The Many Faces of Flour

The lesser-known Argentinian Farina variations.

Images: issuu.com and supermercedes.com.ar

The car you see before you here today is likely to be, for many at least, an unfamiliar member of the BMC Farina family, but it was a unique and interesting variation in its own right. Its story begins with one of Argentina’s greatest and most revered industrialists, an Italian immigrant named Torcuato di Tella (1892–1948), who had disembarked in Buenos Aires with his parents in 1895. At just eighteen years of age, di Tella developed and produced a dough-mixing machine which became very popular with bakeries across the country.

Before long, di Tella had extended his range of products to include gasoline pumps, refrigerators, washing machines and other household appliances, but S.I.A.M., the name of the manufacturing company he established in 1911, paid tribute to the product started it all: it is an acronym for ‘Sección Industrial Amasadoras Mecánicas’ or, in English, ‘Bread Making Machine Industries’.

Di Tella was politically engaged and very much an anti-fascist, financing the opposition to Benito Mussolini’s dictatorship in his native country and assisting those prosecuted and marginalised under il Duce’s regime. In 1948, the Italian businessman died quite young at the age of 56 and left the company to his two sons: Torcuato Junior and Guido, both of whom were engineers by profession. His sons changed the name of the company to SIAM di Tella and expanded into the field of mobility by signing a license agreement in 1948 with Italian scooter manufacturer Lambretta. Labeled Siambretta, the scooters would be mnanfactured until 1970. The Siambretta tooling was then sold to the firm Franco Brothers, who used it as a base to produce a small three-wheeled truck called the Frambretta.

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With business going well, by the late 1950s the Di Tella brothers decided the time was ripe to enter car manufacturing. In 1959, SIAM di Tella reached an agreement with BMC to produce their new Farina line of cars under license. The fact that Farina is also the Italian word for flour is an amusing coincidence in light of the original name of the company(1).

In order to add the production of cars to SIAM di Tella’s portfolio of products, the plant located in Monte Chingolo was extensively refurbished over a period of four months and reopened in March 1960. Just two weeks after its inauguration, the first Di Tella 1500 was completed.

The Argentine Farina variant was mostly identical to the Riley 4/68 and 4/72 apart from the rear end, which was that of the Austin Cambridge A55/A60. Power was provided by the familiar B-series four-cylinder engine coupled to a three-speed manual gearbox with column shifter. Apart from the four-door sedan there was also an estate named Di Tella Traveler and, from 1961, a pick-up ‘ute’ version unique to SIAM di Tella.

Early cars were assembled by using imported British components, but strict protectionist rules imposed by the Argentine government resulted in all Di Tella 1500s being built with mostly locally produced parts from 1961 on. A team of BMC production engineers supervised the manufacturing process, with the main objective to lower production times. Their efforts certainly bore fruit as, in 1960, just 4,000 cars rolled of the assembly line but three times that number were completed in the following year.

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On the strength of its positive brand image for making quality products, SIAM di Tella soon became the car of choice for the Argentine taxi trade: as early as 1962, three out of every ten Di Tellas on the streets of Buenos Aires were the distinctive black taxis with their bright yellow roofs(2). Strengths cited by the Buenos Aires cabbies were good interior room and bootspace, reliable mechanicals and overall durability. Feeble brakes and only barely adequate performance were the most often mentioned deficiencies.

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The Di Tella Magnette 1622 was added to the lineup in 1964. Its four-speed manual gearbox was also fitted to all other Di Tellas from that moment on. By the middle of the decade, however, the bloom was fading as the rose as the Farina started to age; sales spiralled downwards and, in September 1965, IKA-Renault took a controlling interest of 65% in SIAMs automotive arm. It was renamed Compañia Industrial de Automotores S.A. (C.I.D.A.S.A.). The Di Tella 1500 was facelifted and now named Riley 1500 or Morris 1650, depending on the version.

Alas, sales numbers failed to pick up in any meaningful way, so IKA-Renault halted production of all Farinas in 1967, concentrating instead on its own existing range of French and American vehicles. During its brief period of car manufacture, SIAM di Tella had produced some 28,000 Farina variants.

Their popularity as taxis notwithstanding, in 1978 the junta government under Jorge Videla, worried about projecting a bad impression with foreign visitors to that year’s football World Cup, banned all taxis that were over ten years old. At a stroke, virtually all Di Tella taxis disappeared from the streets.

As late as 2012, however, long after Videla’s rule had ended, the SIAM di Tella was clearly still not forgotten and was immortalised in the form of a statue (an honour not often bestowed on a car) dedicated to the Argentinian taxi trade, and also depicted on a national postage stamp.

Subsequently nationalised, then experiencing a further changes of ownership, SIAM di Tella still exists today as a manufacturer of refrigerators and the company opened a new plant as recently as 2014.

(1) Hence, in the lead photo of this article is a pebete, one of the most popular Argentine sandwich variants. It is pictured next to the car itself.

(2) In Argentina, ‘taxi’ is a derogatory term for a brunette who has dyed her hair blonde, inspired by the taxicabs’ mandatory colour scheme of black with a yellow roof.

Author: brrrruno

Car brochure collector, Thai food lover, not a morning person before my first cup of coffee

26 thoughts on “The Many Faces of Flour”

  1. This would have surely made the largest selling ‘Riley’ ever.
    More than the ADO 16 Riley Kestrel ?

  2. The front of the white car in the picture selection at the bottom looks amazingly similar to a Peugeot 404.

    1. Bernard, it’s hard to believe that Australia could come up with a six cylinder 2.4 litre version of the 1.6 litre ‘B’ series 4 cylinder, and have Britain tell them,’we don’t need that’. Peugeot would have jumped at the chance to have an up-to-date six cylinder motor using four cylinder parts. Even more unbelievably, just a few years later Leyland Australia did the same thing with the ‘E’ series OHC four from the Maxi, to make the ‘E’ series six, though, at least that did get used back in blighty.
      The Freeway is my favorite version of the front styling. Someone somewhere must surely have made a 2.7 – 3.o litre triple carb version of the six using Downton parts for an MGB. There need never have been the boat anchor ‘C’ series six.

    2. They looked at a 5 inch wider version in Australia as well, to better compete with the wider Holden competition and the Chrysler Valiant.

  3. Good morning Bruno. My goodness, BMC really did manage to squeeze out a multitude of variants of the Farina saloon over its long life. I recall it as always looking rather frumpy and old-fashioned, at least to my childish eyes. It was introduced in 1959 and was made to look outdated just two years later by the arrival of the Cortina Mk1. Despite this, and the arrival of BMC’s ostensibly more modern FWD alternatives, the 1800 and Maxi, the Farina was still in production when Ford launched the Cortina Mk3 in 1970!

    I think Peugeot got the better looking variant of essentially the same Farina design with the 404, which seemed not to look dated in the same way as the BMC car. Perhaps this was in part because it was spared the indignity of the BMC ‘badge-engineered’ versions, many of which looked a bit ersatz. The 404 also appeared to be noticeably better built. When looking along the flanks of the British car, the panels never seemed to sit properly flush, and shut-lines were quite inconsistent:

    The Peugeot always looked noticeably better in this regard:

    1. A large part of the Peugeot’s comparative modernness is due to its mch cleaner lines, in my eyes. Starting with a straighter execution of the bodyside crease and the fins to the rear while also omitting the kink in the rear door, the impression is completed by the simpler DLO layout without quarterlights and heavy chrome. The whole Peugeot body also seems to look lighter, maybe also helped by the larger wheels.

    2. The 404 was nicknamed the French Mercedes. At that time, Peugeot was seen as a manufacturer of quality cars and surely they were able to make steel pressings in larger size and with tighter tolerances than Pressed Steel Fisher.

    3. Aside from the rear tailfins on both, also prefer the cleaner lines of the 404.

  4. Great story. That explains why I spotted a few Farinas when I was in rural Argentina in 2005 albeit in various states of decay. I must say it had me puzzled at the time so thank you for the explanation.

  5. Thank you, Bruno; I’ll remember the ‘mismatch / taxi’ reference – it made me laugh.

    These Farinas, along with Ford Zephyrs, were the archetypal taxi from my childhood – simple, strong and roomy. The Farinas especially were likely to be driven very methodically and slowly, as I recall.

    Turning to the car itself, I wonder how di Tella came to choose the different rear end; that said, BMC allowed Australia to do something similar with their Austin Freeway, which got the ‘posher’ / more dramatic Magnette / Riley rear. I think the concept of the estate – effectively a ‘Riley Traveller’ is an odd one, too.

  6. What a fascinating story, Bruno. Thanks for enlightening me. Here’s another shot of the statue.

  7. Yet another variation on a forgettable theme – and one of which I wasn’t aware; thanks Bruno! In period, the BMC Farinas were universally derided by the cognoscenti, apoplexy regularly brought on at the sight of a Riley or MG version. It was seen very much as a Longbridge car and in Austin Cambridge form very popular with West Midlands commercial travellers who appreciated the large boot and mechanical indestructibility (and who wouldn’t have been seen dead in a Dagenham Dustbin). The Morris Oxford was therefore slightly less popular (suspicions about Longbridge amongst Morris men died hard) and the Riley, Wolseley & MG versions appealed only to those lacking in appreciation of the real thing. Allegedly.

    But with the distance of time they seem to have gained a bit of a following and the Riley version in particular I have heard described with some admiration – by people too young to have known it when available at their local dealer. Still can’t see it myself….. but I have to agree that the 404 was a far superior rendition and the unique to Argentina grille on the white car works rather better than the Cambridge. It also reminds me of something Japanese, but I can’t remember what. Help me someone?

  8. I wonder if any motoring publication ever did a back-to-back test of the BMC Farina and Peugeot 404? I must have a look for one in my archive of Car Magazine back-issues. Secondly, I wonder if anyone has ever counted up the total number of front and rear-end styling permutations applied to the British car? (And no, I’m not interested enough to do it myself!)

    1. Car, I think as Small Car, certainly did a group test of the whole BMC bunch and was pretty rude about them as I recall – but I don’t remember a back-to-back test with the 404. Permutations? Me neither! And please, Daniel, can you remove the greengrocer’s apostrophe from my second sentence……

    2. Hello Daniel,

      I think that there are 5 basic front ends – the Austin A55 and Morris Oxford Series V (one); A60 and Series VI (two); and then the MGs, Rileys and Wolseleys (three, four and five).

      There are 3 basic back ends – A55, Series V, Wolseley 15/60 and estate (big fins); then the A60, Series VI and 16/60 (smaller fins); and the MG and Riley (curvier fins). I’m discounting other versions by specialists, such as the Riley Riviera. I must get out more.

      I prefer the A60 / Series VI, as they’re less fussy.

      https://www.veikl.com/d/Morris-Oxford-Series-VI-Saloon-and-Traveller-Brochure-1967-EN-52212

      I’ll see if I can find any interesting road tests.

    3. Hi John. Rogue apostrophe now expunged. 🙂

      Charles, I’ve just Googled ‘Riley Riviera’ and was rather taken aback by the images returned…😮

    4. Lol – whoops – I can explain, Your Honour…. nice bodywork, though.

    5. Would be worth exploring which of the rear and front styling permutations on the RWD BMC models by Farina were the best executed of the lot, because there must of been some combination of the Farina styling permutations that could have been a better basis for the British Farina models then what was approved for production.

      Would IMHO rate the mk2 A40 Farina and A110 Westminster at the front (as they could have easily been updated at the front to resemble the Innocenti IM3 and Innocenti J5 to freshen it up a bit more), followed by the A60 Cambridge and Oxford Series VI at the rear though would personally rate the rear of the 3-litre ADO61 above the latter two (as it brings to mind the Peugeot 404 Coupe and Cabriolet as well as of all things the Gordon-Keeble).

    6. My preferred version is the later A60 Cambridge with simpler front grille and more rounded tail lights that tone down the tailfins:

      The deletion of the double chrome trim along the flanks with contrasting paint colour between also helped to modernise the design somewhat (making it more similar in appearance to the Peugeot 404).

    7. Would the rear of the A60 Cambridge have benefited from featuring a more Cedric 30 style slight angle?


    8. The early ’60s styling tweaks tamed down the excesses of a car which already looked dated and overwrought, but what was needed was a new car on Hillman Hunter lines, no later than mid-1965. Len Lord would have relished the challenge, hopeless Harriman instead squandered money and design resources on sure-fire failures like the Vanden Plas 4 litre R, Austin 3 litre, and Fireball XL5.

    9. When meaning a new car on Hillman Hunter lines no later than mid-1965, is it in the sense of new parts still being based on tried and tested components clothed in a more modern Pininfarina body or basically what was initially envisioned for the Marina (MacPherson Struts, etc) before things went completely downhill for the latter with the severe cost cutting?

      What is fascinating is how Peugeot were able to sell the aging 404 alongside the Pininfarina styled 504 for another 6-7 years after the latter was introduced until French production ceased in 1975 (leaving aside non-Western production). Not suggesting the BMC Farinas could have followed a similar template as the 404 had it featured cleaner styling that significantly toned down the visual excesses of the period (it certainly needed more than attractive styling), only that they would have not looked so dated by the time they were speedily replaced.

  9. The ‘Austin’ SIAM di Tella appears to have a full Freeway front end, but without the gunsight, which instead appears on the “Riley”.

    1. Not all Freeways have the gunsight- an accessory possibly?

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