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PANAMERA AMERICANA

Originally developed as an international investor showcase for Mexico, the Carrera Panamericana border-to-border racing event – held on open roads in Mexico – was strongly reminiscent of the Mille Miglia and Targa Florio in Italy. It ran for five consecutive years from 1950 to 1954 and claimed 20 lives over its lifespan. Flanked by Policía Federal, BERNIE HELLBERG experienced the 2017 Porsche Panamera on a section of the original course.

Named after the classic race which was considered by many of the world’s top endurance racers of the 1950s, to be one of the most dangerous in the world, the Porsche Panamera has fought, and won, many battles in its lifetime.

Ridiculed for taking a sports car and combining it with a limousine, Porsche took a fair amount of flack when it brought the original Panamera to market in 2009. Porsche purists argued that creating a four-door saloon went against the company philosophy of building light sports cars.

As was the case with the first Cayenne SUV, Porsche persisted with their Panamera plans, naming it after the gruelling test of perseverance that is the classic Mexican race.

To celebrate the release of the second generation car, Porsche invited a small group of journalists to the Mexican countryside, to sample a section of the Panamericana in a Panamera.

THE RACE

Porsche first entered La Carrera Panamericana in 1952, with a near-enough-to-stock 356 1500 Super Cabriolet, finishing eighth overall among more than 100 entries. Then, in 1954, Porsche won the sports car category with very much the same car. Sixty-five years later, I had the opportunity to explore the new Panamera on the same stretch of road.

The route – a nine-kilometre portion of the infamous old Carrera Panamericana – included a special timed stage that was closed off by multiple machine gun toting **Policía Federal** (Mexico’s Federal Police). The heavy police presence would be a common site for the rest of the day.

Despite being shielded in a modern vehicle with some of the most advanced safety systems in the world, race organisers insisted that we wear helmets and stick to the pre-set speed limits at all times. No spectators were allowed on any part of the route.

Aiming our two-tonne Panamera Turbo – the 1950s 356 weighed a measly 760 kg – and its 404 kW and 770 Nm 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 at the limited-distance race stage, put the car through more rigorous testing than we could muster on nearly 400 additional kilometres of driving the rest of the day.

The original Porsche contestant was powered by a Volkswagen-sourced, 1.5-litre air-cooled four-cylinder that produced a slight 52.2 kW and sent it to the 16” rear wheels through a four-speed transmission. Each of the new Panamera’s eight cylinders produces almost as much power as the entire engine used in the 356.

THE CARS

After a surprisingly short stint on the Carrera Panamericana, the rest of the day’s driving consisted of convoy driving on a variety of roads ranging from smooth multi-lane toll roads to poorly maintained narrow tracks, finally returning to the preposterous traffic congestion of Mexico City. With more than 21 million inhabitants, this city takes the prize for traffic congestion and would rival the toughest of Joburg’s taxi drivers insofar as poor driving habits are concerned.

We sampled the Panamera 4S and Panamera Turbo in the range, both with new engines and a new DSG transmission setup. Both the 2.9-litre V6 and 4.0-litre V8 boast turbo twins that rest between their cylinder banks.

At 328 kW, the 4S now produces around 15 kW more than its predecessor and will accelerate from zero to 100 km/h in 4.4 seconds. Ungoverned, this car will reach a stop speed of 289 km/h.

The V8-powered Turbo version has 410 kW of power, around 22 kW more than the old one. It can propel the car to 100 km/h from rest in 3.8 seconds, topping out at 306 km/h.

LAST WORD

There is something incongruous about driving a R2.5 million car through urban and rural areas where poverty and questionable living conditions are the norm, but in a vast land such as Mexico, there is certainly also examples of abundant wealth, where the Panamera will be right at home.

Report by BERNIE HELLBERG | Images © PORSCHE

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