The Rally Clásico de Occidente Is More Than Just A Nice Drive Through Colombia
Photography by Alvaro Pinzón
I recent had an opportunity to spend a weekend far away from the cold and rainy weather of Bogotá to attend a new classic car in the southwest of Colombia, more specifically in Cali, the salsa capital of the world, and a place where it seems perpetually hot. Valle del Cauca is a region well known for its landscapes full of sugar cane plantations, and is also the home of Jorge Isaacs, a successful poet and writer known for his novel Maria. I wasn’t here for any of that, though.
In Colombia there has been a surge of classic and sports car-focused events over the last few years; with the sense of peace, at least in the most populated regions, people can travel with more confidence than they would have a decade ago, and with the growing connectedness provided by smart phones and the internet more broadly, the people that love old cars in Colombia are more united than ever.
Different kinds of rallies have been cropping up lately, and the one pictured here, Rally Clásico de Occidente, is one of these fresh events. Organized by a group of younger folks, the goal is to celebrate the classic driving experience inspired by the history of the original Rally de Occidente Colombiano. They also pull inspiration from Rally de la America del Sur, when Fangio and co crossed through the region on their way from Buenos Aires to Caracas. The new event is an homage to these times, and is open to anyone who wants to experience it. This stands in contrast to the established clubs with their bureaucracy and tedious elitist way of organizing things in this country.
Early in the morning, the group of cars started the route in Cali, where we set our course to one of the exit roads leaving the city on the north side. One by one of the participants were arriving to the starting area; a mix of BMWs ranging from 2002, E30s, E24s, E21s, and E12s were filling the grid, while in the back of the station a group of friends had driven over just to witness the start.
While perhaps not as exotic as the entry list for an event like the Mille Miglia, there were still some intriguing arrivals to the starting line. The Renault 4 for instance, considered one of the most significant Colombian cars. It wasn’t difficult to find them on nearly every street in the 1980s, but there aren’t so many in good shape running around these days. This one though, was in a perfect shape, a time capsule, if you will. Some other favorites of mine included the Mercedes-Benz wagon done up in AMG style, the Taiga Green BMW E12 with Alpina bits, and the Pastel Blue E21 323i.
The VW enthusiasts made a good showing with a variety of cars from the popular Escarabajo (Beetle) to the more sophisticated overlander Kombi. After traveling around Latin America, I am always happy to come back to Colombia: here we find many more BMWs, Renaults, and VWs than in the other countries.
After some socializing the rally got going pretty quickly, and we were soon out of the city and driving through the sugar cane plantations, encountering beautiful landscapes along the way and driving under many a tunnel made of trees. Being a regularity rally (wherein outright speed is not the winning strategy), we weren’t pushing too hard, but the large cane-carrying trucks did pose some issues at times.
After a few hours we stopped in the middle of the valley to eat lunch in a vineyard restaurant, then we continued on until we started to climb the mountains of Quindío, the department of Colombia well-known for its coffee plantations.
Our trip ended for the first day in the town of Salento, and the following morning we were all up early to set up the cars for the return journey, and on the way back we had the pleasure of seeing the mountains of Pijao, where we stopped for the view. A few cars lost the route along the way, and a Mazda Miata eventually ended up taking the overall win, leading a BMW 325i Cabrio and a Mercedes-Benz 280 TE.
It was a fun few days of driving through the country with some usable classics, but the real pleasure came from the fact that we were able to do this at all. To see new rallies taking place in Colombia, and more so in places that were just a few years ago considered too dangerous to drive through, is cause enough for celebration. It’s even better to see such events organized by the younger generation, who are much more willing to open their arms and welcome other enthusiasts to join in.