These Are The Argentinian-Built IKA Torinos That Dominated The Nürburgring In 1969
Photography by Alvaro Pinzón
Argentina isn’t often thought of as a major motorsport hub these days, but there is a deep history of racing in this country, and a recent visit there presented the opportunity to explore one of the most significant sets of cars to compete during the golden age. This is the story of how a trio of cars built in Argentina went on to achieve endurance racing greatness at the Nürburgring at the 84-hour-long Marathon de la Route.
After attending the AutoClásica, the largest classic car event on the continent, I met with Mario Suárez and his son Francisco, the petrolheads responsible for restoring the original #1 and #2 Torinos from the three built to challenge the Europeans on their home turf in one of the most grueling races in the world. 84 hours is quite a lot more than 24. It puts the concept of endurance into a new realm, and for over three straight days the #3 Torino (which now resides in the Fangio museum, more on that connection in a minute) ran hundreds of laps in light and darkness with just three drivers guiding it along to not only finish the race, but to complete the most laps of anyone: 334.
The remarkable achievement was a combination of a famous Argentinian car and the country’s greatest racing driver, Juan Manuel Fangio, who oversaw the IKA-Renault Torino effort at the Nürburgring and whose son was among the team of of Argentinian drivers assigned to the three cars. He traveled with the team to the ‘Ring to guide the cars around both the Nord and Südschleife, and though the team would complete the most laps with their #3 car (the other two, #1 and #2, retired early), an assortment of time penalties would see the Torino finish in fourth place officially.
All three of the cars still exist today, and as I mentioned, the father and son responsible for restoring two of them, along with the current owner of #1, Daniel Van Lierde, were happy to share them with Petrolicious for a day of driving and storytelling. I met the first of the two cars about an hour away from Buenos Aires, and immediately hopped into the passenger seat of #2 for a ride with Mario and Francisco to meet the other, which belongs to a prominent collector in the country. In the ride the capabilities of the car make themselves known very quickly, even at law-abiding speeds. The inline-six Tornado with its triple weber 45s pulled eagerly, the 3.9-liter making nearly 300 horsepower in period and today.
While we were arranging the cars for photos and warming them up for the drive, I talked with Mario’s son Francisco about the process of restoring these cars. Besides being one of the instrumental figures in that process, he is a former journalist who knows just about every bit of Argentinian racing history: AKA, the perfect person to talk to.
Alvaro Pinzón: Francisco, can you tell us about the origin of these Torinos?
Francisco Suárez: Of course! The Torino is an Argentinian car that was born in 1966, as a licensed redesign of the AMC Rambler by Pininfarina, who of course made it a much more stylish vehicle. This car was produced originally by IKA ( Argentinian Kaiser industries), a partner with the Renault company that would eventually buy them out. It had a Tornado six-cylinder inline engine with 3770cc in its highest performance model, which was also equipped with three Weber Bologna 45mm sidedraft carburetors. When the Torino appeared, many well-known racing drivers bought one of these to run in the TC (Turismo Carretera), which translated into a lot of sales for IKA-Renault.
AP: How did they come to compete in Europe?
FS: IKA sent a team commanded by Fangio and consisting of best Argentinean car drivers of that era to Germany to participate in “Le Marathon de la Route” (named as such because it was organized by the Royal Automobile Club of Belgium). This was a very difficult endurance race on perhaps the most dangerous circuit ever constructed, and it would be a great feat for any car to complete the full three and a half days. The effort—remember the ID plate I showed you?—was called Proyecto Fangio.
FS: At the end of 84 hours, only one of the three Torinos finished, and though it completed the most distance, it was penalized because of the high decibels of the exhaust, and so a Lancia Fulvia HF finished as the winner officially. That race represented a remarkable milestone in the Argentinian motoring history, and it proved the country could build cars that could compete with the likes of Porsche, Lancia, Ford, etc.
During the race, a lot of people in Argentina listened over the radio to hear how the Torinos were doing; one of these was my father. He was twelve years old in 1969, and he remembered that race clearly, as well as drawing the #2 Torino at school during his break.
AP: So after the race, the cars were brought back to Argentina and then #1 and #2 went missing for a few years—how do you find them?
FS: 35 years after the race, my uncle told my father and I about a place with many old cars that included the #1 Torino from the Marathon. It turned out to be true, and the though car was really expensive for us, we found a car collector who was interested in buying it.
The #3 has been in the Fangio museum for some time now, so the only other missing one was #2. What many people said about the car was that it was totaled in a crash racing in the TC series, but there was no proof of this either. Because of that, I decided to search in old magazines in order to find information about what really happened. In one from 1971 I’d tracked down, I found the story of a driver called Juan Carlos Palma, where it said he bought a Torino to compete in the TC series, and that the vehicle was the #2 car ran at the Nürburgring.
AP: That’s some nice sleuthing, as I imagine not much of this was on the internet at the time. What happened next?
FS: Having found this information, I decided to search for Palma. I figured I could find his phone number by his mechanic that was also mentioned in the article. So, I got the number from him and called Palma. He said his friend Eduardo Copello sold it to him, and that Palma had it for only one year, in which he won the championship of course.
I asked Palma for some details about the car to confirm its past life, and he told me that it had some parts such as an enlarged 140-liter fuel tank, a roll cage being bolted to the floor, and it also had different gearbox ratios. All these endurance racing pieces told me that the car he had bought was very likely to be the original #2.
Then I asked Palma if when he had bought the car it came with the original license plate number used at the Nürburging, which was Cordoba City X172028. He answered that the car’s plate was X022295. I told Palma I would have to dig a little deeper, and that I would call him back later with what I found.
AP: More detective work?
FS: [Laughs] Yes, the following day, I went to a National Registry of Motor Vehicles and asked for a vehicle history report of the license plate number that Palma had given me. A month later, I went to the Registry again to look for the report and when I finally had it, the first thing I read was that the car chassis number was 00007, which was heartening to hear given the #3 car was was 00008, and the #1 car 00009. That was the clear evidence the car was the original one in my mind. Then I read all the owners the car had had, and the last one was an elderly man from Santa Fe province. So, of course, I searched for the man’s phone number and called him.
He told me that the car was given to his son in 1990 and that his son and his granddaughter had a significant accident in it, his granddaughter surviving only because of the roll cage the car had in it. The damaged car went to his mechanic’s workshop where he decided to sell some parts of the car; small ones at first, and then the body, engine, and rear axle. Also, he told me that he gave the 140-liter fuel tank to his brother-in-law who lived in the province of Chaco.
What was left of the car, except for the gearbox and front brake calipers, was removed from the workshop by a man who had the intention of building a race car out of it once again. After a lot of searching, I found and buy the gearbox and the front brakes that were put in two different trucks of all things. Then, I went to Chaco and bought the fuel tank, which had become a wasp’s nest after many years of remaining useless in a barn. Finally I found the body, which was in a country field next to a plowing machine in the province of Santa Fe.
AP: Wow, that is quite the effort, hat’s off to you for tracking down something that was surely lost otherwise. How did the restoration process go after you found the pieces?
FS: It took six years of work after that, body, paint, motor, everything needed attention. My father contacted the collector who bought the #1 car, and they agreed to restore the two together, and then the two of them spoke with the people running the Fangio museum, and were offered the chance to do some work on the #3 car (the one that completed the most laps overall at the Marathon), seeing as it had been repainted poorly in the past and deserved better. So that was how after 45 years the three Torinos were reunited! They were shown together for the first time again in 2014 in Bariloche during the 1000 Millas Sport.
It had been very significant to my father and me to restore this car especially, because it is an important piece in the history of the motorsport in my country.
AP: So what’s the next project you will be working on with your father?
FS: Nowadays my father and I are restoring another historic TC race car called “El Cuadrado (because of its square shape) de Peduzzi” (named because it is square-shaped and was driven by Ricardo Peduzzi). It was a 1929 Chevy converted into a hot rod equipped with a Chevy 230 six-cylinder inline engine with a primitive 1951 Hilborn injection as well as an oil cooler from a WW2 Sherman tank, and some aircraft parts for good measure. Hopefully that car won’t take another six years!
Special thanks to Mario, Francisco and the rest of the Suárez family, and to Daniel Van Lierde for bringing his Torino #1 to join in!