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Classic Drives Panamerican Highway


For many, cars are not merely a way of getting from A to B

In particular where classic cars are concerned they are part of a dream, an experience, or a way of life.

So we’re going to look at creating those dreams – you’ve got your classic car, where’s the best place to drive it? Even if you’re not yet the owner of a classic there’s an experience to be had, with bespoke rentals a great way of getting behind the wheel of something super-cool.

Having been to Japan in the last article, in this final edition we’re going out with a bang – the Pan-American Highway.

And if we inspire you to start looking for one of your own, check out our for sale section.

Where to go

We weren’t joking when we said we were ending this series with a big one. The Pan-American Highway isn’t as simple as it might sound – it’s a network of roads rather than one single route.

But its scope is massive, with its total length running to around 19,000 miles – the only break in that route being the 100 miles of the Darien Gap between South America and Central America. But, otherwise, it links most of the mainland countries in the Americas in a single system.

According to Guinness World Records it is the longest ‘motorable road’. So that gives you plenty of road to choose from, going through a variety of diverse climates from dense jungle to arid desert.

You might think that such a vast thing might have just sort of come together over time, but the Pan-American Highway was actually planned as early as 1889 – first as a railway.

That never happened, but, in 1923, the idea was transposed over to a highway instead and, in 1937 a host of countries signed up to make it happen.

Today it’s split into the Northern Pan-American Highway and the Southern Pan-American Highway. The northern travels through nine countries – Canada, the USA, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.

The southern section incorporates eight – Suriname, Guyana, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina. It also has spur roads into Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. So there’s plenty of scope for your personal road trip.

For those who don’t quite have the time to do the entire route, we recommend starting in Panama and heading north right up to Alaska – that way you get to enjoy a host of climates and cultures along the way.

What to take

So we figured there are two very important criteria here. One, it needs to be a classic, obviously. But, secondly, it also needs to be pretty tough to do a big road trip that traverses a host of climates and terrain.

We’ve also chosen makes and models that can be picked up for a reasonable price – if you fancy buying a car for your trip when you arrive – and have good access to parts and repairs throughout the route.

The Toyota Land Cruiser has been built since 1951, which is a testament in itself to the tough stuff of which it is made. It’s Toyota’s longest-running series and it has sold, and continues to sell, across the globe.

For a mix of classic and modern, we’d recommend a 1980s or 1990s model, perhaps, but the choice is yours. Likewise the Mitsubishi Pajero is pretty long-running as well, having been made since 1982.

It’s another tough, reliable, choice. There’s a bit of a Japanese theme there, as we’re also recommending the Nissan Pathfinder.

If you want reliable and tough, the Japanese have it nailed. The Pathfinder has been built since 1985 and is another that’s loved around the world for its toughness and longevity.

But it’s not all about the Japanese – the Germans can do hard-wearing as well and the Mercedes-Benz G-Class has been built since 1979, with something of a cult following ever since.

And, finally, we figured that at least one vehicle from the Americas should feature and, while there are plenty of US pickups and SUVs to choose from, the Ford Ranger has been going since 1965 in various guises.

So, if you want to enjoy a bit of Americana along the way, it’s a good choice.

What to see

On a road this long it seems almost futile offering up suggestions of what to see when there is so much diversity on offer through several countries, but here we have a little taster, at least.

Panama City, the capital of Panama, is located at the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal and dates back to 1519, when it was founded by Spaniard Pedro Arias Davila.

As well as having plenty of architecture to behold alongside restaurants, bars, museums and more, the canal is well worth a visit as well. Moving on into El Salvador, take a stop at Joya De Ceren.

Basically Central America’s version of Pompeii in Italy, it’s an ancient village that has been preserved under volcanic ash.

In Mexico, Uxmal is a must-see. It’s a Mayan step pyramid and is the tallest structure in Uxmal. One of the legends of how it came into being is that a dwarf who hatched from an iguana egg built it in just one night.

Moving into the USA, the somewhat boringly named Very Large Array in New Mexico is just that – a collection of 27 of the world’s most powerful radio antennae.

Their purpose is more interesting, though – they observe black holes and star formations in galaxies far, far away. The Old West conjures up some exciting images and a real life one is the hole in the wall hideout at Wyoming.

This was where outlaws like Jesse James, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid hid from the law in the Bighorn Mountain Pass.

As you go north things get somewhat colder and Tombstone Territorial Park in Yukon, Canada, is an expansive park on the edge of the Arctic Circle. Its somewhat dark name comes from the black granite peaks that resemble grave markers.

Also in Yukon, the Sourtoe Cocktail is something that needs to be seen to be believed. It is what it sounds like. Visit the Downtown Hotel in Dawson City and enjoy a special champagne cocktail garnished with, yes, a salted human toe.

End point for your Pan-American Highway journey is Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. It couldn’t be more far removed from our starting point in Panama.

Finding a place to stay won’t be a problem. The permanent population of the somewhat aptly named Deadhorse is around 25, yet the Aurora Hotel is home to 400 beds.

How to get there

Assuming that you’re not going to be shipping your classic over to the Americas, it’s pretty simple – fly over and pick up a rental.

Then again, some people actually like to buy a car to do this trip in. And, if you’re looking at some of the rough-and-ready suggestions that we’ve outlined above, who’s to say you can’t do so for not a lot of money.

When you’re done you can sell it on, or, depending on how attached to it you are, ship it back home.

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