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Around the world : Argentina

Briefly popular in Argentina and an iconic addition to the scenery of Buenos Aires, the Siam di Tella story is another of those BMC defeats-from-failure that litters the 1950s and 1960s…

Words: Federico Raffo, Auto Test Magazine, Motorpress Argentina S.A. Photography: Miguel Tillous Translation: Alejandro Cáceres.


Siam di Tella 1500: Nunca Taxi

Siam di Tella 1500
The Di Tella was a common sight on the streets of Argentina in the 1960s and was transformed by taxi drivers into an icon of reliability and strength.

WHEN the first Siambretta scooters arrived on Argentinean shores on the 1950s, due to a licensing deal with Italian manufacturer Lambretta, they were an instant hit and became many Argentinians’ first vehicle. Thanks to financial assistance from the Government, Siam Di Tella Automotores S.A. (makers of the Siambretta) struck a licensing deal with BMC to build the Austin A55 in 1959. The resulting car was called the Siam Di Tella 1500.

Siam established a new factory on a greenfield site in Monte Chingolo, Buenos Aires, and after 4 months (on 15 March 1960) the factory was opened with the first DiTella rolling off the production line on 2 April. The front suspension was modified to cope with the local road conditions and, to give the engine a higher level of reliability, the compression ratio was reduced from 8.3:1 to 7.2:1, costing 13bhp (68 vs 55bhp).

Easy to service and with a family-oriented design, the car – originally designed by Pininfarina – was widely accepted by the middle classes, and the taxi drivers saw in it a great replacement for the already worn out Mercedes 170s and 1951 Chevys among others. Demand for the DiTella was of more than 4000 units on the first year, and this number tripled the following year. At the same time, the Argenta pick-up and Traveller estate were launched.

The 1500 was more modern (design-wise) than most of the cars on Argentinean roads at the end of the 1950s. The front end was dominated by two big, round headlamps surrounded by generous chromed rims, the Riley 4/68 grille and chromed bumpers with chromed overriders. A curved (but pretty upright) windscreen, flat side windows and a big rear window gave the car a very airy and well-illuminated cabin for the time. The crease on the sides sloped slowly to the rear ending on the bottom of the tail lights, which formed two subtle tail fins, but more prominent than on the original A55.

Siam di Tella 1500

The very spacious boot had a cut on the upper left corner, where the fuel filler cap was located. Overall, its design is very similar to a later Pininfarina car, which had a slightly more pleasing profile, cleaner and with less ornaments: the Peugeot 404. The interior was spartan, with front bucket seats on the first versions, and a Bakelite steering wheel with a chromed horn rim. The gear lever was on the steering column and, to engage reverse, one had to pull the lever out, draw an arc with it and then lower it towards oneself.

The equipment was adequate for the era, with a speedometer with total and trip odometer, water temp, oil pressure and fuel level, ashtray and AM radio. One unusual thing about this car was the turn indicator stalk, which had a green indicator lamp on its end. The ignition key position was also unusual (and uncomfortable): it was located on the centre of the dash.

To bring the saloon up to date, the Magnette 16/22 was launched, with the same bodywork but different grille and tail lights. It also had a brand new dash and new seats. Performance was improved: the engine was enlarged to 1622cc and, with a 8.3:1 compression ratio, power was up (72bhp at 5000rpm). In 1964, Siam went through deep economic problems and was bought by IKA (Industrias Kaiser Argentina), who made Siam its subsidiary (called from now on CIDASA).

After this, the cars were renamed Morris, MG and Riley (the same as in the UK) but the economic problems persisted so, in the first months of 1967, CIDASA closed its doors for good. The streets of Buenos Aires witnessed the reliability of the black and yellow Di Tellas which worked as taxis for years on end – the car became an icon of the local auto industry of the 1960s.


Tech specs:

Siam di Tella 1500

ENGINE
Layout: Front longitudinal, inline 4, OHV (pushrod), water cooled
Bore x stroke: 73 x 83.9 mm
Displacement: 1489cc
Intake: One SU HS2 38mm carburettor
C.R: 7.2:1
Power: 56bhp @ 4350rpm
Transmission: Manual, 4-speed, rear wheel drive, dry clutch

SUSPENSION
Front: independent, double A-arm, torsion bar.
Rear: Live axle, leaf sprung, telescopic dampers.
Steering: Recirculating ball.
Brakes: Hydraulic drums all-round.

BODY
Type: 4-door, 5-seats saloon monocoque.
Wheelbase: 2520mm
Length: 4520mm
Width: 1620mm
Height: 1520mm
Weight: 1090kg
Fuel tank: 43litres
Wheel: Stamped steel, 4-1/2J 14″
Tyres: Bias-ply, 5.90×14″

PERFORMANCE
Top speed: 116km/h
0-100 km/h: 37.5s
Avg. fuel cons: 9.5l/100km

MORRIS 1650 DIFFERENCES

ENGINE
Bore x stroke: 76.2 x 88.9 mm
Displacement: 1622cc
C.R.: 8.3:1
Power: 75bhp @ 4750rpm

PERFORMANCE
Top speed: 133 km/h
0-100 km/h: 27.2 s
Avg. fuel cons: 8.6l/100km

Posted in: Around the world
Keith Adams

About the Author:

AROnlineholic between 2001 and 2014 - editor of Classic Car Weekly, and all round car nut...

8 Comments on "Around the world : Argentina"

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  1. Hilton D says:

    Nice looking cars from a bygone era… I’m old enough to remember the UK/BMC versions of these cars in everyday use. Always something of interest on AROnline

  2. Paul Treloggan says:

    A very interesting article – the once great British British motor industry now just remembered in old cars.

  3. colin clarke says:

    I’ve got a 4/72, undergoing radical tuning up grades at the moment………..

  4. Chris de Wet says:

    The indicator stalk with the green repeater light on the end must have been shared with the earliest Mini.

  5. Dani says:

    Thank you very much for this article which I incidentally saw by random ! Yes, in Argentina this was one of the most beloved cars of all times, still is a legend, it worked like a horse with animal traction because it lasted 30 years turning around and around. We Argies always knew this elegant but slow car was born and engineered in the UK and it won 100/100 reputation for its inherent qualities .
    There`s a saying still going on : British cars were so reliable that if every owner bought one ,still is durable 30 years … , the automobile itself lasted more than most carmaker`s brands (nostalgia for Morris, Wolseley, Austin, Riley glorious names ! ) so hereby it`s simply Siam DiTella

  6. Alecito says:

    Hey Brits many thanx for including a bit of Argentina within your outstanding posts, also for the lovely pictures of this remarkable English car with Argentinean aesthetics. Still you may know it was also made the station wagon called Traveller, plus an enchanting light truck called the Siam Argenta which is neverless than a Morris Oxford farina with the typical layouts and resemblance of those heavy American “pick-ups” in a more decent size and shaped with a very English style .

  7. Edward Vaaren says:

    Wonderful article , all my congratulations to AROnline, it`s absolutely truthful all you`ve written about the fine crafted Siam Di Tella made in Argentina under supervisions of that then so called BMC . So venerable quality proven became these cars (as well as the further local Hillman Avengers) that is documented these machines survived and still lasts more years than an average wedding`s signature .

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