bright yellow paint, racing graphics and huge roll cage, but a closer look outside, inside and underneath the car reveals much more.
David Bell purpose built this car to compete in the Historic C class (V-8 and V-12 cars) of the Pan Am race. He started with a ’66 Mustang coupe that was originally powered by a six-cylinder engine with an automatic. The car was built on a chassis bench. The floors were raised so that no underbody components would be in harm’s way. Even though the race is on paved roads that doesn’t mean they’re perfect roads. The bellhousing is the lowest item under the car.
David increased the rake of the windshield after he removed the coupe roof. Further streamlining was achieved by lowering the radiator support. The front sheetmetal is two-inches lower than stock. The rollcage was made out of 1 ¾-inch seamless rollbar tubing. The whole body/chassis combo is very rigid.
Breakdowns are race-breakers, so strength and reliability are paramount in these cars. The engines must run on Mexican pump gas and use a two-barrel carburetor. In order to win a stage it often means running the last five minutes or so at full throttle. In the case of this Mustang that means five minutes at 7,500 rpm and speeds of 160 to 170 miles per hour. That’s engine torture and no place for anything less than a bulletproof powerplant.
The blueprinted 302 cubic inch engine has a billet crankshaft. The jumbo two-barrel carb is a 500 cfm Holley. J. Biddle headers are used. The engine produces 490 horsepower at the flywheel. The transmission is a Jerico 4-speed with a magnesium case. It uses a special cooler with a pump that’s driven off the pinion snout. The nine-inch Ford rearend houses either 3.70:1 or 3.50:1 gears depending on the terrain of particular stages.
The cockpit of the Competition Yellow (a ’99 Mustang color) convertible is all business. David custom built the super supportive racing seats. Simpson racing harnesses are employed. The custom dashboard is loaded with gauges to monitor every facet of the running gear. Four gauges are on the navigator’s side of the car so the driver doesn’t have so much to watch. A big electronic trip computer helps the navigator keep the driver informed about the course and their average speed.
A center console has switches for everything electrical on the car. The heavy-duty lighting components include police warning lights, strobes and a siren. Even though the Federales clear the highways you never know who or what might wander on to the course. A Tilton brake proportioning control knob is located right in front of the console.
The Terlingua Mustang is a highly competitive car. It has won many daily stages, but so far hasn’t been an overall winner. Trophy or not, though, the real fun is going muy rapido.