South America, especially Brazil and Argentina, is famous for its many local adaptions and permutations of US cars. We’ve covered a number of them here, and there’s links to some of them at the end of this article. But the most compelling one for me is the IKA (Industrias Kaiser Argentina) Torino. It first appeared in 1966, with a body mostly donated by a 1964-vintage Rambler American with a little help from Pininfarina, some unique modifications to strengthen it, and a new rear suspension. And under its hood is Kaiser Jeep aluminum-head SOHC hemi six that has roots going back to the 1930s. The Argentinians turned the modest little Rambler American into a world-class GT that even competed successfully in European races. But most of all, it became a legend in its home country.
Here’s the Torino starting point: the new 1964 Rambler American. And a good starting point it was, inasmuch as it was Dick Teague’s first car he was fully responsible for, although he undoubtedly was already involved with the 1963 Classic and Ambassador, which share much of the American’s design and even body parts.
Every account I can find on the Torino states that it used the main middle body section from the 1964 Classic, with some American body part on the front and rear. But I’m going to challenge that, as it’s quite clear that the Torino used the American body (top), from front to back. And the width of both the American and Torino are both listed as 70.8″.
Now things get a bit interesting, as the standard assumption has always been that the 1964 American used a narrower body than the Classic (bottom), and that they shared only some body panels like the doors. But clearly the roof line on these Classic and American hardtops are identical; and the main difference is that the Classic has a longer wheelbase (112″ vs. 106″). And the wheels cut-outs are quite different. But is the Classic really wider? Well, the stats that I can find say it was 71.3″ wide, but that’s a mere 0.5″ wider than the American. Are they really different bodies, except for the length? It’s time to settle this issue.
The Torino sedan (top) also clearly shares the same roof and whole body structure as the American (middle) and not the Classic (bottom). And the Torino’s wheelbase of 107.2″ inches is just an inch longer than the American’s, which can be explained by the fact that it had a different suspension, as well as changes to its undersides. That included a four-link coil spring rear suspension, and not with the Rambler’s torque tube. And the Torino’s unibody ‘frame rails” at the front are longer and stronger, borrowed from the Classic convertible. Whether the front suspension is the same as the Rambler’s in detail or not is a good question.
Pininfarina was hired to restyle the Torino’s front and rear ends, and to clean up its looks overall by de-chroming its sides. The front end is rather similar to the Peugeot 404 Coupe/cabriolet as well as other PF cars of the time, even though the fenders and front headlights are pure Rambler American. The resulting changes are quite successful; a Rambler European.
The changes to the rear end were a bit less success, as the rambler American sheet metal didn’t allow much scope. The rear end received a number of variations over the year.
The Torino was also modified by local “tuners”, including this rather wild fastback by Lutteral.
The interior was also re-styled by Pininfarina, with a very European-style dash with full and legible instrumentation. Perry’s shot doesn’t quite do the interior justice, so we’ll dig one up from the web.
Here we go; now that doesn’t look the slightest like a Rambler American interior. This could be out of any number of Italian cars of the time. The stubby shifter operates a ZF transmission.
Under the hood, any resemblance to the Rambler is also gone, except for it being an in-line six. The Tornado six was developed by Kaiser Chief Engineer A.C. “Sammy” Sampietro, who had worked in Europe and was familiar with the benefits of a well-breathing hemi-head design as well as aluminum as the material for them. Since Kaiser Jeep could hardly afford a new block, the old 226 CID flathead six as used in Kaiser-Frazer cars and Jeep trucks and wagons was used. This was of course the Continental 226, which goes back well into the pre-war era, and was a small bore, long stroke design with four main bearings.
Sampietro increased the bore slightly, to yield 230 cubic inches, and crowned the venerable block with his alloy hemi-head SOHC cylinder head, driven by a chain in the front. Somewhat oddly, the same camshaft lobes activated both the intakes and exhausts. The Tornado was used in the US starting in 1962, in the Jeep Station wagon and pickup, and then in the all-new 1963 Jeep Wagoneer (and Gladiator trucks). As used in the Jeeps, it was rated at 140 hp @4000 rpm.
In Argentina, the Tornado was built in two sizes: the 230 inch (3.77 L) original version and a de-stroked 3.0 L (183 CID) version, which was the standard engine in the sedan and coupe. But the bigger Tornado was massaged to yield more power, with the 380W version featuring triple dual-choke Weber side drafts carburetors, which along with other changes yielded 218 PS (about 300 gross hp/220 net hp), or more than twice what it made in the Jeeps.
Now the transformation was complete, and the Torino was now a world-class GT coupe; at least in its builder’s eyes as well as its owners. Note the dual shock tower braces, part of the modifications to stiffen the Torino’s structure for better handling.
In 1969 three Torinos were sent to the 84 hour endurance race at Nurburgring. Amazingly, they won their class, and were a threat to the overall winner. Not bad, for an engine running a huge 4.38″ stroke in its antediluvian cylinder block.
The Torino earned quite a rep from its racing successes and developed a cult following. Among devoted Torino buyers were such global luminaries as Fidel Castro, Leonid Brezhnev and Muammar Gaddafi and racing legend Juan Manuel Fangio. Quite the fan club.
As can be seen by the Torino that Perry shot, which he says is a 1971, the front end styling evolved and was changed a few times in the Torino’s long life.
The rear end had several refreshes too. This is the final one, from 1978 – 1981.
After Renault bought out IKA in 1970, production continued until 1982. It was a bit odd to think of Renault building a RWD car that was a mash-up of AMC and Kaiser components. But in South America, stranger things have happened.
The Torino became the most beloved car of Argentina, and developed a very strong cult following, which has not diminished to this day. It was modified for all sorts of local racing venues, like this one sporting a complete new aerodynamic fiberglass front end.
As is usually the case with me, I rather prefer the early original version, with the vintage Pininfarina grille. And having been deeply imprinted with Porsche 356 wheels as a kid, these very similar ones make the transformation from Rambler American to Rambler South American complete.
The Torino is exactly what a certain segment of the American motoring press and enthusiast buyers had been pushing the domestics to build; an reasonably-sized sporty and handsome American car with powerful OHC six, good handling, and a handsome continental interior. Pontiac flirted the closest with that, with its OHC Sprint LeMans and Firebird. I can’t help but wonder how AMC might have made out with a domestic Torino. Never mind…I already know the answer.
In the late sixties, this was the domestic’s idea of a sporty compact car. Amusing, in its own way, but strictly a flash in the pan, unlike the Torino, which was made for almost 20 years. And by the eighties, the domestics were falling over themselves to slap “Euro” and “Eurosport” badges on their cars. What the domestics failed to see is that it took the real thing, not just the badge and a noisier exhaust.
The Torino was the real deal; a right-sized handsome package blessed with continuous improvement and refinement. Even the old Continental pre-war engine block was updated with seven main bearings, and the head was completely revised. its enthusiastic followers would have kept buying them for another ten years, but Renault needed to build more modern econoboxes on the lines. What a timeless combination: Dick Teague, Pininfarina, a big and lusty OHC six, ZF gearbox, and a capable chassis. A recipe for timeless success.