In 1981 one of Mercedes’s most highly regarded cars was entering its second year of production. Meanwhile, while looking to improve their share in the American sports car market Alfa Romeo introduced a new and improved version of one of their classic sports coupes. One of these cars would go on to be remembered as one of its parent company’s best models, and the other would be remembered as an endearingly Italian classic. These cars were sold all around the world. Two of the Mercedes and one of the Alfas ended up in Lima, Peru, where they would go on to live very different lives.
Santiago De Surco:
The Old Town area of the Santiago de Surco district of Lima looks like the City of Madrid, Spain, in the days of the conquistadors. The houses of Old Town Surco are grand, the streets are tight and cobbled, and despite being surrounded by Lima’s suburban sprawl, it is the home of the last remaining urban vineyard that produces classic Peruvian Pisco. Hidden away at “Avenida Garcia y Garcia 940,” a minuscule side street virtually impossible to find, is the Vina San Lorenzo. This micro vineyard has been run by the J. Ugarelli family since the early 1900s. In true rustic Italian-owned vineyard tradition, they have a classic car stashed away in a corner of their warehouse.
The Alfa Romeo GTV:
The updated car Alfa Romeo introduced to the American market in 1981 was the Alfa Romeo GTV6. The GTV6 was a car that you could buy on the way to getting the Ferrari 512 BB you were after. Like all the best Alfas, the GTV6 had rear-wheel drive, a rear-mounted transaxle, and a beautiful Giugiaro styled body. Not to mention the delightful Busso V6 under the hood.
Being a “rest of the world market car” means that this particular car was sold with Alfa Romeo’s twin-cam four-cylinder engine that was fitted with dual side-draft Weber carburetors. The American market cars were equipped with an early version of the Bosch fuel-injected, but smog controlled, Busso V6. The carburetors on the 4 cylinders were far simpler to maintain than the previous Spica fuel injection system the earlier US market 4-cylinder cars were equipped with. This engine was capable of producing 130 HP and 133 FT pounds of torque. Better still, this later car was not built to conform to the American smog or safety regulations that were choking the performance of Alfa’s US market cars of the 1970s.
Unfortunately, living in the salt air of the Lima climate means that this Alfa GTV has suffered the same fate of most 1970’s and 1980s Italian cars. Back in the l970’s, Alfa Romeo got suckered into a trade deal with the Russians where the Italians traded the Fiat 124 factory production line for all the steel that Fiat and Alfa would need to produce their cars through the 80s. This meant that the Soviet Union had the capabilities to produce what would become a version of the Fiat 124 known as the Lada and that cars like this GTV started rusting on the showroom floor due to the terrible quality of the Soviet steel. While this car may share a similar fate of other 80s Alfa Romeos it is not a lost cause. If anyone has the dedication and ingenuity necessary to get the GTV back on the road it would be a Peruvian enthusiast.
The Mercedes W126 Limos:
When Bruno Sacco joined the Mercedes Benz design team in 1975, few could have predicted that he would go on to oversee the design of some of the most elegant cars in Mercedes’ history. The flagship of Mercedes’ 1980s lineup was the W126 Mercedes S Class sedan, a car that has garnered enthusiasts’ support around the world.
However, when these two Peruvian Mercedes W126s were acquired by their enterprising owner who had dreams of dominating the stretch limo market in Lima, they were just a couple of old, tired, luxury cars. However, with a few acres of new sheet metal, some cutting, welding, and a few Cusquenas (Peruvian beers), these luxury sedans became stretch limos and the envy of high school graduates and recently married couples across the City of Lima.
While these Mercedes W126 limos managed to escape the fate of the rusty vineyard Alfa GTV, the owner took a “by any means necessary approach” to keeping these limos on the road and putting them to work. When I popped the hood, I was stunned to find that the first stretch limo had been the victim of a Toyota 21R truck engine swap. This Mercedes was a 280 SE, it originally weighed 3351 pounds and had 158 horsepower from its 2.8-liter twin-cam straight-six. However, the carbureted Toyota engine it was swapped with had to lug around the even heavier limo converted body with only 105 horsepower. Thankfully Lima is mostly flat and filled with traffic, otherwise, this engine would not be able to get the car anywhere in a hurry let alone survive a freeway.
The other limo fared slightly better although it still has a Mercedes engine it is longer than the first limo. Unfortunately, the second limo shows evidence of not having its original engine either. The owner learned his lesson 105 hp worth of gutless Toyota is not enough for a Mercedes. In addition to the engine swaps, both limos were sporting those heinous aftermarket LED taillights. To add insult to injury, someone decided to add a fake carbon fiber wrapped roof to the first limo, presumably to make up for the loss in performance of the Toyota engine swap.
These poor cars are hack jobs held together with expanding foam and a prayer, neither of them has retained their signature Mercedes door close. However, how many people got to experience riding in a classic Mercedes for the first time because these cars were stretched? Peru is not an easy place to be a car enthusiast, parts are expensive and difficult to find but Peruvian enthusiasts are unique in their dedication to keeping their machines on the road through dedication and innovation.