The Convention on the Pan-American Highway was signed in 1936, yet four years later, the route was ill-defined and extremely rough. Richardson relied on gut instinct and local directions to navigate, and the expedition was dependent on good will throughout, from locals, farmers, fellow travellers and businesses.
1 18 NOVEMBER 1940 Detroit, United States
The trio sets off on the easy leg of the expedition, from Detroit to the Mexico border, enjoying good-quality roads across the US.
2 30 NOVEMBER Nogales, US–Mexico border
The expedition crosses into Mexico and drives toward Guaymas, making 54 miles during the first afternoon. Soon, however, everything changes, as infrastructure and sealed surfaces evaporate and the adventure proper begins.
3 10 DECEMBER Mazatlán, Mexico
Having spent ten days dragging the Plymouth through the mud, the three celebrate Mazatlán’s paved streets, ice cream, Coca-Cola and ocean views. To save money, they sleep rough on a rock by the sea.
4 15-25 DECEMBER Mexico City
A fraction of the size of the modern megatropolis, the trio find Mexico City a pleasant place with good roads and enjoy a meeting with the future president, Miguel Alemán, impressing on him the importance of the highway. They depart on Christmas Day, passing Popocatépetl, an active volcano just south of the city, taking treacherous mountain tracks towards Oaxaca.
5 FEBRUARY 1941 Talisman Bridge, Guatemala
After three months on the road, and with Sullivan having just flown back to the US for spare parts, the car enters Central America by crossing the Talisman Bridge from Mexico into Guatemala.
6 MARCH-APRIL Guatemala City – Managua
Racing (in vain) against the approaching rains, the trio thunder along the good roads of Guatemala and El Salvador, before coming unstuck in the muck of Honduras and Nicaragua, where their progress slows.
7 APRIL-MAY San Jose, Costa Rica – Panama City
After five months on the road, the Plymouth is placed on a train to Puntarenas to circumvent Cerro de la Muerte (the Mountain of Death), and then another train to David, Panama’s second city, from where they drive to Panama City.
8 27 MAY Bogotá, Colombia
Having arrived in Colombia at Buenaventura, aboard the Elliot Line ship, the gang travels to Bogotá. They leave the Colombian capital six months and nine days after departing Detroit, not yet having travelled even half way to Cape Horn.
9 JUNE Ecuador – Peru – Chile
After a train journey through Canyon Diablo to Guayaquil in Ecuador, and a boat trip to Talara in Peru, the team drives to Lima. On Monday 23 June, they leave the Peruvian capital to motor 560 washboard miles through the desert, between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean, to Chile, where the arid Atacama Desert awaits them. The car loses a wheel twice during this section.
10 JULY Patagonia, Argentina
From Santiago, with the mountain roads rendered impassable by winter conditions, the trio load the Plymouth onto a Trans-Andean Railroad train and travel into Argentina. Driving via Mendoza and Bahía Blanca into Patagonia, they’re joined by Valdemar Melton in a Chrysler car, but the extra man, traumatised by the driving conditions, flees the expedition in Río Gallegos.
11 MONDAY 28 JULY Magallanes (Punta Arenas), Chile
Narrowly escaping the clinging mud of El Distrito Chocolate, the travellers arrive in Magallanes. Sullivan cables TheDetroitNews: “After two weeks of mud, the expedition pulled into Magallanes, world's southernmost city, at 10:15 this morning. Stop. Fifteen thousand seven hundred and forty-five miles by our speedometer.”
12 19 AUGUST Cape Horn
The Fools depart Magallanes pier on the Galvarino, headed for the true end of the continent. “So we made Cape Horn,” Richardson writes, when he’s recovered from the battering the subsequent storm served up. “Approximately sixteen thousand miles south from Michigan's Great Lakes; home of the automotive industry which will one day make cars again instead of tanks. And those cars will travel rapidly and comfortably over ribbons of pavement through those thousands of miles over the great Pan-American Highway, spanning two continents.”