Amid high hopes, Argentina’s Zunder proved a damp squib.
A substantial percentage of the population of Argentina is of European origin- so much so that even today many Argentineans consider their country as in a way a separate one from the South American continent. Until the middle of the 20th century Argentina and its inhabitants were doing rather well economically, exporting cereals and meat worldwide. What was felt to be missing however was a domestic car make; several enterprising souls would try their luck at clearing this prestigious but tricky hurdle. The Bongiovanni brothers were among them.
As their surname suggests, Nilson and Eligio Bongiovanni were of Italian descent. After the second world war they ran a large and prosperous Chevrolet dealership in the city of Rio Cuarto, west of Buenos Aires. The implementation of protectionism measures by the government in 1952 threw a spanner in the works: among other things it meant the end of the import of foreign cars including of course, Chevrolets. This left the brothers with only repairs and maintenance as a source of income. This setback did however stimulate the Bongiovannis (both of them creative personalities with excellent engineering skills) to make work of realising a dream they had fostered for some time – creating their own car.
Thus in 1958 ITA (Industrias del Transporte Automotor) was established. Because of the comparatively small initial investment fiberglass was chosen for the body, which was built onto a tubular steel frame. The styling of their car was done in-house, and certainly distinctive if nothing else: both the windshield and backlight were of the panoramic variety and give the car an unusual profile that evokes the Ford Anglia 105E. The face of the car is not easily missed either – regardless of whether your references are from the USA or Europe, for it previews the front ends of the 1961 Chrysler and DeSoto or the Jensen CV-8 and Triumph Vitesse, respectively.
A car needs an engine too of course and for this ITA turned to Porsche, in those days enjoying increasing popularity for their sports cars but still welcoming outside orders for engines or engineering consultancy work. Initially the Bongiovannis placed an order for one hundred 1500cc 58hp flat four engines as used in the Porsche 356. With this engine their 880kg car, rear engined just like the 356, could reach a claimed top speed of 93 Mph. Apparently Porsche was sufficiently impressed by the brothers’ project to send a couple of their engineers to Argentina to assist them.
The name chosen for the new car was a German one, likely chosen in honour of the company that supplied the power units and assistance: Zunder, which translates into English as Tinder. In 1960 the production-ready Zunder 1500 was presented to the press at the prestigious Alvear Palace Hotel in Buenos Aires.
The slogan accompanying the Zunder’s introduction was (translated) “The car does not change because it is always new“. First impressions from the press were positive: the Zunder was well screwed together, had good road manners and was surprisingly quiet inside for a rear engined car. No comments were made on the styling.
A major problem for the Bongiovanni brothers however was how to produce the Zunder in volume and sell it at a competitive price. In order to stimulate sales they decided to initially sell the Zunder at a loss- and while this strategy was moderately successful initially it soon became evident that this was not a sustainable way of doing business.
Inevitably ITA started to run out of money and could not even pay the Porsche engine bills on time; two Zunder customers and friends of the Bongiovannis (Anselmo and Julian Garcia, brothers also) offered temporary relief by financially supporting the venture.
Sales of the Zunder remained minimal however and soon the Garcias saw their investment evaporate. In mid-1962 ITA filed for bankrupcy after having sold only around 200 Zunder 1500s; all assets of the company were liquidated, permanently ending the Zunder’s short career. Having the Porsche connection may have been a positive factor, but the price and ungainly looks are more than likely to have put too many potential customers off.
Eligio Bongiovanni had enough after this, unlike his brother who designed and built a rear-engined coupé which looked very much like the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. He managed to construct two cars but it never went beyond that. Even in its home country, today hardly anyone has heard of the Zunder 1500. Outside of Argentina it is even more obscure; but imagine the fun one could have turning up at a Porsche owners club meeting in one…..