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1954 “Carrera Cadillac” race car rides again

27th July 2006 Print
New Cadillac Carrera Panamericana race car Cadillac engineers have just put the finishing touches to a unique reconstruction of a car that starred in one of the world’s toughest auto races over 50 years ago. The 1954 privately-entered Cadillac Series 62 coupe challenged tough competition from factory-backed teams on the 1,864 mile-long Carrera Panamericana road race in Mexico, beating all rivals on the final two stages.

The Carrera Panamericana road race was inaugurated by the Mexican Government in 1950 to mark the completion of the Pan-American Highway. Held annually, the races ran the length of Mexico for five years, attracting the world’s best drivers, including Formula 1 World Champions Phil Hill and Juan Manuel Fangio, who came to demonstrate their skill and stamina, and to test special cars from Ferrari, Porsche and Mercedes-Benz. The races are still regarded as one of the toughest events in motor sport history.

In 1954, amateur racers from America Keith Andrews and Blu Plemons persuaded a local Colorado Springs car dealer, Barry Motor Sales, to loan them a Cadillac Series 62 coupe. Together with three friends, Andrews and Plemons set out to challenge the factory-backed teams – one of which arrived with four cars, 28 mechanics, a doctor and a cook as well as a PR man and two photographers.

The Andrews-Plemons Cadillac completed the treacherous 1,864 mile race in less than 21 hours, winning the two final stages outright and averaging over 118 mph for the final 404 miles.

“We were just five ordinary guys from Colorado,” said Blu Plemons, who recalled a ‘wild adventure’ still sharp in his memory after 52 years. It is an adventure that strikes a chord with Cadillac today.

In preparation for the 2006 Carrera Panamericana road race, a ‘new’ 1954 Cadillac ‘Carrera Panamericana’ has taken shape at GM's Performance Division in Warren, Michigan. The recreation began with a 1954 classic discovered in GM's vehicle inventory that matched the original race car's specifications, even the original colour.

“We made updates that would enhance the vehicle and occupant safety but maintain the original design intent,” said Al Oppenheiser, GM Performance Division director of concept vehicle engineering. “We kept the project in-house utilising the Performance Division Garage, the pre-production trim shop and the show car paint team. For example, the instrument panel is as we found it but the seats and soft trim had to be re-upholstered.”

Cadillac’s rich heritage in performance vehicles began with the introduction of America’s first V8 engine in 1914, followed by the first V16 in 1929, and the first high-compression OHV V8 in 1948. Today, the latest V-Series CTS, STS and XLR models continue to express Cadillac’s performance heritage with power and style. The 1954 recreation project is indicative of the enthusiasm within GM's Performance Division and Cadillac, in delivering excitement to people who have a passion for driving great cars.
Blu Plemons will be reunited with the 1954 Carrera Cadillac in November at the start of this year’s restaging of the Carrera Panamericana at Oaxaca in Mexico. The Carrera Cadillac recreation is just one of the more than 700 vehicles to be found in GM’s Detroit Heritage Collection of historically significant vehicles that date back to the early 1900s.

More Photos - Click to Enlarge

New Cadillac Carrera Panamericana race car 1954 Carrera Cadillac race car with Andrews - left - and Plemons