Reporting race meetings in the D. S. J. manner must be very satisfying for, with Europe as his base, not only can the Continental Correspondent be present at race meetings but he can also observe the general motoring scene in the area before and after the racing. With myself it is somewhat different, for I have to be back in the office, race report in hand, on Monday morning. Driving up from Italy, Sweden or somewhere like that is not really on, so for transport to all but the nearer meetings I rely on Caravelles, Tridents and other marvels of the jet age. With only three days in the country of the race, and that spent mainly at some race track miles away from civilisation, I rarely have the opportunity to observe local motoring habits in any depth.
Last December, however, I was given the marvellous chance to report the Temporada Series of Formula Two races held in the Argentine Republic, thus giving me a whole month in this South American country. Prior to the visit I knew nothing of the road cars out there and very little about roads and transport generally. Even so it was with amazement that I viewed the strange selection of vehicles in the airport car park when I arrived, and was surprised when we drove out of the airport along a huge three-lane dual carriageway towards Buenos Aires. Unfortunately the road petered out in the middle of the suburbs.
My travels in the country were restricted to the areas where the races were being held and as the Argentine is such a huge country it would be impossible to give an overall picture of the motoring scene. But, in addition to the capital, I visited Cordoba, which is the second largest town in the country, and the earthquake town of San Juan which ranks about sixth largest on population figures. In between these towns the distances are considerable and I—like the average Argentinian business man taking in a similar trip—used the commercial airlines for the journeys. Air travel within the country is popular as it is fairly cheap, the state of the roads is poor, and travel by car becomes very unpleasant due to the tremendous heat.
The mechanics were not so lucky and they were provided with cars by the organisers, while the transporters were driven by locals. There were some graphic descriptions of the journey between Cordoba and San Juan where the road is apparently straight for about 300 miles with just desert and scrubland as scenery. The roads are unmetalled and the cars raise huge dust clouds, although traffic is very sparse indeed. The signposting is bad in both town and country.
The three major towns I visited were all laid out in the American symmetrical style of blocks. At almost every cross-roads the roads meet at right angles; traffic lights are scarce and collisions at these junctions frequent. I cannot recall seeing a single T-junction the whole time I was in the country and there are very few squares like those in London. I may be old-fashioned but I much prefer the ‘higgledy-piggledy’ layout of British towns.
So, what cars does this sort of motoring climate breed? Obviously a strong, long-legged type of machine like a B.M.W. would be well suited but the Argentinian government has imposed a crippling 300% loading on imported cars for they consider that a thriving motoring industry is an essential part of the economic welfare of the Republic. Certainly their industry looks very healthy, although there is little original thinking and the majority of cars are based on foreign designs. Nearly all the automotive companies are either United States or European owned and produce versions of their established models, but they do at least manufacture the great part of the cars rather than acting simply as assemblers of imported parts.
A company with original thinking who have designed their own car is the I.K.A.-Renault group, which is based on the outskirts of Cordoba. I.K.A. stands for Industries Kaiser Argentina and the company is a consortium between the French Renault firm and American Motors. It produces cars under the names of Torino, Rambler, Kaiser Jeep and Renault. The Torino (which has nothing to do with Ford Torino) is by far the most interesting car in the range. There are three saloon models all using the same basic body, which has pretty lines designed by Pininfarina somewhat resembling a stretched Triumph 2000. The most popular model, the 300, has a single overhead cam straight-six engine of 3-litres aspirated by no less than three big Weber carburetters. A more powerful version called the 380W has a 3.8-litre engine of similar configuration which gives 176 b.h.p. and a top speed of 115 m.p.h. The engines, being lightly stressed, can be tuned quite easily and I.K.A.-Renault have recently announced a new fastback version with a more powerful engine. In fact this model carries the name of the tuning firm responsible for the development in the same way that we have Lotus Cortina, Mini Cooper and Brabham Viva over here. All the cars in the range are sturdy and strong and possess good handling and brakes.
Other cars from the IKA-Renault group are less interesting. The popular Rambler model is a locally produced version of the small U.S. 400 saloon, the Jeeps are as seen in the States, and the only Renault produced is the 4L, although there are still a lot of Dauphines to be seen on the roads.
IKA-Renault have a good share in the market but probably not as large as General Motors, who seem to be thriving and in marked contrast with G.M. policy elsewhere have a large official Competitions Department. G.M. market and build some of the smaller compact cars with straight-six engines, and in fact until recently these were imported from the Vauxhall Bedford plant at Luton.
G.M.’s great rival, Ford, seem to rely at present on just the Falcon with only a 6-cylinder engine available, and this model enjoys tremendous popularity although Ford are soon to introduce a Galaxie on to the market as well. The Taunus model was also produced for a while and I saw a Zephyr Mk. 3 which had probably been brought back by a diplomat. Chrysler also have a stake in the Argentinian market, producing a small-engined version of the Valiant which enjoys popularity, but they have now started marketing a Dodge version’ as well.
Renault have already been mentioned but two other French concerns have factories in the Argentine—Peugeot and Citroën. Peugeot’s strong 404 sells well and the 504 is to be introduced in the near future. Citroën only have a small undertaking and at present restrict their activities to making 2 CVs.
I could not understand why I kept seeing so many of the two-stroke Auto Union Sonderklasse models around Buenos Aires in such good condition, for I thought the model died about five years ago. Then I discovered that the 1000S Berlina model is alive and well and still being manufactured in Santa Fe, Argentine Republic. Mercedes-Benz also has an Argentinian subsidiary but this is purely for commercial vehicles. However, most of the foreign diplomats seem to have Mercedes-Benz saloons.
The only other major manufacturer is Fiat, which in fact produce some Argentina-only models. The little 600 model has an 800-c.c. engine installed, and there is a very pretty 1500 coupé model as well as a European-designed 1500 saloon.
Apart from these, the only other make of car I spotted was that of Dinarg. They produce a very odd little four-wheel bubble car rather like a Goggomobil and powered by a 200-c.c. motorcycle engine. No doubt they come off badly when the Argentinians resort to their standard method of parking which entails pushing the other cars along until the gap you wish to park in is large enough. Naturally you leave the handbrake off, the car out of gear, and make sure that you have strong extensions on your bumpers. Apart from this and his predilection for continual horn blowing, the average Argentinian driver possesses a much higher degree of concentration than his British counterpart.
As one can see, the choice of motor car is not very wide and, apart from the models mentioned, it is also possible to obtain Volkswagen and Alfa Romeo models through neighbouring countries but at a rather higher price than normal. The British Motor Corporation did at one time have a share of the market with an Austin A60-based car called the Di Tella 1500 but a couple of years ago they sold the factory out to IKA-Renault. They continued to produce the cars under the Riley and Morris names for a few months before ceasing production altogether. Nevertheless the majority of the black and yellow taxis in the Federal Capital are still Di Tella. In fact, with a careful driver at the wheel, cars last longer thanks to the good climate. There are still a lot of the “gangster era” American saloons in circulation and also vintage machines which would have sent the Editor rushing into print. Model-T Fords in very good condition are common and both Jo Siffert and Jean-Pierre Beltoise purchased examples for shipping back to Europe.
At the moment there are no sports cars in the country at all and enthusiasts even resort to hotting up pick-up trucks. Car prices are expensive compared with European countries, although running costs are low, with petrol at 3s. 3d. per gallon. There are few speed limits and driving is still a great pleasure to many Argentinian motorists. The spread of wealth and prosperity since the 1966 revolution has increased at a good pace and no doubt the automobile industry will thrive and the road conditions improve quickly if the political state of the Argentine remains stable.—A. R. M.