The Carrera Panamericana holds a special place in the motorsport history books, regarded now as one of the most gruelling endurance races to ever have taken place. More than just a race, it was an exhausting cross-Atlantic adventure. 3,000 kilometres of often untarmacked roads traversing Mexico from end to end, from the border with Guatemala to that with the United States was the ultimate test for car and driver. With consecutive stages of 950 km divided into two parts with a break of just half an hour, it’s clear to see why only five editions were held. Starting in late November of 1950, the authorities called time on it in 1954 due to the extreme danger.Meanwhile, the reputation of the ‘marathon’ had grown equal to that of the Mille Miglia or the 24 Hours of Le Mans, both races with large radio and press following. Despite the difficult conditions and expense of sending cars and people, all the biggest European and North American manufacturers wanted to race there to promote their marques and win the prize money. Not only this but to sell cars in the United States (for European manufacturers), using the big earnings to offset their investments
However, this ‘raid’ on America wasn’t always successful, because sometimes the cars were totally wrecked in an accident. Unfortunately, some champions also failed to return from Mexico, one of them being Felice Bonetto. Many winners found their image inextricably linked to the Carrera. This was so for Umberto Maglioli, who began racing with his mentor Giovanni Bracco in endurance tests such as the Mille Miglia and Targa Florio. In 1952, he drove a Lancia Aurelia in his first Carrera, finishing fourth behind Luigi Chinetti, the famous NART founder. This result smoothed the way for him to join Ferrari in 1953, but not before winning the Targa Florio with Lancia. Mike Hawthorn won the 12 Hours of Pescara for Ferrari and then went to the Panamericana with the 375 MM and the company of another 176 entrants. Lancia turned up with a strong team and totally dominated the race. However, tyre problems forced Maglioli, despite winning four stages, to stop and switch to the car of Mario Ricci, who sponsored the entire shipment of cars from Maranello, entered by Scuderia Guastalla of Franco Cornacchia and Luigi Chinetti. Maglioli launched into a furious chase on the long straight stretches of the final stages, earning the nickname from the Mexican press of “el suicida del volante” or even the “mad Italian”, but he just couldn’t make up the gap. Ferrari nevertheless won the Sportscar Championship.
Maglioli set a world record in the Chihuahua-Ciudad Juárez stage, won at an average of 222.59 km/h. During the Cuernavaca motorway stretch, the newspapers reported that his 375 MM even touched the 270 km/h mark. In 1954, after winning three Sportscar races, Maglioli returned in triumph to the Carrera Panamericana. Victory in the Carrera had a special appeal because it was definitely the hardest race of the season. There were no Lancias, but there were Porsches and Alfa Romeos on the grid. The race was a family affair between Phil Hill-Richie Ginther, with a blue and white 375 MM Vignale Spider, sporting an eye-catching rear fin, and Maglioli with a 375 Plus Pininfarina Spider, who excelled at the wheel of the very powerful, high capacity racing car. His greatest ability was to instinctively feel out and ‘know’ circuits he had never driven on. He knew how to manage the tyres in the first part of the race and to put his foot down on long final stretches.
Maglioli’s 375 Plus was given to him for the race by the American customer Erwin Goldschmidt, a relative of the famous banker Jakob, and was sold to another American customer shortly after the event. The duel ended with victory for Maglioli in the last Carrera Panamericana, in 17 hours 40 minutes and 26 seconds, with a record average of 173.692 km/h. Some say that the decision of the organisers to discontinue the race was taken on the basis of his performances. Ferrari also won the World Sportscar Championship in 1954. In addition, the name of Maglioli became synonymous with Targa Florio, a race that he won three times in 1953, 1956 and 1968. He also came third for Scuderia Ferrari in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in 1954 and triumphed with Parkes at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1964 in a 275 P.