Turismo Carretera (Spanish for “road tourism”) races have been a major annual motorsport event in Argentina for 80 years, yet many people outside the country have hardly heard about it. It originated with fearless Argentinians engaging in a long race on public roads, but later grew to become a track battle between big American and Argentinian car brands. Just in case you have missed it, here is a brief summary of past 8 decades of Argentinian racing.
The story of Turismo Carretera begins in mid-1930s, when the first touring races were held on Argentinian road network. The drivers entered the race with relatively low financial support, using stock cars on underdeveloped Argentinian infrastructure. This combination has resulted in a thrilling spectacle, drawing masses of Argentinians to follow the race on site or over the radio. Soon enough, these races were standardized, and the first Grand Prix was held on June 20, 1937. The rules required cars to have a closed body and complete strenuous testing.
Ford’s driver Angel Lo Valvo won the inaugural Turismo Carretera GP and the manufacturer remained unchallenged until Chevrolet entered the race with Juan Manuel Fangio. Yes, it is the very same Fangio that would later become one of the greatest racing drivers of all time, with five Formula 1 titles in his bag. Ford has met strong competition – Chevrolet owe their TC victories of 1940 and 1941 to Fangio the great. This marked the beginning of Ford – GM rivalry in Argentina, similar to what can be found all over the world, in racing like Nascar or Australian V8 Supercars.
Perhaps the greatest development of Turismo Carretera happened in 1948 – it became a part of el Gran Premio de la América del Sur (Spanish for the Great Prize of South America). The racing route stretched through Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Columbia and Venezuela. Most of the American car brands entered the race, with their cars powered by 6-liter V8s. Domingo Marimón came in first driving a Chevrolet Master, beating competition from Cadillac, Plymouth, Ford, Nash, Hudson and Mercury. This grand racing event proved to be too dangerous, with multiple accidents, one of which claimed Fangio’s co-driver’s, Daniel Urrutia’s life. As a result, the race was never hosted again.
In the following decades, Ford was unbeatable. Its cars were winning so often in the early 1950s, that the event organizers decided to create a new class, Formula B. While restrictions made competition easier for Chevrolet, they did not manage to win any overall championship for almost two decades – from 1947 to 1966, while Ford V8 Coupe dominated the sport for all of this time.
The domination was soon ended with the introduction of new aerodynamic racing cars from a local manufacturer IKA, called Liebre-Torino and based on a road going IKA Torino. Ford, meanwhile, repurposed Model T chassis and coupled it with coach built body and an engine from F-100 pickup truck to create Baufer Ford F-100. The prototype proved to be very dangerous, with several of its drivers seriously injured or killed, it was quickly discontinued. Carlos Pairetti of Chevrolet then bought a remaining prototype and put a Chevrolet engine in it. The new improved car, called “Trueno Naranja” (Orange Thunder), managed to bring the victory to Chevrolet in 1968.
Turismo Carretera was never Formula 1, its technology was never bleeding edge, and instead the main focus was keeping the viewers excited with close racing and local car models. In some instances, the models that were raced would not change for decades after their production has ceased. Thus it is no surprise that any innovation, such as “Trueno Naranja” would gain immense amounts of attention. In fact, when the prototype was first finished, dedicated Chevrolet fans followed it to the track for its inaugural race.
Despite the slow pace of changes in TC, 1970s brought many novelties to the series. The manufacturers delivered new more advanced models – a Falcon from Ford, 400 from Chevrolet and Valiant from Dodge. The cars exceeded average speeds of 200 km/h, with some being even faster than that. Higher speed led to more serious accidents, and the authorities decided to address that by limiting the maximum displacement of the engines to 3 000 cc. From early 1970s onwards, all of the major competitors were required to use 3 liter inline-6 engines. But Ford was slow to comply with new regulations, missing out on racing in the beginning of the decade. After struggling initially, it was business as usual for Ford for the rest of the 1970s – their Falcons won majority of the GPs.
In the 1980s, the hierarchy of teams has shifted, as Dodge brought their Polara R/T, a model specific to Argentinian market, and won majority of the GPs at first. By that time, the competition only took place on race tracks, rather than street circuits or country roads. It was thus decided that the cars must be equipped with slick tires. From then on, the format of Turismo Carretera series remained largely unchanged to this day. In fact, even the models used today have remained the same – current line up consists of IKA Torino, Chevy Coupe SS, Ford Falcon and the Polara GTX. Despite the stagnation in technology, the sport does not fail to draw new talents and new audiences – the competitions are still televised on national TV and new drivers join the racing.
Perhaps, the Argentinians have discovered an ideal format of motorsport. When so many moan how Formula 1 has lost its appeal due to over engineered aerodynamics and smaller engines, Turismo Carretera still manages to capture the attention of the whole nation. If you would like to see modern vintage racing cars driven to the limit, book your flights to Argentina.