Saturday, November 22, 2008

Some La Carrera History The Corvette Crowd Would Like To Forget

Having grown up during the better part of the muscle car era a die-hard Ford guy I remember a time when you either took an oath of brand loyalty or you rode the buss. It was during those awesome years that my love for performance Ford products grew and like anyone else from that period I rather enjoyed giving the GM guys as bad a time as possible both on the track and street. In those days talking smack was as important as getting a good hole shot. The truth be known, more races were won while bench racing than in the cars.

It was during that same era the phrase "What wins on Sunday sells on Monday." was coined. It was a well known fact that whatever cars won during big weekend races whether it be Nascar, drags or whatever, outsold their competitors that following week. It was for this reason that the big three spent so much money helping both factory as well as privateers. Back then any Tom, Dick or Harry could walk into a dealership and tell them he needed factory help sponsoring his car and get a huge discount on high performance parts he needed.

In 1954 because Ford Motor Company debuted the Thunderbird two seater convertible the guys over at Detroit General Motors decided to continue production of the Corvette. As a result some motor racing history was made when the first international appearance of a Corvette was made. Bill von Esser who owned Chicago Speed Shop and co-driver Ernest Pultz entered the #12 Corvette in La Carrera Panamericana in what was called the Large Sports class. Famous not only for it's red Dayton wire wheels and a custom grille it also ran higher compression Chevy's new “Blue Flame” six cylinder with it's minor internal changes and three carbs which brought it to 155 horsepower with a standard transmission.

While Corvette owners are proud to note this was the first international appearance of a Corvette they are equally embarrassed when they are reminded the "Reliable GM power plant" thru a rod completely thru the block during the first leg of the race and never completed the race. Not exactly the international debut GM was hoping for. As a matter of fact since the first attempt there have been less than half a dozen even ever attempt to take on La Carrera Panamericana. Doesn't say much about the confidence coming from the Vette crowd now does it? Legend has it that when you stand quietly along the road between Tuxtla and Oaxaca you can still hear the laughter that came from the Ford teams back in 1954. From what I've seen, the Corvette crowd should be grateful it didn't catch on fire and burn to the ground and be happy they were at least able to tow what was left back home. CLICK HERE for the curse of the Carrera. Seen here with the EX87/5951

While Von Esser's Carrera Panamericana Racer never earned any glory in a race it did become distinguished for being the first to fail trying. Now it can be seen being sold in die-cast from the Danbury Mint. CLICK HERE.

Anyone who has raced in La Carrera Panamericana would be honored to see their car being sold in model form and normally it wouldn't get any better than having it done so by the Danbury Mint. But in this case it gets even better as you look at the incredible detail and painstaking effort this model builder, Homer, took in creating the background settings and presentation for his model. I would like to thank Homer who created this incredible automotive masterpiece for thanking me for this blog and for the record he also informed me it is 1:32 scale. Thanks Homer!

Check out the details including an authentic looking La Carrera poster inside Von Esser's speed shop.

You can even see wiped up oil spills and tire tread patterns as well as the cracks in the cement shop floor and even the drain.

Check out piloto Bill Von Esser and co-piloto speed by the man and his burro and the awesome detail. Von Esser was probably able to recall every one of those rocks, cactus and mountains having had to sit along the road while everyone else left them behind on their way to Oaxaca and even the man and his burro passed them. I bet he hated the sounds of hoofs. (Have you driven a Ford lately?)

Seen here is one he built for slot car racing along side of the EX87/5951 Corvette Mule which was one of two 1955 Corvettes ordered by Chevrolet engineering. Later the fin was removed and it was assigned #1 for the 1956 Sebring Race along with three others. Two of them never finished the race. None of the Corvettes did very well until Zora Duntov got involved and installed V-8's in them weighing 40 pounds less than the six cylinder which was originally in them. His first good showing was at Pikes peak but then again that's a very short race isn't it?

On a humorous note (as if us Ford guys weren't already laughing hard enough) Bill Beilharz pointed out the dreadful expression on the navigator's face in this photo. Possibly he already knows most of his oil has leaked out on the ground under the car.

I would like to point out this article was written in jest and in no way should it be misinterpreted as being disrespectful towards Bill Von Esser. Quite to the contrary, Esser and his Chicago Speed Shop where very well known and respected in his time and he had a following that is well respected even to this day. A lot of respect must be given and is well deserved to any of those brave enough to take on what was and still is a race well known for it's adversity, danger and trials. Men like Bill Von Esser and in fact legends for all of us to look up to admire for many generations. Theodore Roosevelt said it best... "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out where the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred with dust and sweat and blood. At best, he knows the triumph of high achievement; if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."


Homer said...

Glad you like my corvette. I like to add that it is 1:32 scale.

John W said...

Is there anyone from the VonEsser family available today? John Wohlfeil

J. Corbin said...

I knew Bill VonEsser and bought a lot of speed equipment from him in the old days there on Irving Park in Chicago. We spent many happy evenings in Bill's shop talking about racing and so on. I miss him. He was fun to be around. JIM CORBIN, Past National President of the Auburn Cord Dusenberg Club and Past Directer of the Auburn Cord Dusenberg Museum.