Dust And Glory - 1,000 Mile Vintage Iron Off-Road RacePosted in Features on September 11, 2014
The year was 1967. Chevrolet just introduced the Camaro, China detonated its first hydrogen bomb, an upstart magazine called Rolling Stone landed on the newsstands, and the controversy over the Vietnam conflict was nearing the boiling point. While a political tornado was spinning north of the border, a small group of motorheads, off-roaders, and adventurers lined up their steeds near the bullring in Tijuana, Mexico, for a 1,000-mile off-road race.
If old iron is your thing, and you don’t mind dirt in your teeth, the NORRA Mexican 1000 the place to be next May.
On that cool November morning in 1967, the coastal breeze was challenging the searing climes of the inland deserts of the Baja Peninsula. A guy named Ed Pearlman—president of the newly formed National Off-Road Racing Association (NORRA)—picked up a green flag, waved the first vehicle off the starting line, and launched what would become known as the birth of off-road racing, the Mexican 1000 Rally.
A thousand miles to the south, in the sleepy seaside town of La Paz, Mexico, a checkered flag rested in the corner of a hotel lobby. The rules were simple, find the best route to La Paz via five mandatory checkpoints, and be the first one to get there. It was a small but well-publicized affair; for the first time, motorcycles, two-wheel-drive cars, and four-wheel-drive trucks would compete on the same track. All shapes and forms were on hand: a Rambler American, Ford Broncos, Jeeps, and Volkswagen Beetles. Ak Miller and HOT ROD’s Ray Brock showed up in a Ford Ranchero, and automotive pioneer Bruce Meyers (who had recently set the Tijuana–to–La Paz time record) entered a handful of his Manx dune buggies. There was even a Triumph TR3 and ragtag, low-budget ’56 Chevy. It was a real run-what-ya-brung kind of gig.
Much has changed since that inaugural rally, and the Mexican 1000 was taken over by SCORE International, which changed the name to the Baja 1000. Fortunately for dirt-loving hot rodders everywhere, Mike Pearlman (Ed’s brother) resurrected NORRA (NORRA.com) and relaunched what has become known as the General Tire NORRA Mexican 1000.
The concept is much as it was in 1967: patch a vintage rig together, gather some friends that don’t mind eating, breathing, and sleeping in the dirt for four days, and head for Baja. This spring dozens of old-iron examples of automotive moxie met on Ensenada’s malecón to race. If old iron is your thing, and you don’t mind dirt in your teeth, the NORRA Mexican 1000 the place to be next May.
The Eternal Off-Road RacerThe Meyers Manx VW-based Scooby Doo–mobile is as “Baja” as they come. Bruce Meyers set the time record to La Paz in early 1967, and Vic Wilson and Ted Mangels won the inaugural Mexican 1000 in a Manx. The Team 1964 Manx—piloted by Meyers, Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame inductee Marty Fiolka, Dakar veteran Andy Grider, and Wide Open Baja founder Todd Clement—didn’t win, place, or show this year, but Meyers crossed the finish line to a banner celebration.
At 88 years of age, Bruce Meyers, creator of the Manx dune buggy, returned to Baja for what may be his last race. Though he’s not as spry as he once was, his excitement as he shifted through the gears on day one was contagious. As he rolled into the first driver change at San Vicente, he commented, “Baja has changed so much in 50 years, but smell the air, it’s still the same…it feels good!”