From the Life Vaults: ’53 Carrera Panamericana

Behra at Carrera PanamericanaDiving back into the wonderful bounty of Life Magazine images hosted by Google, we find this puzzling shot. The Life caption says this is the winner of the Carrera crossing the finish line—which isn’t true. That’s Jean Behra, crossing the finish line, but he didn’t win. His #7 Gordini T24 was ultimately disqualified from the official standings because he exceeded the maximum allowable time. Even after finishing so far behind the overall winner that his time is irrelevant, I’m impressed that there’s still quite a crowd gathered at the finish line to welcome him home.

I don’t point out this captioning error to diminish Behra’s achievement. Simply finishing the Carrera was an incredible accomplishment. We often hear of the difficulty in learning the 45 mile Targa Florio circuit. We’ve long been regaled with tales of the twisting motorways of the Mille Miglia. The Carrera Panamericana, however, looks like it was something else entirely. It dwarfed all of these epic races with a run distance of 2,176 miles. Two Thousand Miles. So you can see, despite the disqualificiation, Jean Behra should be immensely proud of crossing that finish line at all. Google has more of the Life photos from the Carrera that year, oddly they largely focus on portraits of a competitor’s wife – maybe the photographer had a crush.

1953, of course, was Lancia’s year at the Carrera. Fangio and Bronzoni piloted the winning D24 Pinin Farina to a winning time of 18 hours: 11 minutes. That’s an absolutely astounding 120 mph average for 18 hours!

Here’s a quick video recap of the short life of the Carrera Panamericana (before it’s contemporary resurgence as a rally, that is).

also, Replicarz offers a 1:18 scale reproduction of Behra’s Gordini for your desk.

See more of our selections from the Life Vaults here.

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