This Car Collection Sprinkles Some European Flavor On Central America
Photography by Andres Moraga
From the outsider’s perspective, Costa Rica is known more for its rainforest than its automobiles. This is understandable of course, as my home country’s complex terrain is heavily forested in between the volcanoes and beaches that draw in the tourists. Like everything though, one gets acclimated to this landscape after some time spent living here, and the ragged mountains, cerulean seas, and other views that recall Jurassic Park’s helicopter scene become commonplace. Some things never fail to excite though, and for my family this takes the form of vintage European steel.
There are others in the collection on the newer side, but it is these three—the RS2, Montecarlo, and 912—that are the source of the most pleasure. As individuals, each represents a markedly different type of vehicle in terms of both engineering and aesthetic, but taken together the trio ticks a broad bunch of boxes: air-cooled and water-cooled; Italian and German; rear-, front-, and mid-engined; dedicated two-seaters and a family-swallowing wagon; rear- and all-wheel drive; naturally aspirated and turbocharged; you get the idea. Each is special for its own reasons though, and I’ll try to explain the charms of each.
The RS2 is the fast car. By today standards it is no longer the relative rocket it used to be in 1995, but it is still undeniably quick, and the way it delivers the power makes it feel like a much faster car than the stats would have you believe. The turbo lag is a bit annoying if you find yourself searching for thrust in too high of a gear, but once it gets on its full 25psi of boost, everything changes. This is still old school single turbo fun! And there are four wheels putting the power down so there is less of the widow-maker factor while the shove in the back is still very much there. The fact that the car is a sleeper is also a fun piece of the ownership experience because almost no one expects the old Audi Avant to move like this one does. Especially down here. In fact, I believe this is the only RS2 in Central America at the moment, but I’d love to find out I’m wrong on that!
We purchased the RS2 nearly seven years ago, and while it had very low mileage (67,000km is, I think, pretty low for a car of this age and purpose), it also had a fair share of dents and paint imperfections accrued over time. So the body needed a bit of attention, but not before we sorted out the mechanical side first, which was, let’s say, “in need.” The turbo was not functioning as it should, the suspension was tired and ready to be put to bed for the long nap, and the flywheel was in need of replacement as well. We tended to everything that wasn’t functioning properly, and with the car looking handsome again and holding boost and the road equally well, it’s been nothing but joy. We’ve not put many more kilometers on it, though we do exercise it on the weekends and for other fun excursions, including a few rallies we’ve participated in.
The Lancia Montecarlo Spyder is the member of the family that’s been with us the longest—about nine years at the time of writing. Like the RS2, we’ve also brought it along on several car rallies in Costa Rica, and as it’s been living in a pretty wet climate, it too needs some attention. We are currently preparing it for a full restoration as it has some rust issues peppered around the body, and its paint is due for a respray while we’re at it. Thankfully the drivetrain is healthy and strong (well, strong for a Montecarlo!), and while the power is not astronomical by any means, the car also doesn’t weigh all that much, so it’s a well-rounded car that’s a blast to drive in the so-called momentum style. It’s well balanced, well sprung, and it has some pretty sharp turn-in characteristics too.
The car is mostly stock, with the only modification we’ve added being the Lancia Delta front bumper cover. For the purists: hey, at least it’s still OEM! This model is usually chagrined for not stacking up to the 037 that it’s distantly related to, but take it for what it is, and it’s a terrific little ‘80s toy. The styling is a mixture of ‘70s wedge and ‘80s block married harmoniously, and the flying buttresses behind the rear upright glass are a fantastic middle finger to modesty.
Finally we have the oldest of these musketeers, but also the newest addition to our collection. This 1968 Porsche 912 has only been with us for two years, but it’s been through a lot in that short period of time, having made a long trip from the US and undergoing a full restoration here in Costa Rica. When we purchased the car it was red and in need of love. The interior wasn’t in bad shape at all, but the body was pretty rough. Since we were planning to do at least a partial restoration on it to begin with, we figured it couldn’t hurt to send the VIN to Porsche to find out what should and shouldn’t be there. This revealed an original color of Lido Gold, and that’s what you see here on the 912 now.
The work lasted just a few months, and when the car was returned to us it was a shock to see this gleaming machine in place of the faded red one we knew it as prior. It’s a total blast to drive even with the four-cylinder, and the driving character of a short-wheelbase Porsche is only enhanced by the lack of cylinders; it’s not a faster car than a 911, but the reduced weight over the rear end helps with the balance in the corners, providing that classic early 911 experience with a slight, lighter, twist. We’ve taken the Porsche on just a single rally so far, but as it’s been a very reliable and pleasant car to drive, we plan on changing this number in the near future.