Before The Imports, The Argentinian-Made Lutteral Comahue Was The Coolest Car Money Could Buy In South America
Photography by Alvaro Pinzón
On a recent trip to Argentina I found one of the coolest tuner cars money could buy there in the early 1970s: the Lutteral Comahue, a GT car based on the IKA Torino coupe.
To give you some context, the beginning of the Lutteral Comahue story is set in 1967, when the IKA Torino was a newly successful Argentinian-built car. These Torinos were constructed using some base chassis components from the AMC Rambler paired with the Jeep Tornado engine, blended together with styling ordered by Juan Manuel Fangio from Pininfarina, along with some local engineering on top. In other words, it came from a lot of places, but the Torino was the ultimate effort to make a proper Argentinian car.
And in many regards it achieved what it set out to. For one, it was very competent in motorsport (as outlined in our past article about the Torinos that ran the Nürburgring 84 Hours), and being born during the golden age of the car racing in Argentina, the Torino also made a significant impact in the local TC racing series, mainly competing against the popular Argentinian-made Ford Falcon.
Some teams that used the car in the TC series started to modify the bodywork to make them more aerodynamic, and one such team modified the rear half of the car with a large curved plastic and fiberglass extension which made the car’s profile more like a fastback. One of the modified Torinos was raced by a driver who went by “Larry,” who used the odd Torino to the become the first non-works team to win TC races. The aero package was the work of the “department of special bodywork from the team Lutteral Competition,” a racing development division of one of the larger Torino dealers, owned by a young entrepreneur named Juan Carlos Lutteral.
Juan Carlos Lutteral had a unique vision for the Torino, and with the team’s experience in racing them, he decided to extrapolate the motorsport efforts to cars that could be sold to the public, and in 1968, just two years after the launch of the Torino, he offered a radical upgrade package that was known as the Lutteral Comahue. The company was similar to early AMG, Brabus, Shelby, and Alpina packages, in that they took their chosen car to another level both in terms of aesthetic and mechanical performance.
You have to try to imagine the time and general context in which this was happening to really appreciate the Comahue. Imports were restrictive—very expensive or otherwise impossible to attain—which had the effect of stimulating the development of local cars by local companies, which was occurring at a time when the Argentinian economy was in particularly good shape—in fact, it was one of the most developed of its time.
I was not around in the late 1960s though, so with a growing curiosity for the story of the Comahue, I contacted Guillermo Suarez with the help of my friend Francisco Suarez before my trip to Argentina to find out more. He worked at the Lutteral factory back then, and besides being a living archive of sorts, he also helped to gather three different versions of the cars developed by Lutteral for a photoshoot in the beautiful riverside area in the town of Tigre (part of the delta of the Paraná River) in the province of Buenos Aires.
The most distinctive design feature of the Lutteral Comahue is of course the fastback-style rear hatch, which is made out of fiberglass surrounding two curved pieces of glass divided in the middle by a body-colored section, very much inspired by the “split-window” Corvette Stingrays from earlier in the decade. This is not the only addition though, as inside the car there was the possibility for clients to choose from an abundant options list. According to Guillermo, each car is wholly unique, with owners speccing their cars with everything from aerodynamic deflectors and custom paintwork to interior whiskey bars.
In addition to the more opulent luxury options, the experience gained in motorsport was also transferred to the cars thanks to Lutteral’s engineer, Pablo Macagno. Owners could choose from four different engine upgrade packs, the most radical of which included the mechanical “Tecalemit” injection system that increased the power output to around 225hp and propelled the Comahue to a top speed of approximately 230km/h (over 140mph, which was excessively fast for that era). Other options included a Holley carburetor, a Weber 45, or a triple-Weber setup—recall that the IKA Torino 380w that the cars were based on used a modified version of the six-cylinder Jeep Tornado engine.
Another significant innovation of the Lutteral Comahues was the “Aerolastique,” a locally-developed air suspension system that provided a flatter, stiffer ride while lowering the car by 5cm from the original height of the Torino. It was activated with a button inside the cockpit. Pretty trick stuff.
By the early 1970s, Lutteral changed the front-end design of the Comahue using GFRP (glass fiber reinforced plastic), updating the look for the new decade while lowering the profile to make it more aerodynamic overall. It was a bit of a controversial design that reminds us of the Peugeot 505, even though the Lutteral was launched first.
Four new versions were then launched: the GTA 220, which had 220hp, the GT 195 with 195hp, the Coupe 175 (of which the blue one featured in this shoot is an example), and the Safari-175, which was a station wagon version. All the models had the premium options of the time as standard, like air-conditioning, real leather almost everywhere in the interior, extra gauges for oil temp and pressure, exterior graphics, and more depending on the particular desires of the client. These were very much made-to-order machines.
In 1977 the most radical version appeared, the last iteration of the Comahue before production ended in 1979 (which is when the Argentine government opened the doors to imported cars). This was called the SST-GT, of which the “Ferrari Red” car pictured here is an example. The one at our shoot was one of the very last produced under Guillermo Suarez, and it belongs to the collection of Tino Lutteral, son of the company’s founder.
The interior might look a bit silly now, but was completely futuristic for the time, with a digital instrument panel rivaling the Aston Martin Lagonda, and a steering wheel cut in half above the 3-and-9 spokes. The front headlights had a protective black cover that matched the grille, and these covers would flip down and in to reveal the headlights, and were controlled by a light sensor (again, very futuristic). The rear cargo space was leather lined and included a cow skin carpet, a mini bar, and leather travel bags on the sides. The rear hatch opened by itself thanks to a hydraulic system. A complete display of 1970s luxury.
As such, the price for one of these cars was twice the cost of a base Torino—and the Torino wasn’t a cheap car—but with the new decade arrived a new economic scenario, and with it a new selection of imported cars. For the price of a Lutteral one could have many more attractive options, and, unable to compete, the production of the Lutteral Comahue ceased, ending the golden age of automotive development in South America.
I’d like to give a big thanks to Guillermo Suarez for his time, sharing anecdotes and information from his time spent working at Lutteral, and also to his work over the years preserving the history of these unique automobiles.