If, like me, you watched Race Across the World, you probably noticed the abundance of French tat on the streets of Argentina. I promised myself I’d fly over there to look at the 80s and 90s French cars, but a PetrolBlog reader has got there first.
Here, Australia-based Bruce Jamieson – owner of one of the few PetrolBlog stickers to make it to the Southern Hemisphere – documents his time in South America with the help of some wonderful pics. Over to you, Bruce.
The South American continent has a lot to offer: deserts, rainforests, glaciers, fjords and barbecued meats. However, for a motoring tragic like me, it offers something else. It’s a weird time-warped culture clash of cars, some of which exist only on the world’s most southerly inhabited continent.
If you’re worried about European cities banning the battle-scared pre-millennium cars from their streets, sleep easy tonight. South America – and in particular, Argentina – is a haven for such cars. Some streets in Buenos Aires look like Paris circa-1995. It’s absolutely superb.
The old adage of ‘French cars never die’ is an expression I’ve never really bought into. The Mercedes-Benz W124, perhaps. But French tat? Not really.
Things have changed for this non-believer. Argentina is the place to go if you want to see sun-bleached examples of the Renault 12, Peugeot 504 and Citroën CX.
You’ll also see examples of the Renault 17, 18, 19, 21 and Fuego, plus the Peugeot 205, 505 and 306. From pristine examples to others held together with tape and a prayer, almost every French car you thought was endangered is represented in Argentina.
The streets are awash with other delights, too. There are Fiats (so many Fiats), Alfa Romeos, Mercs, Volkswagens, truly ancient GM Europe products wearing a Chevy badge, and even the odd Rover.
Even in 2020, these oldies share the streets, not with urban SUVs and crossovers, but with slightly more modern cars. I’m talking about traditional hatchbacks and three-box sedans (You mean Shatchbacks, surely?! – ed.).
The vast majority of them have manual gearboxes. Writing from Australia, where the automatic is often the only option, seeing people shift their own gears is so refreshing. The art of driving is not dead.
Of course, I know the reason for the abundance of manual European cars: the bottom line. After European buyers grew tired of these models 25 years ago, the manufacturers simply shifted production to South America and kept on selling to people who needed budget transport.
Take the Renault 12. By 1980, the French had washed their hands of the ageing saloon and had moved on to flogging the Renault 18. However, Renault kept building the 12 and the 18 alongside each other in Argentina until 1994.
Ignoring Volkswagen and the well publicised Brazilian-made Beetle, other manufacturers are also guilty. Peugeot churned out the 405 until 2001, and the 206 until 2016, a full decade after it was replaced in Europe by the 207.
Fiat is arguably the unsung hero of selling wonderful old tat. Production of the Fiat Uno didn’t end until 2014, with some 3.5 million of the things built in Brazil. Which raises a moral question: is it OK for large multinational corporations to sell old and now unsafe designs to a different demographic?
I question the practice, but I cannot deny the love of seeing these cars on the road. Best of all, if the 1970s cars are so abundant now, then our collective 1990s favourites will still be around in 2040…
As a pretend Australian, another offshoot of Argentinian car culture took me by surprise: the Ford Falcon.
I am ashamed to admit but I was naive to the Falcon story beyond its Aussie motoring icon status. However, I soon discovered that, much like all those wonderful French cars, Argentina built its own Falcons for nearly 30 years (1962-91).
But unlike Australia, where we saw five generations of Falcon in that period, Argentina just kept redefining the 1960s original, building nearly half a million examples. With many littering the motoring landscape, the 80s versions were the ones that caught my eye.
They are some of the oddest looking cars I’ve ever come across. A gorgeous 60s silhouette still exists, but it’s mashed with elements of other 1980s Fords. Mk3 Escort rubber bumpers, Mk3 Cortina front fascias and Sierra-style wheels are just some of the parts bin pilfering that appears to have gone on to keep the cars current.
The last piece of patchwork in the quilt of South American motoring is the influx of the all-American pick-up. Many vintage trucks can be seen hauling goods to markets as they were intended. However, I spotted brand new giant F150s, Silverados and RAMs being the vehicle of choice for more affluent South Americans.
This is no bad thing. But when these behemoths are sharing roads with 1970s era French tat, the whole thing seems preposterous and traffic jams look ridiculous. A collision between the two would see the French car obliterated, while the F150 driver would think they just splattered a large insect on the front grille.
The ‘go for the overtake first, deal with the consequences later’ style of driving makes the chances of a coming together of transatlantic marques quite high.
Even after two months on the continent, there was definitely more car culture to explore. Alas, my wife can only tolerate so many detours to take pictures of tat. But hopefully I have given some insight into the fascinating car culture South America has to offer.
I wish I had taken more pictures of the obscure stuff I saw and wandered deeper into the neighbourhoods. Maybe I’ll get the chance to go back. I hope the streetscapes do not change as quickly as they seem to be in the rest of the world. Viva la Tat revolución!