Gunner’s Classic Corner: ’54 ‘Vette Replica Honors Mexican Road Race Car
In 1954 a Chicago speed shop was responsible for fielding the first Corvette to race in an international competition. Now a pair of Wisconsin enthusiasts have built a tribute car that honors that milestone in motor sports history. Bill Peter and John Schentz, of Mequon, Wis., built their replica ’54 ‘Vette for the modern Mexican Road Race revival, a road race that runs etween Ensenada and San Felipe, Mexico.
The car is a replica of the ‘Vette that hot rodder Bill von Esser and Ernest Pultz took to Mexico for one of the original Carerra Panamericana races in mid- November 1954. Speed Age (March 1955) reported the Corvette was the 12th car to start the race and was a Heavy Sports Car class entrant. The cars in that class were the first to leave the starting line in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico, on Nov. 19.. The Corvette was among 149 cars that were trying to win the 1,908-mile contest.
Von Esser’s car broke down on the first leg of the race with mechanical trouble. Rumors had it that the car’s “Stovebolt Six” threw a connecting rod. According to von Esser’s son, the car actually developed valve train problems that were repaired a few days after the breakdown with parts pirated from a Chevy school bus the men found in Mexico. He says the car was driven home.
In 2008, Peter and Schentz drove a ’54 Oldsmobile in the modern race’s Historic Class. They decided to build a Corvette for the 2010 venue. Since the car was new, it had to meet modern racing rules that required a roll cage, disc brakes and other safety improvements. The six-cylinder engine was beefed up with heavy-duty GMC army truck connecting rods. Peter bought the chassis from a man who was having Chip Foose build him a Corvette resto-mod with a modern chassis. The reproduction 1954 Corvette body came from Lone Star in Texas.
The car did make it to campaign in the 2010 race, performing surprisingly well, and was in first place at the halfway mark when it smashed into a guardrail, ending its run. In March the car was taken to the vintage races in Sebring, Fla., to be sorted out and drew a lot of attention when it showed up in the Race Car Concours at Road America, in Elkhart Lake, Wis.