Lancia Beta Carrera Messicana
Lancia cars on Carreras roads
Picture 1. The cover of the Gente Motori, issue October 1975 with the three Mexico-Lancia cars, two Bet Montecarlo and one Beta HPE, parked in front of one of the major art treasures in Mexico: Santa Domingo church in Oaxaca, built in 1608. A excellent example of Spanish culture.
Sulle Strade Della Carrera – On the road of Carrera
Ricardo is a young boy about 8 years old. I know him very well, as he always is hanging around me when I am not at work at the magazine. He is awake, alert, reserved and talkative at the same time and possibly a typical representative of his generation. His hobby you could say is to test me with his “why” that make me think over my answers as he demands an answer right away-otherwise he would never let me off the hook.
As he always is around me he is also living in a world of motoring. He knows everything about new cars, car shows and race events. But, what he is fascinated the most of, are the old races from the past: Mille Miglia, Le Mans, Indianapolis and Nürburgring are his favorites.
I have only seen him surprised once during these conversations when I mentioned the name “Carrera Messicana”. For a moment he did not say a word, but after a while he attacked me as usual to find out everything about it. I did not remember all that much about the race of 1953 and had to read up on it. This way I was able to satisfy his thirst for information, but at the same time I got smitten of the: Carrera-Virus. I started thinking that” if a race like this is fascinating the young generation, why not do it again”. A new technical challenge where you can see cars from the eighties go through the same grueling test as the cars from the fifties went through. I thought the idea was perfect, but as always good ideas might be hard to facilitate. The automotive world was not and still is not in a good period. The economical expenditures in the past are not available today and everybody need to count every Lira. But, the world is there for the daring and when it comes to craziness I am as good as anyone. I decided to go for Lancia as they had the correct cars for tests of this kind. Lancia had, during the time I was pondering the idea, presented two new models: “Montecarlo”, beautifully designed by Pinninfarina and the “Beta HPE”, a car that I called “Ideal-object”. What I still did not know but learned later when read more about the “Carrera” was that Lancia with Juan Manuel Fangio was the winner of the race in 1953 with a record time in one of his Lancia Spider “3100”. That was maybe one of the best races Lancia completed during that time.
Picture 2. On Carrera roads. A cooperation between the car magazine Gente Motori, the journalist Gianni Marin, Lancia, PubbliMais, Alitalia and Aero Mexico, Called “operation Carrera Messicana.
I don’t know why, but I saw a connection between Fangio’s Spider and the Montecarlo. It seamed as if they had something in common, something spiritual rather than technical. Both with a design with an almost perfect style. Both were beautiful in the same way as a woman that get your head spinning when she passes by.
My idea was not completely crazy. It had a both technical as well as an economical plan. At Lancia they did not think the idea was bad and the Project “operation Carrera Messicana” took off. In twenty days we were going to do it all: take out two Beta Montecarlo and one Beta HPE”, drive a couple of hundred kilometers, mount the radio communication system to be able to communicate between the cars, get (in addition to Lancia) Pinninfarina, Alitalia and Aero Mexico involved. Regardless how crazy it sounded all six participants in the expedition took off Saturday July 26 (journalists Carlo Massagrande and Andrea Silvuni, my wife Bruna, photographer Vanni Belli, myself and Giorgio Binotto, Lancia’s technician) as well as three cars from Milano Malpensa airport with destination Mexico City, via New York. One of Alitalia’s Jumbo jet to New York and from there one of Aero-Mexico’s DC 10 to Mexico City. First leg over the Atlantic took eight hours and then another four hours to Mexico City. Eight-hour time difference between Milano and Mexico City. The meeting with Mexico got rather chocking. Especially the way it differed from what I had expected. I had heard that the country was situated on a continuous high plane, instead it looked like the country was an unorganized planned landscape with spread out mountains and valleys.
Photo 3. Left, IV Carrera Messicana – a celebration poster for the Lancia success at the fourth Carrera Messicana. First, Lancia, Juan Manuel Fangio, 18:11:00, 3077 km. Average speed: 169.320 km/h, Second, Lancia, Piedro Taruffi, 18:18:51 and third, Lancia, Eugenio Castellotti, 18:24:52.
Right, a sort of pyramids, originally built as storage magazine for Corn, nowadays transformed into tourist bungalows.
I started to think about Hernan Corte’s, when asked by his king Carl V of Spain to describe Mexico. Corte’s could not come up with a better way than wrinkle up a sheet of paper and threw it in front of the king. Mexico, that at the time was thought of as the “New Spain”, was presented as a wrinkled map. This was also the impression that would confirm later when we experienced “Carreras” terrain. During all the driving we only encounter a few hundred straight kilometers, up north before the American border. There would be impressive Sahara-looking kilometers with only snakes as spectators. We land in Mexico City and the capitol as an impressive city, both from the air as well passing through by car. The city has a diameter of twenty-six kilometer, the streets are full of all kind of cars and everybody are driving without order. Most of all there is a layer of smoke covering the city. Partly due to the local industries, but also due to the dried-up lake nearby, from where the wind is bringing a coal like fog over the city. These are our quick impressions as we are now facing another problem; to get the three cars through customs. In the beginning it looks like it will be hard. We are missing some document, not everything is in order. Even “down there” in Mexico they seam to have “Italian” laws and after some discussions back and fourth regarding laws and documents we finally were able to get our cars through. When we finally had them, they looked better than when they were left at the Airport in Milano. The custom personnel in Mexico City surround us and we realize the draw of the name “Carreras”. The same draw that my young friend at home had felt. I wonder why Lancia never been able to take advantage of the name “Carrera” is my first thought. They would have had the right to do. Instead other have done that instead. Not only car manufacturers, but also manufacturers of car seats, steering wheels, feed and even eye-glasses. The three cars are in perfect condition. No damages. We check, take some photos with the friendly customs personnel, and go on to fill up on the necessary materials and provisions. Then we are on our way. Our Carrera have started.
The first segment is just a transfer. We are going to Tuxtla, almost by the border to Guatemala, where “Carrera Panamericana” 1953 started. It is 1367 very usable kilometers drive there. The trip is a necessary test to make sure everything is in order. The cars only had a couple of hundred kilometers on the odometers before the trip. In addition, most of the trip was at or around 2,200m (Mexico City is at an elevation of about 2240m) and we got a good chance to find out how the fuel injection would work at that elevation. Already in the beginning we find that even though the participants are suffering, both the two Beta Montecarlo and Beta HPE are working perfect. Giorgio Binotti, The Lancia man as we decided to call him, is looking at us with pride in his eyes. He has never questioned the quality of his cars and does not say anything, but he is not as sure about the drivers. Arrival in Tuxtla was known, and we discover a group of journalists from the most important newspapers in Mexico, and even from a TV station waiting for us to arrive. I realize once again that it is not us that draw this interest, but it is the fascination for “Carrera” and the name Lancia.
Ahead of us we have eight stages, the same as in the “Carrera Panamericana” (we have respectfully renamed our event: “Messicana”) during 1953. 535km from Tuxtla to Oaxaca, 407km from Oaxaca to Puebla, 118km from Puebla to Mexico City, 423km from Mexico City to Leon, 533km from Leon to Durango, 411km from Durango to Parral, 295km from Parral to Chihuahua and finally 353km from Chihuahua to Ciudad Juarez. A total distance of 3078km. Carlo Massagrande was given the honor of routing the trip, calculate the average speed, times, fuel consumption and so on. All directions of how, when, and where to go is done by Massagrande and he start with telling us we can do it all in five days. We accept his plan. Finally, at the last day we understand the stress he put us through when we realize we had to drive three stages in one day. Fourteen hours driving nonstop, from six am to eight pm.
We start from Tuxtla, the capitol in the state Chiapas, the most southern in Mexico, located between Guatemala and Tehuantepec and being crossed by the Rio Grande. We are in a tropical rain forest. The Vulcanic mountains are covered by forest; pine trees up to a Hight of 4000m above sea level. Everywhere fantastic orchids and beautiful birds, where the Mayas holy bird Quetzal is over shadowing all others. From the forest we follow plantations of cotton, tobacco, and corn. We also were surprised over the large fields of agave. Afterword’s we were informed that from one of the 139 varieties of agave,” Maguey” to be correct, they produce a drink that the children drink instead of milk. This drink is called “Pulque”. From another type of agave, “mezcal” they retrieve a liquid that is distilled and becomes Tequila, Mexico’s national drink. During the time driving I come to think about another “Raid” we did a year earlier. We drove cost to coast, New York to San Francisco with three Fiat Mirafiore. Everything was easier as the roads were complete different. Here we constantly must maneuver through uphill, sharp turns and sudden narrow downhill sections. The feet are constantly moving from one pedal to the other and the hands from the steering wheel to the shifter and back. We don’t want to go easy on the cars but try to give all always. Along the road you hardly see any people, they are for the most located around the larger cities (Mexico City have 12miljon living there)
Picture 4. At the top of Mt. Alban, a few kilometers from Oaxaca, the Zapotecs built their religious town and named it “The green Hill”
The villages we saw along the whole way were a collection of poor people’s sheds. Yesterday they were slaves of the powerful Azteks, today they are slaves of an industrialized civilization that does not belong to them. Life in the country side in Mexico mirror life all over Mexico. To find the real Mexico you must find the Indians and Mastitis that count for the large poor 80% of the population. Many times, the contact with them gives me the feeling that time stand still. However, it is not “Maniana”, tomorrow, as some Europeans picture. There is a historic feeling over the meaning, something holy, almost Godly, that raise the experience of today to exceptional heights. People are nice polite and friendly, still healthy in their lifestyle. They carry a solemn style whose roots must be found far back in time. The contrast is the largest when visiting Monte Albans and Mitlas ruins. With our Lancia’s we are showing up on top of the mountain and all get touched by the site we encounter. The Zapotecs leveled the top of the mountain by cutting out a 40 square kilometer platform. They named the city Yucucui, “The green hill”, and on the highest point they designed the religious center. A city planning with precise measurements, straight lined pyramids, saints, and observatories arranged with exact precision from north to south. A fantastic site of stairs that is only interrupted by one exception: The Temple “J”. A strange building that in fact is the towns large observatory, cut through by tunnels and equipped by walls that make star watching possible. The temple breaking up the harmony of Monte Albans and is dedicated to the Zapotecs Calendar.
This is Mexico, the land with the many contrasts: ocean with its golden beaches in contrast to the mountains heights, the rich people in Acapulco in contrast to the poor Indians, the sun burnt desert in contrast to the tropical rain forest. He who have seen Mexico have seen the world.
My enthusiasm for this beautiful country made me forget our Lancia cars. I could write tens of pages about Mexico and about our “Beta”, but let’s look at some chosen facts and some of my thoughts that I am finding in my notes. First: We drove the 3,078 Kilometers that divide Tuxtla from Juarez in 31hours and 22minutes. Average speed was 98.129 Km/h, which I think is outstanding considering the roads we encountered. Our Lancia Beta HPE used 373.5-liter gasoline (In Mexico there are two types of gasoline: Super 92 octane and the normal 81 octane. Price was 162 / 102 lire/lit) Our Lancia Beta HPE was getting 8.240kilometer per liter on average. The other two cars stats are: The car driven by Silvuni used 327.7lit. and an average of 9.392 km/lit. The car driven by Massagrande used 304 liters with an average of 10.125km/lit. It should be noted that our Beta HPE during the whole trip had a total weight of 1480kg and with the air-conditioning running almost the whole trip. We also used the “normal” gasoline without any issues noted, least of all the “HPE”, one important detail we wanted to forward to Lancia, so it can be used during further developments. The Lancia “Beta HPE” became my home for five days. I have nothing but positive things to say about it. It transported three persons, three suitcases, a hundred small packages, the tool box, and the box of spare parts. The latter had a very limited importance, it was sealed at the start and still sealed upon arrival in Ciudad Juarez. Only God knows what was in it! The car was Stable, fast, solid, and quiet (Binotti called it a Jumbo-Jet) that never got us stranded. One minor flaw: the oil pressure gauge as well as the odometer became erratic after some time. Small issues than are understandable. The two “Beta Montecarlo”? Both Massagrande and Silvuni were saying that the most positive with the cars was the road handling (I must however add that on a fast stretch I beat them with my “Beta HPE”). In city driving the cars did not over heat, they added, the spark plugs kept clean and the engine have good power. No problem in other words, if it wasn’t for the limited rear and side view, due to the “fins”. That is compensated by the aerodynamic, but that is not doing any good during city maneuvering. The brakes are in the same standard as the rest even though it requires some effort when braking. The only real problem were the tires. Their cars had problems with water plaining which slowed them down through standing water. (The “Beta HPE” fitted with Michelin tires could go through in full speed). Another positive surprise was the hardtop on the Montecarlo, that kept tight as not too many other cars. It would not hurt with a little more power though.
This is the “Carrera Messicana”, edited by my magazine and my findings. Short comments, due to the limited space.
A last thing I forgot to mention: do you remember the young kid I mentioned in the beginning? That rascal is my son.
(Translated from Italian to Swedish by Roberto Capotondi)
(Translated from Swedish to English by Leif Neuman)
What happened to the cars after the event?
Trying to track the cars down this long after the event is an interesting task.
When the journalists finished they left the cars in El Paso TX. Lancia didn’t think it was worth the money to send them back to Italy so they contacted a Mr. Tajer (s?) to see if he could sell them in Mexico. He found a buyer for the blue car but no others.
The orange Montecarlo was purchased by the then President of the American Lancia Club, Dick Buckingham, he in turn sold the car to the east coast where years later it ended up in the hands of Magnus Wålinder. When Magnus went back to Sweden he brought the car with him and today it is looking as good as it did during the Carrera days.
Photo taken at the Nordic Lancia meet August 2017
The Beta HPE also found a home in the US with members Braunstein. I received a recollection with trips across the US when working on the East Coast and back to the Bay Area where the car was sold to an unknown person and the last time it was heard from was as it was abandoned on the side of the road in the San Jose area!
The third car, the blue Montecarlo is still unknown but we are still working on finding out it’s whereabouts.
I have also received a full recollection over the process of purchasing, owning and transporting the Orange Montecarlo to Sweden and I will translate that as well and post at a later date.