The Chilean Classic Car Scene May Not Be The World’s Largest, But It Might Surprise You
Photography by Alvaro Pinzón
If you travel to new countries as a petrolhead, it’s inevitable that you’ll end up searching for the local car scene and the peculiarities within. South America may not be known as the automotive hub of the world, but the love for machines is universal, and wherever there’s a road to drive on there will be people building the cars to take advantage of it.
Chile is no different. It’s famous for Patagonia and the wild landscape that makes up the country’s geography, and while there isn’t a thriving classic scene down here, there is a strong emergent car culture that’s been growing over the years.
As Ben Coombs and I arrived in his TVR (after quite the road trip), I knew that seeking out these pockets of petrolheads was the first thing to do. So, we got in touch with our friend Nicolas from the Parked in Santiago Instagram page, and he welcomed us to the city and acted as our guide for the days ahead as he showed us around the local garages and meeting points.
The first day saw us heading to a petrol station in a business park called La Costanera where we met with some locals who were having an informal Cars & Coffee type of gathering. It was a very relaxed and jovial atmosphere, just hanging out and chatting while people came and went or simply drove by.
The variety was pretty exceptional, which I suppose is to be expected in a place that didn’t have its own manufacturers—no national brand loyalties here! To get a sense of the mix, over the course of our visit to the station we saw a Renault 5, a Volvo Amazon, a Type 3 VW, and some ’90s Japanese legends like an R33 Skyline and a Mk4 Supra.
The following day we paid a visit to Argomedo Performance, which is one of the most important and recognizable car shops in Chile. Run by two generations of the same family, they work in luxury and performance cars, and the restorations carried out in the shop rival the quality you’d find in most European outfits. They service most of the high-end cars in the area, and their restorations span the board of supercars from Aston Martin to Lamborghini, among others.
Their story goes back the 1970s, when Luis Argomedo opened up a small auto repair shop, which of course has grown steadily over the years and cemented its reputation. Today it is run by his sons, brothers Jorge and Carlos.
There was a lot to look at and many plastic covers to carefully peel back, but the car that immediately caught my attention was the recreation of the Mercedes-Benz 450SLC race car in its simple but effective Mampe Lufthansa Cocktail livery. It was a thorough job, and the 5.0-liter under the hood backed up the radical look of the imposing silver supercoupe.
Like the night before, the selection of cars here was also pretty eclectic, for in the same room as the SLC sat a perfect condition Oldsmobile Toronado—the only front-wheel drive car in the building.
Nearby neighbors included a Vice-like white Testarossa (an early one too, with the single mirror mounted up on the A-pillar), the only Aston Martin One-77 in South America, and to round things off with a bit of silver screen nostalgia, one of the original DeLoreans from Back to the Future.
Crossing the street, we then visited the section of the business where the service and restorations take place, and between the Porsches and Cadillacs there was an odd piece of American automotive history: a beautifully restored Chevy Cameo, which was the company’s attempt to meld luxury and comfort with the pickup truck in the 1950s. Ahead of their time, I’d say.
A freshly restored 450SL was also on this side of the garage, which I had just a few moments to admire before I was shown the shop’s past projects in their photo album; a few Porsche 930 Turbos, a 1966 big-block 427 Corvette Convertible, and a 1967 Shelby GT500 stood out, and while there is a clear preference for American cars, there’s plenty of other marques in the mix, as you can see.
Chile currently has one of the best economies in South America, and while is not the best place to play with cars in every sense, it’s starting to look increasingly attractive for those who enjoy the mechanical things in life.
it wasn’t the end for my investigations into the Chilean car scene however, and the next day was spent visiting a handful of museums in and around Santiago. Stay tuned!