WARREN, Michigan — While General Motors Chairman Rick Wagoner fights for his job and GM vehicle sales continue their roller-coaster ride, the company's Performance division has readjusted its sights to focus on . . . a 1954 Cadillac?
But not just any old '54 Caddy. This one's a vintage model that has been re-created in the image of the original Cadillac Series 62 coupe that competed in the fabled Carrera Panamericana road race in Mexico.
The Performance division located a Cadillac of similar vintage in the company's collection and did a frame-on restoration, reupholstering the seats and trim and carrying out other modifications. The plan is to enter the car in a restaging this fall of the grueling 1,900-mile race.
GM has scrapped the original 270-horsepower 5.4-liter pushrod V8 for a more modern 6.5-liter unit that makes 375 hp. Brakes and other safety gear have been upgraded, but otherwise the car is surprisingly true to the original.
52 years ago, Keith Andrews and Blu Plemons competed in the 1954 Carrera Panamericana - the Mexican Road Race. Their privately funded 1954 Cadillac Series 62 coupe challenged the factory-backed teams, beating all of them on the final two stages.
Mr. Plemons has vivid memories of that race, recalling with delight the adventure by "5 ordinary guys from Colorado". With a car 'loaned' by a local Colorado Springs independent car dealer (Barry Motor Sales), Andrews and Plemons were joined by three friends to take on a factory team that arrived with 28 mechanics, a doctor, a cook, a p.r. man, four cars and drivers, not to mention two photographers. In spite of the daunting odds, Andrews and Plemons almost won it all.
This year a "new" 1954 Cadillac "Carrera Panamericana" has taken shape at GM's Performance Division in Warren, Michigan. The re-creation was a "frame-on" restoration beginning with a vintage car discovered in GM's vehicle inventory that matched the original racer's specs ...even in color.
"We made updates that would enhance the vehicle and occupant safety but maintain the original design intent," said Al Oppenheiser, GM Performance Division director of concept vehicle engineering.
"We kept the project in-house utilizing the Performance Division Garage, the pre-production trim shop and the show car paint team. For example, the instrument panel is as we found it but the seats and soft trim had to be reupholstered."
The Andrews/Plemons Cadillac completed the 1907-mile race over treacherous highways and dusty cart paths in less than 21 hours. In winning the two final stages, their Cadillac averaged over 115 mph for the final 410 miles.