When Argentina ruled the Nürburgring

There are two great moments in Argentine motoring history centered around the Nürburgring and then there’s a third, a fourth-place finish at a race you’ve never heard of. Of course it’s the latter that’s the pride and joy of Argentine car enthusiasts: the story of the Torinos at the 1969 Nürburgring 84 Hours.

Great Argentine feats at the Nürburgring call to mind two days over half a century apart. On August 4, 1957, Juan Manuel Fangio drove the race of his life in the Maserati 250F at the 1957 German Grand Prix, where he broke the lap record ten times and won both his last race and his last Formula One drivers’ title. Fifty-three years later, on June 29, 2010, Horacio Pagani’s Zonda R broke the Nordschleife lap record for road-based cars, posting a time of 6:47.50. But in Argentina, it’s neither Fangio’s long-ago win nor Pagani’s remote hypercar that you’ll first come across. It’s the IKA Torinos facing off the Lancias, BMW’s and Dafs, and coming out on top. Sort of on top.

What’s a Torino? It’s a third-generation AMC Rambler American redesigned by Pininfarina and manufactured in the Córdoba suburb of Santa Isabel by Industrias Kaiser Argentina (IKA) between 1966 and 1982. A big, pleasant, comfortable car, it came with a 3.7-liter Jeep Tornado straight six, also made in Santa Isabel. Argentinian men will look with a proud half-smile at the ubiquitous Torinos which still dot the country and point out that they are good cars, before they beeline for the nearest carnicería for beef.

The race was a ludicrous endurance epic called the Le Marathon de la Route, also known as the Nürburgring 84 Hours, held on the combined Nord- und Südschleife on August 19–22, 1969. If you’ve ever been to an endurance race, you’ll know how the time and the noise and the lack of sleep play havoc on the mind. After a few hours, memories of one’s pre-race life recede. 84 hours is three and a half days of racing. On the Nürburgring. This was a serious race.

IKA sent three Torinos to Germany, accompanied by Juan Manuel Fangio, who coached the drivers along the Nürburgring’s one gazillion corners and whose son Oscar shared the #1 car with Luis Di Palma and Carmelo Galbato. The field was a menagerie of Europe’s period sports saloons and coupés—BMW 2002’s, Lancia Fulvias, Renault Gordinis—with a healthy smattering of Datsuns and Mazdas to make for a remarkably international field. There was also a Fiat 125 on the grid, co-driven by none other than Luca di Cordero Montezemolo, who would go on to serve as Enzo Ferrari’s assistant, Scuderia Ferrari’s team principal and Fiat’s and Ferrari’s

When Argentina ruled the Nürburgring

chairman, and who’s also on an informal track to become the next Prime Minister of Italy, if and when Silvio Berlusconi is finally overwhelmed by his bunga bunga parties. He finished the race 9th. Montezemolo, not Berlusconi.

Over the three and a half days of the race, which started on a Tuesday, the Nürburgring showed its capricious side with rainstorms, fog, sunshine, whatever the Eifel Mountains could throw at the racers. The race was between the Torinos and the Lancias. Each team lost two of its three cars, until on Friday the lone remaining #3 Torino driven by Eduardo Copello, Alberto “Larry” Rodriguez-Larreta and Oscar Mauricio Franco finished the race with the most laps: 334. However, various penalties incurred during the race meant that it was the #38 Lancia Fulvia which came out ahead, despite being two laps down, and the Torino was officially classified

When Argentina ruled the Nürburgring

fourth. The car is now on display at the Museo Juan Manuel Fangio in Balcarce, Argentina, Fangio’s hometown.

Nobody cares about the final classification in Argentina. The Córdoba-based team showed that it could run with the best of Europe on Europe’s toughest circuit, racing against BMW’s, Porsches, Alfa Romeos, and Lancias. “It’s some sort of a legend between car enthusiasts here,” was how Jalopnik reader Guillermo Flynn described the Torino’s unlikely triumph to me. This is certainly evident when you walk down Florida Street, Buenos Aires’s main tourist drag. Joining posters of beef cuts, yerba maté and Diego Maradona are big, happy posters of the sort-of-winning Torino, which, like Fangio before and Pagani after, left Argentina for Europe and came away triumphant.

Special thanks to Guillermo Flynn. Period illustration scanned by Torino enthusiast site Tu Torino. Photo of Torino in museum by Luis Argerich. You can read more about the race in Spanish on the Taringa forum and see photos from the race here.