Not everything is what it seems at first glance: Citroën 2cv derivatives from the fertile South American lowlands.
Founded in 1959, Citroën Argentina S.A. initially assembled vehicles with parts imported from France. The A-series Citroëns produced at the plant located in a southeast barrio of Buenos Aires named Barracas were mostly identical to their French sisters although the 602cc engined version was renamed 3cv, and featured a fifth door hatch which the European 2cv would only receive many years later.
The A-series models made in Barracas were the 2cv, the 3cv and 3cv in the fourgonette (van) version. Starting in 1964, Citroën Argentina began to manufacture the 425cc engine for the 2cv themselves. In 1969 production was expanded with the Ami 8, followed by the Méhari in 1974; production of the GS being contemplated but never materialised because of the large investment required.
As the end of the decade neared, the changed political and economic situation due to the national reorganisation process (known as proceso) under junta leader Jorge Videla made Citroën decide to close its Argentine subsidiary on December 31, 1979. Citroën had by that time of course become part of Groupe PSA which already manufactured Peugeots in the SEVEL plant that also produced various Fiat models.
Citroën’s small car range was becoming obsolete and PSA decided not to make any more investments in Citroën Argentina as SEVEL already covered the small car field with its Fiat models.
Eduardo Sal Lari, president of shock absorber company Daher Boge, took over the shares of Citroën Argentina S.A.; Daher Boge had already been a supplier to Citroën Argentina and other carmakers. At first, production of the 3cv continued by using the parts already in stock, with some parts imported from France as required.
In early 1983, the company that was until then still called Citroën Argentina changed its name to Industrias Eduardo Sal Lari (IES)
and continued to produce the 3CV but now under a new brand name, IES 3cv. It was the cheapest new car available in Argentina at the time and 5949 were built.
That same year construction of a new plant in the city of Mercedes – also near Buenos Aires – was started; two years later IES would transfer all manufacture to the Mercedes plant and close down Barracas. This move was part of an ambitious plan by IES that included the development and production of a car fully designed and developed in Argentina and to be produced in several South American countries; hence the project name “Latin American”.
It was to be powered by an engine with two opposing cylinders and cooled by water, with a displacement of 825 cc and an output of around 40 hp. It was a compact vehicle for five with a hatchback bodystyle; despite the considerable time and money devoted to the project, only one prototype of the Latin American was ever
constructed. IES ceasing operations in 1990 sealed its fate.
In 1985 an updated 3cv was introduced by IES with a new name: America. The changes were mainly cosmetic: different and more substantial bumpers, integrated taillights, a wider grille and square headlights mounted onto the front wings.
It’s a 2cv Jim, but not as we know it
Just two years later, in 1987, the Super America replaced the America and this was a very different car indeed although outwardly it looked almost similar to the America: a larger windshield and simultaneous deletion of the previous wide ventilation flap was the easiest way to spot the Super America from outside.
The interior received a major makeover however with a new dashboard, upgraded seats, opening rear windows and a floor-mounted gear lever. That floor-mounted gear lever which will raise eyebrows with those familiar with the 2cv was a result of IES abandoning the classic platform chassis and replacing it with a central tube and cross-sections chassis with telescopic dampers, a setup not unlike that of the DKW 1000S.
Another salient change was that the front disc brakes which were previously mounted inboard on each side of the gearbox were now the conventional in-wheel-mounted type. An unexpected feature of a car in the Super America’s price class was the electronic starter key card without which the car could not be started.
All this raises the question: was the Super America still an A-series? Most agreed that while the America was still for the most part a Citroën, for the Super America it was the opposite.
The 10,000th car produced by IES, and Eduardo Sal Lari
The America and Super America were produced 3622 and 3118 times respectively; by 1990 however IES was forced to throw in the towel because the deep economic crisis that hit Argentina causing a great contraction of the domestic market made continuation of the business untenable. Citroën would return to Argentina some years later (in 1999) but without any involvement by IES.
The author would like to thank Alejandro Beiroa and Gustavo Feder for their kind assistance in producing this article.