Theme : Sudamerica – Argentinian Soul, Hanseatic Heart

As we conclude our trip across South America, we do so in a small truck with a surprising powerplant. IAME’s faithful Rastrojero.

Image: Borgward Drivers’ Club

Argentina’s Peron-initiated IAME (Industrias Aeronáuticas y Mecánicas del Estado) technology and manufacturing vehicle, turned out some weird and less than wonderful machinery in its 38 year existence; from small Goliath-like front wheel drive cars with highly unconventional split-twin two stroke engines, to a sports car with a 2.5 litre air-cooled modular V8. Yet IAME’s most successful and enduring product was the Rastrojero, a light truck truly down to earth in its concept and engineering.

Resembling a scaled-down Willys Jeep pick-up, the earliest iteration of the Rastrojero had its origins in a joint venture with the Philadelphia based Empire Tractor Corporation, a short lived (1946-50) business set up to build light tractors for export only, using war surplus components bought at low cost.

Empire’s venture into the Argentinian market was blighted by acrimony, but gave IAME a supply of components for their rural vehicle project.  Thus the Rastrojero began life with a 2199cc Willys Go-Devil side valve petrol engine, a three speed Empire gearbox, and Empire axles. The separate steel chassis had transverse leaf front suspension, with a live axle and longitudinal leaf springs at the rear.

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Production was modest in the first two years, with only 2365 of the petrol (Naftero) engined trucks sold. In 1954 the Rastrojero received the engine which would define its identity, the 1758cc ohv Borgward D4M diesel, along with a new 4 speed gearbox from the Bremen firm.

The D4M engine was new technology, having made its debut in the Hansa 1800 saloon a year before. Sub 2 litre diesels suitable for road vehicles were a rarity – Peugeot, Perkins and BMC’s offerings were some years away, and the only serious alternative was the Mercedes Benz OM636. The Borgward engine produced a modest 42bhp, but its frugality was impressive. Over 60mpg was achievable in the 1250kg six seater Hansa saloon, and the Rastrojero’s unladen weight was 100kg less.

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The engine long outlived its parent company in Bremen, and in 1965, as the D301 gained 39cc by way of a 2mm increase in stroke, a more modern Bosch indirect injection system, and another 10bhp.

Image: Diaria Epoca

In 1969 the Rastrojero received a complete re-style, with a rather Japanese looking cab, offering four doors for the crew-cab version for the first time. The chassis gained a new torsion bar front suspension, with double wishbones.

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The Borgward engine bowed out in 1971. The Argentinian Borgward Diesel firm continued to supply IAME with engines, but had set up an alliance with Peugeot to produce the widely used Indenor XD 4.88 engine. The Borgward gearbox continued to be used.

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A further, rather charmless, restyle appeared in 1974, along with the Conosur, a four door saloon intended for taxi use.

The Rastrojero was never built in huge numbers. At its peak around 3000 per year were sold, with some exported to Uruguay, Chile, and Bolivia. A wide range of bodies were available – stakeside and conventional pick ups, crew cabs and panel vans, and even a few estate cars – ‘Rurals’ in Argentinian coachwork parlance.

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IAME tried to capitalise on the Rastrojero’s reputation by offering other vehicles under the brand. The 1969-79 F71/SM81 was a forward control range of vans, minibuses and light trucks using the bodywork of the discontinued IASFe DKW Combi on an adapted Rastrojero chassis. The largely unrelated Rastrojero O68/M91 was a 2.2 ton forward control truck also produced from 1969-79, using the cab of the Borgward B611 light van and a 3.2 litre Peugeot diesel.

IAME fell victim to the so-called National Reorganisation Process under General Jorge Rafael Videla, resulting in the end of Rastrojero production in Córdoba on 22 May 1979.

Several attempts were made to restart production over the next decade, but they were thwarted by parts supply problems and the prevailing political and economic turmoil, with only a few hundred vehicles manufactured.

In all but the most dryly factual account of the Rastrojero’s long life, there’s a strong sense of affection for a vehicle which saw a nation through good times and bad times, and represented a sort of rural ideal, even though Rastrojeros were as likely to be found moving furniture in Buenos Aires or Córdoba as transporting livestock and feed on the estancia.

A quick check of Mercado Libre suggests that the things have the indestructibility of cockroaches, and are commanding strong money.

And finally – the true measure of a cult vehicle is a retro homage, preferably electrically powered, so here it is:

Image: Carlos Ptaschne Facundo Castellano Davila

6 thoughts on “Theme : Sudamerica – Argentinian Soul, Hanseatic Heart”

  1. Incredible how many unknown (to European readers) vehicles we have seen here in the last month – and I guess we’ve only just scratched the surface of a different world here.
    A huge thank you to all the researchers and contributors to this month’s theme!

    1. It has been very interesting discovering cars and, even, manufacturers, several of which I’m ashamed to say I had been unaware of.

      We spend a lot of time at DTW nitpicking details on today’s overstyled hatchbacks, but the Rastrojero is the sort of vehicle that makes any criticism sound churlish. It’s apparent that, in its earlier days, the South American industry was crying out for more vehicles like this, and some simple home-grown saloons or family estates. But, as with the industry elsewhere, much of the talent preferred to fiddle around on up-market vanity projects like the interesting but irrelevant Uirapuru, or the overpriced FNM / Alfas.

  2. I have to say im glad to read a note related to our national industry. The Rastrojero is one part of an impressive industrial heritage that sadly lost during the last 4 decades.

    1. Hi Rodrigo: nice to see you here. Thanks for stopping by. Indeed South-America has been a fascinating topic. We hope that you are able to recognise the descriptions. I think none of us (apart from the editor, Simon) have ever been to South-America, so the information is based on internet gleanings. I am very sure I have not even scratched the surface with my own articles. I had to dive in, rummage around and come back with the first 800 words I could find, as it were. My interest has been on what is on sale and my colleagues have been more interested in the history. I think to be self-critical, lumping the whole lot under one continent is a bit unfair. We could quite probably do a month on Chile, Brazil and Argentina and the Falklands.

    2. Richard, thanks for the response. Maybe the interesting part of south american auto industry is between Argentina & Brazil. In Argentina we lived golden years during the 60’s 70’s and 80’s in the bus industry. Brands like Cametal, DIC, San Antonio, Decaroli were the best in the business. Also they developed some regional bus chasis with Deutz engine and double decker designs. You should check out that. As an industrial designer i love the auto industry history and even more related with local builders and designers.

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