Vintage Snapshots: Cars In Central America

It’s been a week since my American Cars In Puerto Rico post, and I’m ready once again to share more snapshots from the tropics; this time from Central America. And why not start at home with this shot taken at El Salvador’s National Palace?

I’ll add a bit of context to these. With Central America being split into tiny countries with small economies, no outside manufacturer ever entertained the idea of local assembly. Also, the region’s colonial links had been severed early in the 19th century, when independence from Spain was obtained. Thus, unlike African or South East nations, the automotive offer was not linked to recent colonial ties. The end result was a rather mixed landscape of models from all over the globe.

The above image is in El Salvador’s Intercontinental Hotel, and a Renault appears on display, along some VWs and a Chrysler product. Sadly, -for my interests- the presence of French makes would be all too brief in this nation.

In the end, it was up to the will of local elites -mostly of European descent- to venture into the auto market. And for these native investors, gut instinct and personal biases were the reasons to pick one brand over another for their dealerships (In all honesty, ‘gut instinct’ is how things still work over here).

Above is Guatemala City, with a nice mix of American, Japanese, and at least one European make.

Let’s pay a visit to Nicaragua’s capital, Managua. Looks like a good mix of brands, with the Brits having a nice presence.

I haven’t been much to Nicaragua (it’s awfully hot); but if I’m not mistaken, its old National Palace is no longer. Actually, most of Managua was leveled during a horrid earthquake in 1972.

Let’s move to the borders now, with a Tatra appearing in the Customs Office between Honduras and Nicaragua. And do I see a Czechoslovakian flag on that fender? Maybe a Czech diplomat? (Update: It’s on a round-the-world trip).

Guatemala City, once again. This time with a Vega (didn’t know they came here!), a Fiat, VW, and some Japanese and American trucks further back.

Let’s not leave Honduras’ capital out of this collection; Tegucigalpa. A nice Studebaker is the one that stands out to me in this shot. There’s a nice Woodie wagon on the left too.

Allow me to come back home again. This is the Poma & Co. dealer in San Salvador, here still selling American makes. Lincoln was actually quite popular with the local upper class, the result of our dictator -Maximiliano Martinez- using one as his official ride. The Poma’s would start selling Toyotas by the late ’50s, and still are the largest car dealer in the nation; with ventures into real state across the region.

As for the sign; it’s some kind of odd sales promotion: “We’ll discount 100 Colones daily for every day this car doesn’t sell… get it today, for you may not find it tomorrow.”

A Ford Thames bus provides service between San Salvador and San Miguel. Buses would grow in size, and clothing would become more American, but the street sellers and basic dwellings remain a regional trait to this day.

Let’s finish in Guatemala City, with a nice couple of Chrysler products. Now, I may live in El Salvador, but I won’t deny I find Guatemala the most fascinating country in the region. Troubled, yes, but absolutely enthralling. A visit is way overdue, and who knows? I could find some nice CCs to share.