The Hardworking Cars of Chile and Argentina

Last I checked, the world is a pretty huge place. That means there’s lots of room for cars on it, and, even better, the kinds of cars that are scattered over the globe tend to be remarkably varied. If you’re like me, you want to know what those far-flung carscapes are like, everywhere. So, let me help you by showing you the carscapes of two places, Chile and Argentina.

I was lucky enough to encounter these cars thanks to a Mini-sponsored trip to drive the Pan-American Highway. I came on for the last leg, from Santiago, Chile to the dangling appendix of South America in Ushuaia, Argentina.

Along the way, I saw cars. Lots and lots of cars. And those cars tended to be quite different from what you’d encounter in North America or Europe. The cars of the parts of South America I was in I think are dominated by one overarching commonality: work.

The Chilean and Argentinian cars I saw generally did not lead pampered lives. Conditions can tend to be a bit rougher and dirtier than is generally found in, say, the United States or much of Europe, and these cars are expected to do their jobs without complaint, whatever those jobs may be, from family hauler to a single person’s commuter to a delivery vehicle, to an old Renault that looks like it’s doing the job of two mules and a taxi.

I have a lot of respect for the cars I saw, and the variety and mix of types and nationalities of cars in Chile and Argentina is impressive. There’s a lot of European brands, usually locally built, like the ever-present Renaults, but there’s also a lot of Chinese brands zipping around and Indian cars as well, all coexisting with American-market full-size pickup trucks.

It’s a strange mix, far more global than the American market, humble but honest, and I found a few incredibly rare niche cars no one but geeks like me could possibly give a shit about, so that makes me very happy.

Okay! Let’s see what we’ve got!

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When I first landed at the airport in Santiago, I was immediately confronted with this, an ad for an MG SUV, absolutely confirming I was entering a strange, unknown automotive world.

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I saw this sign at the airport! I wonder who this Joson guy is? He seems pretty cool.

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Leaving the United States exposes a traveler to a host of exotic dangers, not the least of which is spotting Ssang Yong Rodiuses driving around, where they can be seen without warning and with unprotected eyes.

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It’s no secret that I’m an unashamed Daihatsu fan, so here’s a car unfamiliar to most Americans, a Daihatsu Terios.

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Chinese cars are getting better all the time, but their naming game could still use some help: Meet a modern, purposeful-looking truck called the Great Wall Wingle.

Wingle.

I’m sure American hardcore truck bros would love to drive a truck called a Wingle.

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Here’s another Chinese SUV, the one that has the Starfleet insignia as their logo. This one is a Changan.

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I didn’t see all that many classics around Santiago, but there were a few, including this very clean Jaguar XJ. I like the color, too—it’s like a bread mold green.

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Most of the cars I saw were pretty mass-market, affordable vehicles, but there were some high-en cars, like this Gulf-livery-colored Cayman.

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Chevy everywhere else in the world (particularly in South America) is vastly different from Chevrolet in their homeland. A good example of this is this car right here, a sort of smallish MPV-like thing called the Chevy Spin.

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Chile (and, you’ll see, Argentina) is one of the very few places I’ve been where you can find Japanese-market Kei cars driving around on the street, like this charming little Suzuki van.

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I’ve also not seen this many Mahindras anywhere outside of India. But it makes sense to see them here, as these rough-and-ready Mahindra trucks seem to be very well adapted to the conditions and jobs here.

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Here’s a slightly fancier Mahindra, in SUV form.

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These old South American Chevettes were very different than what we had in the U.S. Chevette-wise, and I think are much cooler. It’s kind of surprising given that they were all on the same global T Platform from GM, more like a European Opel Kadett or the Isuzu I-Mark we got here than the U.S. Chevette itself. While this Chilean Chevette is badged a Chevrolet, Argentinian-built Chevettes were badged as GMCs, which is intriguing.

South American Chevettes can still be seen around, and back in the day they were taxis and family cars and other sorts of fleet vehicles, and could be thought of as South America’s Crown Vic. Sorta.

I like the lamp-sandwich taillight design, too.

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Man, I wish we got modern Citroëns in the U.S. They’re like freaking spaceships.

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I was hoping to see more air-cooled Volkswagens in South America, but I was really in the wrong part of the continent for that; air-cooled VWs are much more common in Brazil, on the other side of South America. I did manage to see one as it zipped by us, and it’s even a Mexican-built one, not Brazilian.

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This old Nissan truck was really well maintained for something that clearly did a job every day. Someone really loves their old truck.

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Here’s another Chevette. Those huge roof racks seem almost standard on these things.

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Did you know there’s a truck version of the Dacia/Renault Duster? There is, and it’s called an Oroch, and I think it’s pretty damn cool. Thanks to the stupid Chicken Tax, we’ll never see useful, small trucks like this in America, so, tough shit for us, I guess.

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We had these as Samaurais in the U.S. but here it’s a Suzuki Jimny, this one looks like it’s a second-gen one, from the mid-to-late ‘90s or so.

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This was one of the more premium cars I saw, an Alfa Romeo 159. These are really sleek-looking sedans; I especially like the determined front-end treatment. These were the last of the front-wheel drive-based midsizers from Alfa, but I think it’s actually way better looking than the current rear-drive Giulia.

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Look at this cute fella! Another kei van, a third-generation Mitsubishi Minicab, workin’ for a living far from the home islands. This one was clearly loved and well-maintained by its owner, who I bet has given it some awesome name.

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I wanted to look closer at this VW Saveiro pickup, but that dog was having none of it. I don’t want any trouble.

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Oh hell yeah, Argentinian-built jackpot! This is an IKA Estanciera, which was what they called the Argentine version of the Willys Jeep Station Wagon.

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Fun fact: the crude-looking body was designed by Brooks Stevens so that it could be built by sheet metal fabricators who were more used to making sheet metal bodies for appliances like washers and refrigerators!

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The front end has the fancier Jeep grille like a Jeepster. They made these things, looking almost the exact same, from 1957 to 1970, so I have no idea how old this one is.

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There’s some interesting Peugeot 504s down in South America, like this one that has more modern and updated taillights than I think I’ve seen on a 504 in Europe.

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If there’s any car that really typifies the everycar of Argentina, I’d say it’d have to be one of these locally-built Renault 12s. I saw them everywhere, in all kinds of conditions, wagon versions, sedans, home-modified trucks, everything. They seem to do every job and are everywhere. Lots of respect for the 12.

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This is one of the only places outside of America where I’ve seen so many old Ford F-100s and other U.S.-market trucks. These things are really used to their limits, and you often see them with custom beds and enclosures, like this one, which feels like a charming mountain cabin stuck on the back of that old truck.

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I know it’s a pretty blatant knockoff of the Chevy/Daewoo Matiz (even famously having doors interchangeable with the car it was copying), but I like these Chery QQs and their hilariously cartoonish faces. Getting hit by one of these if you’re walking must be confusing, being dealt so much pain by something that looks like it’s about to burst out giggling and farting bubbles at any moment.

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There’s old Soviet and Russian cars around as well, like this very tired Lada Niva. Seriously, this place has everything.

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I don’t know much about this camper/tour bus thing, but I liked it. It was bigger than some of the houses I saw.

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It’s not a great photo, but see that truck in the middle? That’s an Argentine Ford Ranchero, based on the old 1960 Falcon body. Very cool! Why aren’t more Americans trying to import and restore these things?

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Hey! Another air-cooled VW! This bus with the delightful hockey stick stripe kit is a Brazilian-built bus; you can tell because it has the more modern ‘bay-window’ front, yet the low vents and rear of an old split-window bus.

That front is well protected by that mobile fence, too.

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More Falcons! I like this one because it’s a wagon and it has the 1980s front end that hilariously tried to update the 1960 design to make the car look more modern. I don’t think they succeeded in that, but I love the schizophrenic look of it all.

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A Fiat 600! See it, there, in green, hiding behind that utility pole? These were once common in Argentina, but this was the only (intact) one I saw in the wild.

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This red truck was one of the trickiest cars for me to identify, since we had absolutely nothing like it in the U.S., and, in truck form, it’s pretty unknown outside of South America. It’s a Fiat 1500 Multicarga. It’s a very handsome truck, I think.

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Once very common but now almost extinct are these Renault 4s. These used to be one of the most common cars out here, practical and rugged, but I only saw a few. The ones I did see appeared to still be in regular, active use, so good for them!

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For me, this was the Holy Grail car I wanted to find: an IES America. IES made Citroën 2CVs under license, but modified them in a number of ways, with funny plastic grilles and headlights integrated (sorta) into the fenders and full hatchbacks.

When I spotted this one on the side of the road I parked as soon as I could and sprinted a quarter mile to get pictures.

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I couldn’t tell if I felt like puking from the run or the excitement. This red one was in pretty rough shape, but there was a much better sibling nearby:

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Yes, that says 3CV, which is clearly one better than the original Citroën 2CV. The 3CV was the IES 2CV-derivative made before the America, and was closer to the original, but had a full rear hatch.

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Here’s another 3CV spotted nearby. It looks like a friendly robot frog.

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This is a rear end on a Peugeot 504 I’ve never seen anywhere else. It’s awkward, but I sort of like it.

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Also, I like the sophisticated way the owner prepared their car for the colder winter months.

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This Fiat Uno looked like it might be a 4x4 version, but I rolled under there and didn’t see a rear differential. Still, it looks tough.

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Santa Cruz, Argentina has the biggest sculpture of a guy turning a valve that I’ve ever seen.

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I wanted to show this Renault 12 as an example of how hard cars, especially these old Renaults, seem to get worked here. This thing was still going, despite looking like an automotive zombie. I’m very impressed with cars like these that take decades of beatings and refuse to die.

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This is a later Argentinian version of a Fiat 127, and it was in very clean shape. Plus, I’m still a sucker for a good spare-in-the-engine-bay.

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Here it is, everyone, the filthiest Citroën Berlingo in the world. I’m sure you’ve read about it somewhere, or maybe seen it when Beyonce had it shipped to America so it could be at her 10-year wedding anniversary*.

*This may not be true.

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In Argentina, Mahindra trucks are police vehicles, and you can see that the big trucks are of the cabover variety, like in Europe, as opposed to the front-engine/big hood variety, like we have in the U.S.

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Working! What a great, no-bullshit name for a little truck! A Fiat Working!

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Then again, if you like your trucks with more bullshit, how about a Chinese truck that’s trying to look like a BMW? This is a Jinbei, which is a brand of Brilliance, which has an official joint venture with BMW over there.

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Whoever owns this VW Gol GTI gave it a pretty sweet two-tone paint scheme here.

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Big American vans show up all over the place. Some seem to add pretty significant percentages of square footage to the smaller houses.

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I really like these VW CrossFoxes. I like the whole idea of a small 4x4 hatchback with a spare tire mounted on the rear. I feel like these could catch on in the U.S. if given a chance, right?

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Here’s a very original and intact old Falcon, looking very much like a North American-market Falcon, save maybe for the odd bumper overriders. I love that these cars had such a rich second life below the equator.

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I’m not familiar with this Renault van (It’s a Renault Trafic! -ed.), but I think it’s pretty dashing. I could see an Argentine A-Team getting good use out of this thing.

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I left via Buenos Aries, and didn’t spend much time there beyond a cab ride, but I did spot one guy driving a very clean-looking little yellow rubber-bumper’d MGB. Way to go, MG owner. I wanted to end this with the proper kind of MG, as a way of rectifying the madness at the beginning.

There’s fascinating cars all over the world, and if I can, I’m going to show you all of them! Ooh ha ha ha ha ha!

(Corrections: thanks to commenters, I fixed a VW Gol and Saviero IDs.)

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus, 2020 Changli EV • Not-so-running: 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!: https://rb.gy/udnqhh)

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DISCUSSION

fermorcillo
FerMorcillo

First of all, I’m Argentinean, and I thank you for showing this pictures of the working cars around my country. We have all sorts of cars, and we went through various periods in our automotive world, from big american cars, to South American produced models from European manufacturers to the Chinese “things” we get these days.

That F100 you saw is a very common sight in our country, specially with wooden cabs in the back. They are commonly described as “fletes” (freight), their owners offer their time and trucks to use them to move stuff around, from people moving houses to transporting goods. They ALL have very old, and quite well mantained american trucks.

The Fiat Uno you saw isn’t 4x4. They never made a 4x4 Uno, and the owner probably used aftermarket plastic wheel arch covers. It’s high off the ground who knows why. Though I have to say there are a lot of cars in South America that are designed to look like “off road” cars, but they aren’t.

That’s the case with the VW CrossFox you saw. It’s not 4x4 either. It’s just a normal Fox, but facelifted to look a bit off roady. A bit useless if you ask me, they are not good for off roads, but people like them so they buy them a lot. The VW Suran and the Renault Sandero also have variants like those.