In its day, La Carrera Panamericana was one of the world’s most famous endurance races, as well as the most dangerous. But that hasn’t stopped stopped Taz Harvey converting a 1972 Datsun 240Z for race action at the Mexico event in recent years.
When considering border-to-border, open road endurance races, chances are the Mille Miglia and the Targa Florio will be top of most lists. Lesser known though is La Carrera Panamericana, originally a five-day race across Mexico’s then-recently completed Pan-American highway that ran between 1950 and 1954.
Although prestigious – class wins for Porsche would later inspire the ‘Carrera’ and ‘Panamera’ model names – the La Carrera Panamericana was also absurdly dangerous. Despite his ’53 winning effort, five-time Formula 1 champion Juan Manuel Fangio himself was not a fan of the endurance race, and during its five-year run, La Carrera Panamericana claimed 27 lives. When the event was revived as a classic car rally in 1988, it was with official government backing and with hefty revisions to safety.
That’s where Taz Harvey comes in, star of the latest Petrolicious video alongside his 1972 Datsun 240Z. As a racer in his own right, Taz first heard about the revived Carrera Panamericana from a friend who was building a Porsche 911 to enter the event. Keen to have a go, Taz soon acquired a Datsun 510, the stepping stone to a lifetime enthusiasm of the Japanese marque and, what he thought at least, would be the beginning of his classic rally sub-career.
A woeful lack of power quickly left Taz looking for something new, ‘salvation’ arriving along with the 240Z (it was being traded in part-exchange for a pick-up truck at his dealership). Slammed, stripped and with the handling retuned, focus once again turned to Mexico’s most famous endurance race.
“When you get in the Z, it definitely has more of a rocket feel to it,” Taz explains. “On the 510, you could really pedal it because it had more grip and more horsepower. The Z has 220bhp and weighs about 2400lb” – or 1089kg – “so it definitely has more acceleration.
“And the thing is, vintage racing is so much more low key. For me, it’s not about the race—it’s about the trip. But you better have your shit together: a good race team, if they’re not ready to go two weeks before the race starts, they’re sunk.”
A statement that takes on more significance when you realize Taz Harvey, his co-driver Rudy Vadjak and the ’72 240Z took Historica B class victory at the race last year.