Corvairs Crossing The South American Darien Gap?

by Wes Kibble on October 6, 2010

Years ago, I heard a story about 3 Corvairs that crossed the Darrien Gap in South America. Honestly, I passed it off as gossip. The version I had heard was that the cars started in Alaska and drove the complete Pan American highway. The cars were in such good shape that they decided to cross the impassable Darien Gap. Yeah….

In fact, Chevrolet drove 3 Corvairs through the Darien Gap in 1961. The cars were actually the same cars that drove the Pan American highway from the USA, through Mexico and to the then-end of the Pan American Highway. I am not sure what prompted the team to continue driving through the swamp land that seperates Panama and Columbia. One car was left in the jungle, while the two remaining cars were left in South America. They probably ended up as taxis or chicken haulers. Although the details are sketchy, one crew member was confirmed killed. It is rumoured that the death was caused by a wild animal. Sources:
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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Brian Basura March 28, 2012 at 10:21 pm

My uncle was the chief mechanic and a driver on that expedition (and the one riding on the hood when they exited the jungle at the far end). At one point there existed a 16mm film roll of outakes which showed some near misses and the hardships the crew went through.

Brian B.


Ron Aaron March 29, 2012 at 10:38 pm

From what I have heard from reading and from someone who had made this crossing in the 70s, this can not be called driving. Rather it is mostly winching up and down steep muddy slopes, lifting/jacking, floating, sliding, prying etc. I would guess that the engines were running only once in a while for the benefit of the cameras. Most of their time was spent clearing vegetation, swatting bugs, digging, winching, pushing, pulling etc. A crew of about 12 is probably the minimum needed. Progress if any is measured in yards traveled daily. About the highest rainfall amount in the world with Malaria, mosquitoes, critters and beasts. Typically the forest is so dense that it is too dark for most photography so the footage you see is shot in the few clearings by rivers.
Clothing whether worn or stored is always wet and mildew and molds take over. Foot rot is the norm as well as skin rashes, welts, sores and infections from the brush and bites. While the video shows this as very difficult, I believe the true conditions are many times worse. Currently there are numerous heavily armed groups and individuals are present as well.
I was told that many vehicle parts were broken in the 70s crossing and had to be helicoptered in including several steering wheels from the stresses placed on them while winching. The crossing took 3-4 months.
Any thoughts of making this crossing in a vehicle are insane. On foot it is a challenge. Vehicles create a burden, multiple vehicles just creates multiple burdens.
The temps are usually in the high 90s with very high humidity.
If you are patient and watch carefully you can actually see the plants growing often 1-2 inches per day.
There is an article from the mid 1980s in the magazine of The South American Explorers Club about a crossing.
Construction of a road will be an ecological disaster.


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