Four old timers in 1975. Why are they posing near the rusty 1941 Plymouth? The 18 inch wheels offer the only clue. Thirty years earlier in Detroit they had their picture snapped standing by the same car—about to start one of the automotive world’s great adventures-the Richardson Motor Expedition from Detroit to the tip of South America.
You’re probably aware that –if you had more time and money—you could drive your own car from home to Mexico City and then to Panama and then all the way to the southern tip of South America. The so-called “Pan American Highway” spans both continents. I found out that I was wrong about driving “all the way,” but more on that at the very end of this piece.
So what car and what driver(s) made the first trip? As you suspected, the same nearly stock 1941 Plymouth in the photos was driven by Sullivan C Richardson, Arnold Whitaker and Kenneth C. Van Hee. And they made it before there was a road.
Back in 1941 the road was paved to Mexico City and after that—lots of dirt and mud roads, footpaths, and when they ended, swamps, jungle, and mountains, so they had to make their own road.
This entry, and the images, is excerpted from the Plymouth Bulletin, which itself excerpted Richardson’s book about the trip called “Adventure South.” Lots of good car detail in the web version.
The three also had a film camera and you can see the Plymouth in action (and in inaction after daily mishaps) in an hour-long period travelogue posted by Richardons’s grandson. Warning it’s an hour long and there may be too much about the trip and not enough about the car for you, so you may want to fast forward through the video.
Although the “expedition” was almost universally ridiculed as a fool-hardy publicity stunt, somehow the three made it to Argentina (where they got a warmer reception than Jeremy Clarkson and his Top Gear buddies) and then motored on and reached Cape Horn and pushed WWII off the headlines in Detroit. The car was shipped back to Detroit and the car and all three drivers eventually ended up in south California. The car may or may not exist in a SoCal junkyard—just look for a rusty ’41 Plymouth with 18 inch wheels.
Ps: Although you can now drive this route on paved roads, there is still one gap—the famous “Darien Gap” in Panama—that has to be traversed by ship. Although local politicians want the “missing link” paved, environmentalist, drug dealers ,gun runners are all against it, so the gap remains—for now.