Alastair's Blog

Pan Am Classic Rally - June 2017

- Wednesday, November 15, 2017

From the Atlantic to the Pacific on one of the World’s Great Drives

I set off to San Francisco on the 8th of June to drive my newly acquired, never seen by me, 1962 Tatra 603 across America to Savannah with my friend Hayden helping with driving and hopefully not breakdowns! The Pan Am Classic Rally is mainly a competitive event for cars up to 1978 traversing the Southern United States from Savannah to Durango before heading up the Sierra Nevada’s and Rockies through the old cowboy territory and finishing up on the west coast in Seattle. The whole trip takes more or less a month, I last did it in 2012 and was really looking forward to doing it again, albeit on a different route. Here's the route map.

Here's the car

After a couple of weeks' work by Joe and Hayden's friend Ted, we are finally setting off from San Francisco to Savannah where the Tatra (AKA the Baboon) is to do the Pan Am rally, all the way back to Seattle on July 13th. So we have to travel 2,760 miles just to get to the start! Going to do this very quickly as Hayden needs to get back ??. Hayden and I with the Tatra, my first drive will be to Savannah. 

Hayden getting comfy in the car!

The trip from San Francisco to Savannah was going well.We started out from SF at 22:03 on Friday night. Now we're in Albuquerque at 18:25, 1,084 miles later having crossed Arizona into New Mexico. Average speed 63.5, no problems so far thanks to Joe and Ted, only 1,632 to go and 23 hours before we get to the start.

Aftermath of San Francisco to Savannah drive

We got here! All well went well until Atlanta, 300 miles short of Savannah, when one of the the fan drives in the Tatra flew apart! Came up with a temporary fix and drove slowly to the hotel but made it. 2,721 miles at an average of 65 mph non-stop, you know it makes sense in some way. Hayden and I having lunch today. 

The first day of the PanAm

Set off from Savannah to Spartanburg today. All went well although the motor is not going well. Hopefully it will be fixed tomorrow. We saw alligators, vultures and lots of lovely countryside and met lots of nice Americans. The road book failed to send us the right way as normal several times but we made it in the end and had a good day wrestling with the Tatra.

Spartanburg to Knoxville

2nd day, Spartanburg to Knoxville. Now into the mountains with great twisty roads and lovely scenery. Lots of true Americana, quaint housing, poor people and towns but all cheerful and happy to see us. It is hard for both sides to communicate with the language problem ;) - saw a real living drive-in and lots of self-storage including a log cabin version, pictured below. Sadly the poor Tatra's engine problems came to the fore in the mountains so had to crawl up the hills often in first gear. Anyway the great news it is FIXED !!! So today should be lots better. Two cars have broken rear engines, one poor thing has only 6 cylinders. 

Drive-in breakfast menu followed by the vending machine

Lovely architecture

Hub bearings

We had a busy two days at this point, we had a good time in Nashville but on the way to Memphis where we had a day off, the rear axle noise which we pondered over on the run from California got worse, so sure enough, the right hand rear hub bearings were gone. Big job changing them. Spent our rest day doing this and other bits, including finding and fitting new rear shock absorbers and then on start-up had a new noise! The generator decided to give up the ghost ?? So then there was more frantic work. But we still managed to get to dinner on the banks of the mighty Mississippi and fit in some blues on Beale Street. Busy day off to Fayetteville today.

Across the South

We then had another two days making our way across the South. The Baboon (as the Tatra is nicknamed) still not charging so we are having to run on just the battery, but this is working well so may leave changing the generator until a rest day. It's so hot now, it's very unpleasant working on a hot car. Baboon got new rear shock absorbers in Memphis and is handling a lot better. Had a very rough, fast stage yesterday (fast because we got lost for a while as the road book was wrong again) and the car was great in the gravel, like a Porsche on steroids - just needs another 100HP! Saw some great sights again and can but wonder how run down and poor lots of America is but also hugely commercial with thousands of trucks on the highway and massive trains ?? going by all the time. In Oklahoma City now and is looking very prosperous and massively busy. Off to Amarillo tomorrow on Route 66, the famous coast to coast road. Cars outside the hotel last night in Oklahoma. 

Amarillo to Taos 

Amarillo to Taos - nice drive, change of state to New Mexico. Lovely hotel and really cute town with great bars, shops etc, big hippy vibe. Off to Durango in Colorado today. Nice shot of the Baboon at speed in Tennessee. 

Taos to Durango 

Did the Taos to Durango trip, once again nice roads and great sights. Damaged a rear rim on a big rock, so had to change the wheel on the stage, no easy task with the Tatra so we were out of time by the time I got it done. Good news, we are 5th in the rally but bad news, only 5 cars in it, but still it can't get worse! Had a day off in Durango so changed our generator but no success so still charging the battery to proceed. Then discovered RH rear shock absorber top mount had torn off, so had to find someone to fix it. Found a shop where a young Apache called Swift repaired the mount in minutes. Fantastic job! Apache police car.


It's been a busy few days driving and looking after the Baboon but there have been no big setbacks. We are into the mountains again and about to make the trip to California over the Rockies. Car is going well apart from the charging problem but we're getting by. Has been brutally hot day and night so the inclination to work on the car is very low, it will be good to get to more temperate climes. The scenery is just fantastic with huge views and ever changing geology - it is too much to take in at times. Have our big test now: how to cope with Las Vegas! 

Las Vegas 

Spent a day off in Las Vegas. Horribly hot and horrible place, it is a must to see just to experience it but I loathe it! Thought another visit would change my mind but no, it gets worse. We raced F1 there in the car park of Caesar's Palace many years ago. Went by helicopter to see the Grand Canyon, which was lovely but great to leave. 

Pacific Coast 

We made it! The Tatra has gone coast to coast twice now in a few weeks. Having crossed Death Valley and the mountains, we are now back on the Pacific Coast. Saw millions of almond trees, thousands of oil pumps and our first beehives. Went off route to pay homage to the James Dean crash site and got back on rally route to be fastest on the afternoon test, the Baboon loves the twisty dirt! Cold at last, jumpers on last night, fog this morning. Almond trees and grape vines. 

San Francisco 

Made it back to San Francisco after two trips across the USA. A few more days then Seattle and the end. Met up with cousins Joe and Peggy Odgers in Morro Bay, then had a nice drive through rural California which looks great, golden grass and lovely trees and all so prosperous, big contrast with what we have seen before. Crossed 13 states so far, 2 more to go to get to Seattle. Into San Francisco and a day off and the Fourth of July celebrations. Had a nice night with Tracy and Hayden to celebrate Tracy's birthday and then went looking round SF, took a cab for a tour round the city which was very good, saw lots of bikes from the shoreline, hundreds just cruising past and putting on a show. Sadly the fog spoiled the fireworks so the many thousands who came to the city were disappointed. Off north tomorrow on an easy day, but crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.

SF to Oregon 

Lots of driving, from San Francisco to Yosemite then Lake Tahoe, Eureka, then Rogue River in Oregon. Managed to damage the exhaust when doing some unplanned off-road driving as the road ahead was closed but had to give in and drive through anyway and made it ok. Spent two days with one muffler off the car making lots of noise but fixed now so still just not charging.  Car is running well but we are crossing big passes one after the other so we spend a long time climbing mountains. The scenery is just fantastic and has been ever since we left SF. Lake Tahoe is stunning and we are surrounded by mountains, lakes, rivers. Big Elephant at Blackhawk car museum. 


Drove through miles of beautiful Sequoias. Strange bicycle with high mounted pedals. Californian roadside fruit seller, very nice, spent a while with him sorting out the world. Rural post office in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. Welcome to Oregon sign. Roadside cannabis shop in Merlin, Oregon, where it is now legal. 

San Francisco to San Francisco 

We made it! SF to Savannah then the Pan Am rally up to the finish in Seattle, then back down to our start place, Tracy and Hayden's Wevo shop in San Carlos. Four weeks of trials and tribulations but also a great challenge to keep the Tatra happy and running and this was achieved. 17,126 Km, 10,641 miles in 4 weeks crossing deserts, climbing to 11,000 ft and crossing mountains in searing heat with no sign of distress or overheating. Our only real problem is that it's not charging, but this will be sorted now we have some time. The car was great fun to drive and you get to meet a lot of people who want to know about the car. Such a clever design and all made to be worked on in a sensible fashion. No rest for the wicked, off to Hollywood for the weekend to see the Eagles ?? and Fleetwood Mac play at Dodger Stadium then back to SF, then back to UK on the 21st. Got to get my hot rod going as well. Very smart rig on HW101.

Hot Rod

Finished the Pan Am in Seattle then drove the Tatra back to San Carlos. Got my Hot Rod out and got it running. Goes really well, went to Alice's Restaurant then to the beach in the fog again. Car is beautifully made. Note Tatra resting in the background. Went to Palo Alto for dinner and saw this crazy ice cream shop which makes fresh ice cream using liquid nitrogen. There's a girl in there operating the machine! 

Hotel car park and the Savannah river

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