SPORT The legend of La Carrera Panamericana

8 min

Put this time machine into reverse gear. We’re taking a trip down memory lane to uncover the thunderous history of TAG Heuer Carrera. On its 35th anniversary, we uncover the rich history of La Carrera Panamericana and its glorious relationship with TAG Heuer.

The Carrera Panamericana, October 2022

It’s 1950. Imagine long, dusty, open roads. The Mexican sun beating down. Hundreds of people lining the streets, waiting patiently. A few minutes pass. The earth beneath your feet begins to tremble. In the distance, you see an angry stampede of sedans hurtling towards you at breakneck speed. You hear engines screaming and rubber screeching. This isn’t rush hour traffic. This isn’t road rage. This is the first-ever Carrera Panamericana. 

Pure racing gold

To celebrate the completion of their section of the north-south Pan-American Highway, the Mexican authorities came up with an idea. A 9-stage, 5-day, 2,100 mile race. Or as we remember it today, the Carrera Panamericana. It was brutal, exhausting and pure racing gold. Fast, flat roads. Twisty mountainous climbs. Tropical heat and crippling cold. The Carrera Panamericana had it all. To take part in it, you didn’t just have to be a skilled driver. You had to be a road gladiator, steering your metal chariot across the rough and the smooth terrains of Mexico.

  • The Carrera Panamericana, October 2022

The name Carrera

It’s 1962, 7 years after the Carrera Panamericana was canceled due to safety concerns. Enter Jack Heuer. A keen driver and racing fan, he was in Sebring, Florida, home to the famous 12 Hours motorsport endurance race. Here, he struck up a conversation with the parents of drivers Pedro and Ricardo Rodríguez. They were relieved that their kids were too young to have competed in the most dangerous race in the world: the Carrera Panamericana. The name “Carrera”, Heuer loved the sound of it. He returned home to Europe and registered rights to “Heuer Carrera”. The idea was to create a racing chronograph with an uncluttered dial, so drivers found it easy to read at high speeds. 

Decades later, Heuer would share his thoughts on the Carrera name in his autobiography. “I loved not only its sexy sound but also its multiple meanings – which include road, race, course and career. All very much Heuer territory.” In 1963, the first Heuer Carrera watch was released. The Heuer Carrera ref. 2447 – also known as the ‘Carrera-12’.

  • The Carrera Panamericana, October 2022

The revival

In 1987, La Carrera Panamericana was resurrected. The race was given a few updates: it’s held over 7 days, along a 2,000 mile route that covers some parts of the original course from the 1950s. On 14 October 2022, La Carrera Panamericana will celebrate its 35th anniversary. An homage to the daredevils from the past, La Carrera Panamericana is carrying forward the legacy of a race that means so much to the motorsport community and TAG Heuer. Long may it continue.