In a feat two years in the making and for over twenty years a goal, car restoration figure and Director of Rare Spares David Ryan and his navigator Greg Stevenson have completed the gruelling La Carrera Panamericana in their 1954 FJ Holden.
The Mexican classic rally event was originally held for five consecutive years in the 1950’s however safety concerns at the time halted further events. It was revived in its modern format in 1988 and spans the length of the country over a demanding eight day schedule using predominantly public roads.
With an event of this magnitude, in a country far away, an incredible amount of time and effort is required to pull everything together and for David Ryan and Greg Stevenson this amazing journey started nearly two years ago when they acquired a run-down FJ Holden after a successful EBay bid. The car had been sitting completely dismantled in a backyard for over five years. Soon after picking the car up, a meticulous restoration began.
Rare Spares provided all of the parts essential to a high quality rebuild for such a demanding event. With modern componentry purchased, a later generation Holden 202 engine installed, a comprehensive modern safety cage and a final coat of paint, the car was ready for its maiden voyage.
The Build Gallery
After an arduous six weeks sea voyage, the car arrived in Mexico in one piece and on time to the relief of Ryan and Stevenson. Ryan described Mexico as a cosmopolitan place “with villages like something from a Clint Eastwood movie to the densely populated Mexico City”
The rare car was an instant hit amongst other teams and fans. Many were curious of the vehicle and compliments on the preparation of the vehicle were common. One of the more famous local entrants Memo Rojos Snr spent 45 minutes looking over the car in detail and finally commented “Compadres, this is a work of art.”
Sitting on the road, ready to be waved off for the first time was surreal for Ryan and Stevenson as they thought back to the time and energy that had been poured into achieving that very moment.
Having any car last the full event without any issues would be a miracle and despite the preparation and the car’s otherwise faultless performance, Day 3 threw a spanner in the works. The Holden 202 engine block split one of the cylinder bores, which was a major setback, however not an event killer.
Fortunately, Ryan and Stevenson’s support team were none other than a Mexican Rally Championship service crew.
Ryan explains the lengths the service crew went to, to get the Australian team back on the road for the remainder of the event.
“The engine was pulled out and the fault diagnosed that night. At 3.30am service team members left the service park with the cracked engine for a 400km drive back to Mexico City to a local engine builder. The builder worked wonders, making a sleeve and machining the bores before reassembling well into the next day”
Upon completion the fresh engine was rushed back 400km to the service area where it was slid back under the FJ bonnet. The whole process had been completed within 24 hours. Ryan and Stevenson were now free to re-join the event, having only missed a single day of competition.
One particular moment Ryan remembers fondly was when they were blasting up the freeway out of Mexico City and missed the off ramp exit they needed. “The next convenient ‘exit’ was actually an on ramp from the adjacent side road back onto the freeway, so before we knew it we were heading down the on ramp, against the flow of traffic with horns blaring and lights flashing, much to the cheers and whistles of the throng of spectators lining the roads of the route.”
The team finished fifth in class and 56th outright, but the result was insignificant to the feeling of completion. “It was a sensational event and amazingly well run. Everyone was friendly and happy to help and it is probably the best thing we have ever done” said Ryan.
As a thank you to the Mexican service crew, Ryan and Stevenson have offered the crew the chance to campaign the car themselves at next year’s Targa Adelaide event.
Post Targa the car will be stripped down for a thorough overhaul before the little Aussie FJ returns to Mexico to once again be part of the iconic event.
Greg Stevenson summed up the fantastic adventure that was the La Carerra Panamericana best with the simple comment “this is the wild wild west of motorsport.”