Discover the one-off Porsche 911 inspired by the legendary Panamericana road race
A unique tribute to a slice of Porsche motorsport history
Cars outside garage: Porsche 911 Carrera Panamericana Special and 356 S Cabriolet
With the one-of-a-kind 911 Carrera Panamericana Special, Porsche pays homage to the 356 S Cabriolet that marked the company’s debut in an infamous Mexican road race that would write its name in history
There have been few motorsport events quite like the Carrera Panamericana. The common description of ‘notorious’ for the earliest incarnations of this Mexican road race is more than justified. Back in the 1950s, competitors tackled a dangerous 3,300km of tight mountain passes and fast open roads in just nine days. Porsche participated in this gruelling stage race for the first time in 1952 with two specially built Panamericana sportscars, which were based on the car that launched the company itself – the 356.
Exterior and interior of blue Porsche 911 Carrera Panamericana special
Inspired by memories of a race 70 years ago, Porsche was able to create a striking one-off model for today
It was a young man named Herbert Linge, the team’s race mechanic, who would help transform the car into a Porsche icon. Now, 70 years on, Herbert’s story, the cars, as well as the event itself have all helped inspire the Porsche Sonderwunsch (special request) team to create a unique 911 in honour of the car and its celebrated race mechanic, who’s now in his mid-90s. They have called it the 911 Carrera Panamericana Special. What was the Carrera Panamericana race?First raced more than 70 years ago, the Carrera Panamericana was one of the most challenging events in motorsport history. While inherently dangerous by nature, this didn’t stop it from attracting some of the best drivers and cars in the world. Known for its high speeds, long straight roads and sharp mountainside turns, it took place over more than 3,000km in little over a week. Competitors needed driving expertise and plenty of guts to get to the finish line, let alone battle for the top spot.“The entire course was unknown to us,” explains Herbert, the sole mechanic for both the Porsche cars that were entered in the 1952 edition of the race. “It was quite the adventure, and also quite dangerous.” In addition, Herbert was the co-driver in the #10 car alongside Conde Graf Berkheim. “During the later stages we came across these fords,” he says today, recalling some of the hurdles that he and the team faced during the race. “As you approached, they were basically invisible – and once you hit them at very high speeds, the car left the ground. You hit it hard and kept on going. We couldn’t believe the cars sustained that. Eventually, we figured out where to slow down while still being fast.”
The race cars that Porsche entered were fitted with lightweight aluminium bodies, modified suspension systems and powerful engines, as well as an automatic gearbox – something of a novelty at the time. The second of the two Porsche race cars – the #11 car, driven by racing veteran Prince von Metternich and Baron Manuel De Teffé – proved to be a formidable competitor. It quickly established itself as one of the top cars in the race, pulling ahead of rivals on its many high-speed sections. The car’s compact size and nimble handling made it well-suited to the tight turns and narrow mountain passes that characterised much of the race. Despite mechanical problems and going through 32 sets of tyres, they eventually secured the win in the 1.1-litre class, as well as finishing eighth overall. Its progress was a testimony to that time-honoured combination which has blessed so many Porsche race campaigns – engineering and design prowess allied to committed, skilful drivers.Away from the car itself, it was the support from the spectators on the route that has remained keenly vivid for Herbert, despite the seven decades that have passed since. “The excitement of the people watching was incredible,” he recalls. “The crowd celebrated us like true heroes.” To this day, it remains one of the highlights of the German’s illustrious career. “In my lifetime, this event has been truly unrivalled – you have to experience it to truly believe it,” says Hebert. “We knew nothing, we had nothing, but we made it work. It was truly special.”
Porsche 911 Carrera Panamericana Special and 356 S Cabriolet pictured together
The Sonderwunsch team took elements from the original car, like the number 11 on the doors of the class-winning 1953 Porsche race car
What is the Sonderwunsch Porsche 911 Carrera Panamericana Special?Today, more than 70 years after that incredible debut, the Porsche Sonderwunsch team have created a one-of-one 911 inspired by the history-making 356 S Cabriolet. The vehicle revives the spirit of the 356 with an array of customised features. The interior and exterior showcase elements and details like the #11 ‘lollipops’ (or door numbers), the headrest with individual embroidery, the rear lid grill painted in white and the decorative logos of the Carrera Panamericana. The car is also fitted with 20/21-inch Turbo wheels, painted in Gentian Blue Metallic, and a convertible roof in Graffiti Gray.Famed Porsche designer Grant Larson, director of special projects at Porsche, is one of those responsible for making the Porsche 911 Carrera Panamericana Special a reality. “I always think, when you have a fantastic history, that you have to use it,” Grant says of his inspiration for the project. And that’s exactly what Grant and the team did, which you can see in those #11 ‘lollipops’ and the all-white painted grille from the 1952 vehicle, which forms the numbers ‘911’ on the new car. “That interpretation is basically what we did, as the high-mounted centre stop light also forms the number 11,” says Grant. “You probably wouldn’t do something like that if the 1952 race car never existed, so you have to look back at that history and reinterpret it. It would only fit with this car, and not with any other 911.”What was important to Grant and his designers was to not overpower or take away from other areas of the car. “Design has to be balanced with the interior and exterior if you don’t want something to stand out so much that it hides the other details,” says Grant. “It’s a balance of the composition of all the other details that make a really good design.”What is the Carrera Panamericana race today?The Carrera Panamericana race today is a very different one to those held back in the early 1950s. It’s now a decidedly less frenetic historic and vintage car event, although it’s still a blast of colour and noise. The most recent edition, held at the end of 2022, was a cause for celebration for Porsche, with a third-place finish for a Porsche 911 S piloted by drivers Granados Miguel and Carmona Adrián. It was a fitting way to mark the unveiling of the Sonderwunsch 911 Carrera Panamericana Special, a tribute to a piece of Porsche history that continues to inspire to this day.
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