The Camaro Motor Clásico Proves That Colombia Is Home To A Thriving Vintage Car Scene
Photography by Alvaro Pinzòn
Every year at the end of February, one of the most exciting classic car gatherings and track days in Colombia unites more than 400 cars and their owners’ families for a day full of special vehicles and a shared enthusiasm for driving. The event, the Camaro Motor Clásico, is held at the Autódromo de Tocancipá outside of the capital of Bogotá, and this year was the sixth edition of what is turning out to be a consistently great experience.
Not wanting to miss the cars and people that have made the Camaro so worthwhile, I walked out of my place in the early morning with camera and keys in hand, ready to leave Bogotá behind the taillights of my 1982 BMW E21 3-series. My father shares a passion for the same kinds of things that got me out of bed before 7am on a weekend, and so I had a travel companion for the journey too, and our eagerness for the day to begin led to some fun conversations to pass the time during the drive. As we approached the site, we were also treated to a few other attendees on the road, which only made our anticipation grow all the larger.
After nearly two hours of making our way through the capital city and the early morning traffic congestion, we eventually arrived at Tocancipá, which lies in a savanna below the Andes Mountains, still 2,600 meters above sea level.
Tocancipá is the pretty much the only major racetrack built in the country since the 1980’s, and is where nearly all the Colombian racing history of the last 30 years has happened. It is also the track where our most successful F1 racing driver, Juan Pablo Montoya, started his career.
Today though, the cars were older than the racetrack itself, as only pre-1982 model years were allowed to attend as entrants. The event is organized by the Club Los Tortugas with the sponsorship of some private companies, and the name comes from the inaugural year that was sponsored by the local representative for the Chevy Camaro brand to celebrate their history and the newly-arrived model of the car back then. The Camaro has only grown since 2011, and for the past two years it has been recognized and included in the FIVA (Fédération Internationale des Véhicules Anciens) events calendar.
Despite the problems of a developing country, the last 10 years have made Colombia a more secure place to live and to share this passion for automobiles that we all enjoy so much—that’s why events like these are gaining popularity and are celebrated with more frequency than ever, and rightfully so I think.
This year, the event started with a parade of all the numbered cars—more than 400 this time—running around the track and organized by their model year, with the oldest ones leading the field of fine machines. After the parade laps, all the cars returned to the pit area where people communed in groups to either to prepare the cars for the fast laps to come, or just to chat with buddies and enjoy a good time looking at and talking about cars both in attendance and not.
Some collectors bring a different car each year or indeed a group of their collection, while some restoration shops bring cars to display for the first time since undergoing their transformation. Only cars with a perfect or nearly perfect original condition were allowed into the event, along with a few others with significant historical value.
Over the course of the day, the cars were organized into categories that ran through everything in the pre- and pos-war categories: from their model year or their design configuration, to groups strictly for younger drivers and another for just the women. All the heats ran along the largest circuit configuration of the Autodromo, for a total of 2.725 meters on each lap.
Some of the cars that attended this year had so much history behind them. For instance, the famous Chrysler Airflow heavily modified and raced by Luis Garzon and nicknamed “El Ganso Garzon,” is one of the most iconic cars from Colombian racing history—a car that brings back memories of when trans-national rallies were popular in Latin America. That list includes rallies from Quito-Caracas crossing Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela during the 1950s when the roads were mostly rough and unpaved, and the Chrysler also ran in La Carrera Panamericana in Mexico on two occasions.
There were more cars with lots of local racing history too, like a Toyota Starlet with a 22r engine-swap that competed against Chevy Camaros in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s in endurance races like the 6 Hours of Bogotá, and other racing series in Ecuador; their last professional race was in 1994, but the car is still making people smile on track today.
Despite the climate constraints and the resulting dampness, the warmth of the families sharing a passion for their automobiles was more than enough to make the day a good one. Every year, this event unites collectors, families, and visitors to have a enjoyable day full of cars in a relaxed and easy-going atmosphere.
At the end of the day, there are no champions in each category for the fastest times or highest speed (even though there were no limits imposed on speeds this year), or a prize for the collector who brings the most beautiful, or most expensive, or most amazingly restored car. The only thing to take home are the memories in your head and the smile on your face.