A Racer That Doesn’t Go Over 50 MPH

The Four Percent

Miles Seter, 80, a retired manufacturer of filters living in Punta Gorda, Fla., on his 1954 Lincoln Capri, as told to A.J. Baime.

When I was young, I read this magazine article called “With the Lincolns in Mexico.” I don’t even remember the name of the magazine. I just thought it was the coolest article. It was about the Mexican road race in 1954. This race, officially called La Carrera Panamericana, was created as a promotion for Mexico when the country finished its section of the Pan-American Highway, which ran from South America to Alaska. Mexico started this race in 1950.

The race had Ferraris and it also had Volkswagens. And they would go through these checkpoints, through the entire country. At the time, this was one of the most famous and exciting races in the world. I have videotapes shot from an airplane, and you can see the cars going through the mountains. There were some big-name racers. But there were also a lot of accidents. So many pedestrians came to see the race cars, and some of them would get hit. Because of that, Mexico canceled the race after 1954.

Photos: When Mexico Was the Land of Lincolns

Miles Seter shows off his 1954 Lincoln Capri

Since he was 14, says Miles Seter, ‘I always had it in my head that I would drive a 1954 Lincoln.’

Eve Edelheit for The Wall Street Journal

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Lincoln wanted to market its Capri model, and so a team of Lincolns entered the race in 1952. Lincoln won it in its class three years in a row. [A Lincoln racing driver said in 1954 that the Capri could reach speeds of about 130 mph.] When I read about it in 1954, I was 14 years old. I tried to convince my father to buy a Lincoln, but he bought a Ford instead. Ever since, I always had it in my head that I would drive a 1954 Lincoln.

Many years later, I was traveling through Indiana and I went to a car museum in the town of Auburn. There was this 1954 Lincoln racing car behind a rope. I took pictures of it. Fifteen years after that, I went back to that same museum looking for the car. It was on loan to a different museum, but while I was there, I asked the museum officials if they ever sold any of their cars. They did. After some negotiating, I bought the 1954 Lincoln in 2018.

The car is actually a replica race car created by a previous owner. This man, whose name was Whitlock, was also fascinated by the Mexican road race. Upon hearing that Mexico was going to recreate the race as a rally in 1988, Mr. Whitlock went out and found a 1954 Lincoln Capri, and built it out as a 1954 race car, to enter the rally.

When I bought it, the car was not running. I brought it to a friend of mine named Al Fox who is a great mechanic, and it sat in his garage for about a year and a half. Between the cost of the car and the work on it, it cost me basically what a new Lincoln might cost today. It still needs some odds and ends, but it is so much fun to drive. I don’t go too far with it, and I have not gotten up over 50 mph in the past year. But the amount of attention it gets—people are just so curious as to what it is. And I like to tell the story of the time when I was 14, when I first heard about the Lincolns racing in Mexico.

Write to A.J. Baime at myride@wsj.com

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