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Cars you didn’t know you want: IKA-Renault Torino

A cultural icon that captured the heart of a nation.

Juan Manuel Fangio owned one. So did Leonid Brezhnev and Fidel Castro.

Introducing the IKA Torino, a car that became the automotive heartbeat of a nation.

The story starts in Argentina in the 1950s when the government of the day wanted to kickstart a local car manufacturing industry.

They turned to American company Kaiser Industries to establish a local joint venture, Industrias Kaiser Argentina (IKA), which began operations in 1956 in Cordoba Province. As an aside, Kaiser Industries had enjoyed a chequered history in the US car industry in the 1940s and ’50, merging with Willys-Overland in 1953 to form Willys Motors, Incorporated, makers of the famous and ubiquitous Willys Jeep.

Unsurprising then that the first cars produced by IKA were knockdown Jeep models. A sedan soon followed, based on the American-designed Kaiser Manhattan, renamed the Carabela. By 1958, IKA was producing 81 per cent of Argentina’s locally manufactured vehicles, some 22,612 vehicles split between Jeeps and the Carabela sedan.

Meanwhile, French giant Renault was looking to establish a manufacturing base to service the burgeoning – and increasingly lucrative – South American market. In 1959, Renault became a minor shareholder in IKA, with the company now adding Renault cars to its production line. Trivia – the first locally-built Renault to come off the Cordoba production line was the little, and very cute, Dauphine.

By the start of the 1960s IKA was producing a number of different cars under licence, including locally-built versions of the American Motors Corporation (AMC) Rambler.

But it was in the 1965 when IKA won the hearts and minds of the Argentinean people when it decided it wanted to design and build a car with the power and reliability of American automobiles and the style of European cars. But, rather than a clean-sheet development, IKA sent two AMC Ramblers – one sedan, one coupe - to Pininfarina, charging the famed Italian styling house to come up with a design that would appeal to Argentina's European sensibilities.

The resulting IKA Torino was unveiled to the public 30 November, 1966 at the Autódromo Juan y Oscar Gálvez. And the public was smitten.

Under the bonnet a choice of two inline six-cylinder engines, the most powerful of which was a 3.7-litre ‘Tornado’ fed by three 45mm Weber Bologna side-draft carburettors. When shovelled inside the Torino 380W, the engine was good for 131kW and 324Nm. Sending drive to the rear wheels was a ZF sourced four-speed manual gearbox.

Inside, the Torino oozed Italian design and style, thanks again to the hand of Pininfarina. A wood-panel dash with multiple dials and gauges spoke of performance, while the three-spoke wooden steering wheel would look right at home in any European GT of the time.

To prove its mettle, IKA sent three Torinos to Europe to contest the 1969 Nurburgring 84-hour (not a typo). The project was overseen by five-time Formula One world champion, Juan Manuel Fangio. One car won its class, and actually should have won outright, having completed the most laps. But, thanks in part to those throaty Webers under the bonnet, it was penalised laps for overstepping the decibel limit, relegating it to fourth overall. It kept its class win, though.

Still, its reputation had been built and back home in Argentina the people celebrated the nation’s nascent car industry taking on the world and winning.

The Torino became the pride of the nation, the national car, and people flocked to them in droves. Yet, despite its success, IKA was facing bankruptcy in 1970, its saviour Renault, which took full control of the company. Now dubbed, the IKA-Renault Torino, the car remained in production until 1982. It remains the sole car manufactured by the French manufacturer that isn't French.

Today, the Torino remains a cult classic in its native Argentina, and a rarity elsewhere in the world. There’s just one example in France, owned by Renault Classic (the car in the photos accompanying this article).

In 2013, Silverstone Auctions sold Fangio’s personal Torino (a sedan) for £28,175 (about AUD$51,500) while a popular Argentinean classified site has a selection of Torinos in good condition from anywhere between AUD$10,000-AUD$15,000. That’s pretty tempting for a car that still oozes elegance and 1960s charm.

I’d have one. How about you?

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