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South American Torino odyssey

30 August, 2023

Twenty years of Torino, 1999 to 2019
“… you will never see the end of the road while you are travelling with me …”
– Crowded House: Don’t Dream it’s Over
By Rob Mumford and Ashley Webb

Pictured here with my daughter Nat in 1999
My dad with MT. Dad taught me to love cars and road trips

Rob Mumford first visited Argentina in 1990 on a backpacking trip with his brother and fell in love with Argentina’s passionate people and stunning landscapes. In 1998 he moved there to live and a year later spotted a sleek emerald green 1971 Ford Torino parked near his Buenos Aires apartment. 
He ran home, grabbed a Post it note, and scratched out a message: “Awesome car! If you are keen to sell, please give me a call on 4832-9444.” He stuck the note to the muscle car’s windscreen and crossed his fingers.
Rob received a call from the owner, Ruben, just a month later in October ’99 and they made arrangements to meet up. Ruben took Rob for a drive and although Rob didn’t get behind the wheel, the Torino looked and felt great. A few days later a price was agreed and along with his father, who was visiting from New Zealand, Rob headed out to the suburb of Olivos to pick it up and hand over the cash. On the drive back into town a couple of people asked “What car is that?” and plenty of heads turned as they went by, confirming he’d made the right choice. That night Rob’s dreams of a Patagonia road trip flowed freely.
Rob’s first trip to the Atlantic coast of the Buenos Aires province in December ’99 was also his first ride on the back of a tow truck. He set out in the Torino, travelling with his friend Richard, and five-year-old daughter, Nat. The 700km day trip to San Clemente and Mundo Marino was as great as it sounds but on the way back the battery slowly lost power. They made it back as far as downtown Buenos Aires’ Avenida 9 de Julio but there the Torino died completely.
Just over a year other little mechanical issues introduced Rob to mechanic Claudio Fernandez, owner of the Mecanica Modelos garage. They shared the passion for  ‘real’ cars and it was the start of a great relationship. “Claudio fixed a few things, got the Torino back on the road, and he has provided quality service at fair prices over the last 18-plus years. Thanks for everything Claudio,” says Rob. 

Factory data
1971 Ford Torino 500 Hardtop
VIN Vehicle Identification Number F 1A30F283595 F
1 = Last Digit of Model Year = 1971
A = Assembly Plant = Atlanta
30 = IBM Body Code = Torino 500 Formal Hardtop
F = Engine Type = 302V8-2v
283595 = Serial Number

Stark awakening 
After opening the Kia Kaha gym in the Buenos Aires suburb of Palermo in October ’02, cash flow problems and persistent electrical issues with the Torino, affectionately known as MT (Madam Torino), prompted Rob reluctantly to put the car into a two-year hibernation. MT collected dust while Rob paid the parking building fee each month. “Looking back, I can’t believe how long I went without a drive,” he says. 
Exactly two years after parking her, MT was awakened with minimum fuss courtesy of a jolt from a new battery from Claudio’s. Rob went for a drive the next day and pulled up next to a large articulated truck and trailer. Rob takes up the tale:
“I gave him plenty of room as I sure didn’t want to mess with something that big. The lights changed and I let him go, but to my horror he started turning and cut across the front of me, the trailer scraping the side of the Torino, and kept going. The sounds of screeching and scarring metal deafened me as I sat paralysed and helpless. The trailer threw the Torino up onto the kerb and up against a power pole. My only thought was that my road trip to Tierra del Fuego could be over. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the truck stopped and the silence was deafening. I sat there stunned, the Torino wedged between the truck and the power pole.
“The truck driver got out and I tried to do the same but when I tried the passenger door it was impossible as the power pole was right there blocking the door. A couple of policemen ran over and asked if my car ran on compressed natural gas, worried about the possibility of an explosion. I told them no and they then helped me squeeze out head first through the rear side window. 
“I struggled to my feet and looked with shock and horror at the scene before my eyes. I held my head in my hands and started shouting, “Look what you’ve done to my car! What were you doing?” and “I don’t believe this!” I walked around dazed and shocked and shouting but the ordeal wasn’t over yet. The Torino was wedged fast between truck and power pole and to free it the truck had to go back and forward a few times and each one was accompanied by more screeching and tearing of metal. The rear bumper was twisted like kids’ plasticine and the length of the driver’s side received more scrapes and dents. Finally, after more suffering she was free — at least there was to be no more pain. 
“I surveyed the damage and was thankful that amazingly all the windows had survived. There were no broken lights or any bits that couldn’t be repaired. I refused to let the dream die. I started her up to move off the kerb. She started first time and there was nothing scraping on the wheels either so I would have no problem getting home. She is a strong car, and protection from the trucks, buses, and crazy drivers on the streets of Buenos Aires was one of the reasons I bought the Torino. Any other car that went through this would have been demolished,” says Rob. 
Claudio was quick to the rescue and introduced Rob to master car restorer and muscle car specialist, Enrique Leichtner. Enrique said he could do the repairs and the price sounded very reasonable. He was not sure it would be ready by the planned late January Patagonia 55 trip departure date but he sure would try. Regular visits were made to Viel St in Flores to watch the transformation.
In January ’05, MT left Enrique’s garage looking magnificent and ready for the road. “Thanks Enrique! I had purchased a replacement grill, Torino emblem, steering wheel, and rear light configuration from Bob Henning in the USA but Enrique suggested it would be better to install the parts after the Patagonia trip to avoid damage from flying stones. Thankfully I took his advice,” says Rob. 

My mechanic Claudio in his workshop
My two mechanics, Enrico and Claudio

Patagonia or bust
Patagonia 55 was the name given to a road trip Rob Mumford and Kiwi friend Aaron undertook in February/March ’05 — a physical and spiritual journey to the end of the world. It featured in the October 2017 edition of New Zealand Classic Car
Argentina is a massive country, the eighth largest in the world. It is 10 times the size of New Zealand and more than 4500km from north to south. Ushuaia near the 55th parallel is the world’s southernmost city and some 1500km south of Invercargill. It’s here that the Atlantic and Pacific oceans meet in the fearful waters around Cape Horn. Petrified forests, unique wildlife, dinosaur remains, wind swept coasts, mountains, lakes, and forests combine with the towns, cities, and people of Patagonia to make a unique and challenging travel experience. It was an epic trip through Patagonia on Argentina’s national route 3 discovering a near endless array of stunning places such as Bahia Bustamante, San Julian, Cabo dos Bahias, Bahia Camarones, and Ushuaia. 
An excerpt:
The Road – Nothing to hear but the rushing wind. Nothing to see but the road reaching out to the distant horizon. It’s out here that one catches a glimpse of the essence of life, an existence so simple that senses are switched off as the moment is experienced in its fullness and beauty. One feels both completely humbled and utterly immortal as thoughts of the outside world vanish and are replaced by a deep, all-encompassing calm. Time seems to stand still as the tarmac disappears below but the horizon remains fixed in the distance. A strange combination of speed and motionlessness. The white center line is our spiritual guide on these eternal and ethereal Patagonian highways.

Rob’s Torino travel diary
Feb 2007 – South Road trip to Las Grutas in the Rio Negro province via Bahia Creek with Sandra, Nat, and Sandra’s girls Vicky and Kitty. Awesome trip for the five of us and the isolated beaches of Bahia Rosas and Bahia Creek on the Camino de la Costa were the scenic highlights. Had to watch out for slow crossing tortoises when heading inland from Bahia Creek! Loberia was also a top spot. Stayed in Punta Alta, Carmen de Patagones, Las Grutas, and Bahía Blanca. Travelled a total of 3000km.
Feb 2009 – Road trip to Bahia Creek with Sandra — 2500km all up with a couple of nights in stunning Bahia Creek on the Camino de la Costa. Great views and beaches. Some hairy weather including a sandstorm on the road from Bahia Blanca to Viedma. Picked up a puncture at some point and had to change a tyre at Bahia Creek. 
Oct 2010 – Transmission reconditioned after it had crunched when I put it into reverse on a trip to the Mataderos traditional market. Occasionally it had been tough to get it in gear and took some seconds for reverse to take effect but the Mataderos crunch was the breaking point. Again it was Enrique to the rescue for this complex repair job and he also fixed the petrol tank and fuel gauge.
Nov 2011 – Driver’s side window smashed while parked a couple of blocks from home. Nothing stolen as there was nothing to steal. I was parked on the street for just a few hours before heading to a birthday party that night.
Dec 2011 – Completed a fifth family trip of the year to the Buenos Aires Atlantic Coast. We started in Jan with Costa del Este, then Ostende in Feb, Valeria del Mar with Dad and Jocelyn in May, a trip to Mar del Plata with Sandra and girls in June, and then back to Valeria del Mar in December. Also discovered stunning parador Otro Mundo. 
Sep 2012 Took All Blacks Charlie Faumuina, Brodie Retallik, and Hosea Gear for a spin during the team’s stay in Buenos Aires for the rugby championship. Thanks to brother and All Blacks local liaison Nick. A couple of days later the All Blacks stepped on the gas and scored a 54-15 win over the Pumas.

Apr 2013 – Road trip to La Pampa. First trip to Sandra’s home town of Manuel Riglos in the La Pampa province some 600km from Buenos Aires. Great drive down in perfect conditions but return was a different story with heavy rain and surface flooding. We returned in December with the girls for Christmas celebrations with the extended family.
May 2014 – Motor completely stripped down and reconditioned by the master, Enrique. He rebuilt the engine, replaced the seals, painted the block, repaired lots more, and also did considerable work on brakes and suspension. When I got in it felt like a brand new car, so smooth and quiet, and no more oil leaks. 
Jun 2014 – The Road to Brazil, from Buenos Aires to southern Brazil and FIFA World Cup 2014 host cities Porto Alegre and Curitiba. On the road for two weeks. Australian friend Paul Pallett and I travelled to the spiritual home of football to soak up the atmosphere and action of the beautiful game in the beautiful country. Immersed ourselves in the heart and soul of Brazilian football. Stunning sights, great roads, beautiful beaches, super friendly Brazilians, fantastic football, and World Cup fever. Concordia, Sao Gabriel, Porto Alegre, Torres, Florianopolis, Bombas y Bombinas, Curitiba, Porto Alegre, Tramandai, Sao Gabriel, Concordia. Travelled 5000km at 7.1km per litre.
Jul 2014 – After 1007 days the driver’s side window glass was finally replaced. Picked up the window in New York and on the flight back to Buenos Aires I watched the film Gran Torino with the new window below me in the cargo hold. Cost of the window was US$100 and thanks to Dave Watson in Illinois for storing it for more than two years. Thanks also to Enrique for putting in a very effective perspex temporary window. 
Oct 2014 – 15 Torino years! Celebrated with a road trip to Crespo in the Entre Rios province with host student Luke. Met up with mechanics Ramon and Nahuel Benetiz 10 years after our original meeting on Tierra del Fuego. Awesome to catch up and a fitting anniversary celebration. Great drive and some wild weather on the 1000km trip. Happy anniversary and thanks MT for so many awesome experiences and memories. 
Dec 2015 – Celebrated the All Blacks’ World Cup win with a victory lap of the Obelisk in true Argentine style. Nick, William, Nico, Ian, Santi, and Guillermo came for the ride.
May 2016 – Patagonia 55 Photo exhibition at Varela Varelita bar. Twelve of the best of mine and Aaron’s P55 photos were proudly displayed on the walls of this traditional Palermo café. Had a great opening night with support from family and friends, including mechanics Claudio and Enrique who have cared for the Torino all these years. 
Dec 2016 – A bit of a scrape on the passenger side when stuck in traffic on Av Santa Fe heading to the coast. The damage was mostly cosmetic and after a week in the workshop Enrique had healed the wound and MT was looking as gorgeous as ever.

Apr 2017 – Day trip to Puerto Ibicuy in Entre Rios province with Nick and William on a glorious autumn day. We crossed the magnificent Zarate bridges on our way to Ibicuy where 100 years ago ships carrying freight and passenger trains from Zarate on the other side of the Parana river would dock and the trains would roll off to continue their journey. The Zarate bridges were completed in 1977 and that signalled the end of the line for the Ibicuy rail river link.
Oct 2017 – Patagonia 55, A Physical and Spiritual journey to the End of the World was published in New Zealand Classic Car Magazine October issue. The story and photos were run over eight pages in full colour and looked awesome. I was stoked to finally have this story in print and big thanks to editor Ashley for publishing.
Dec 2017 – Completed a 17th trip to the Atlantic Coast of the Buenos Aires province (the first was in December 1999) where we had a family Christmas and New Year in Valeria del Mar. Another great drive on the long straight pampas highways with the traditional stop for blueberries at Finca de los Arandanos. Trip is 400km each way.
Feb 2019 – Trip to the town of Ayacucho in the BA province with Enrique. I wanted to visit the monument to Aimé Tschiffely and his noble horses Mancha and Gato who made the epic journey ‘Tschiffely’s Ride’ from Buenos Aires to New York in 1925-1928. Tschiffley described being between two oceans and two continents alone in the mountains of Costa Rica where he could not have been happier as he was with his two faithful companions of thousands of miles. I feel the same way when driving the Torino, my own faithful companion of thousands of kilometres of adventure. Great to share this trip with Enrique, who by his dedicated care of the Torino’s body and mechanics has enabled me to have all these adventures. Thanks Enrique!
Oct 2019 – Celebrated 20 Ford Torino years with a wedding anniversary long weekend trip to the city of Santa Fe. A magnificent 500km drive each way with perfect conditions and little traffic making for pure driving pleasure, and a boys’ trip to Zarate with Nick and William on which we handed out Torino postcards, including leaving some with a toll booth operator for the car behind us who had waved as we overtook. 
October 2020 – With New Zealand calling and Crowded House’s Better be Home Soon ringing in my head I go for a drive in the countryside with new owner Bernardo. Tears flow as Bernardo tells me:  “The most important thing for me is to be a fitting heir of such a magnificent history, it’s a huge honour. MT (The Torino) will never be your ex love, she will always be your true love, and be here waiting for you.  All I did was buy a little piece of history”. Gracias totales Bernardo!

Miles and miles
Odometer reading Oct 1999 – 85,000 miles
Odometer reading Oct 2020 – 53,000 miles (went round the clock in May 2005)
Distance travelled – 68,000 miles, 109,000km
Average for 20 years = 5,500km per year
At average fuel consumption of 6.5km per litre = 16,700 litres total

What it feels like to drive the Torino
I am passionate about the oceans and especially sharks, and have always felt that with its streamlined lines and effortless power that the Torino is like a shark. Here is what it feels like to drive the Torino on the crowded reefs of Buenos Aires and out on the open oceans of Patagonia and Las Pampas: 
In the city the Torino is like a shark, gracefully and stealthily patrolling the reef. Streamlined and sleek lines glide effortlessly and quietly among schools of little fish darting and dashing. Other cars glance nervously at intersections and let the Torino pass, showing respect for those higher up the food chain. The Torino moves mostly slowly and silently. Like a shark it’s the potential that causes awe and fear, but when needed or just for the thrill of it a burst of acceleration makes the V8 roar and surge forward. Small fish scatter as sound reverberates off the buildings.  
Out in the open oceans of Patagonia and the Pampas the Torino is in its element. Tirelessly cruising long stretches of open road with slow changing landscapes and occasional sweeping curves. Aerodynamic forest green metal lines both blend into and stand out from the landscape of trees, pastures, and emptiness. Scientists have proven that sharks travel hundreds of kilometres in perfectly straight lines. On the open road the Torino requires only gentle pressure on the steering wheel to glide round curves and point again towards the distant horizon. Truckies and long distance travellers are fellow pelagic migrants sharing the freedom and pleasure of the journey.

The word from the street
MT has always turned a lot of heads and caused a wide range of expressions of appreciation from those who witnessed her presence. This outpouring of emotion has included applause, catcalls, tooting, offers to buy, and even a kiss on the bonnet from a guy selling roses at the traffic lights. Below are a few memorable words:

 “Que nave!” What an awesome ship! 
Pizza delivery dude on rollers.

“Hijo de puta, que linda nave!” Son of a bitch, what an awesome car. 
Guy in his late twenties with a couple of friends. 

“Te felicito por lo lindo que es” Congratulations on such a beautiful car. 
Guy about my age, who stopped for a chat.

“Awesome car! Of course a Kiwi has to have a muscle car”
Kiwi tourist on a BA graffiti art bicycle tour.

“Nice set of wheels, and my favourite colour too”
Aussie chick Kirsty who was leading the graffiti tour.

“Wow! Un Ferrari!” Wow! A Ferrari!
Boy about eight years’ old.

“Es un orgasmo!” (No translation needed!)
Guy in his 40s who stopped behind me at traffic lights and jumped out while the light was red to get a closer look and express his delight, verbally. 

Exchange at traffic lights with the driver of a new Mini Cooper
Mini driver: “Is that the same car as in the film Gran Torino with Clint Eastwood?”
Me: “Yip, same car, Ford Torino, great that you recognised it.”
Mini driver: “Wow! same colour and everything!”
Me: “Sure is.”
Mini driver: “Are you Clint Eastwood?”
Me: “Come on, punk, make my day…”

“Te robaste el auto a Toretto!” You Stole Toretto’s car! (From Fast and Furious)
Dude with a black heavy metal T-shirt down by the river.

“I take my hat off to you” An old man standing on a street corner who mimed the action of taking off an invisible hat and bowing as the Torino cruised past.

A fan I met on the road
Fan on the street
A young fan
A Torino fan I met on the road

Dedications and thanks

Dad – For sharing his passion for cars and journeys and for always coming along for the ride. “There is an excitement about hitting the road for places less visited or new.”

Sandra, Nat, Vicky, July, Kitty – For so many great adventures shared and for your constant support and love on and off the road.

William – For sharing this crazy passion for great cars with authentic spirit.

Enrique – For his dedication and care for the Torino over 15 years, for making possible all these great adventures, and for being a loyal friend.

Claudio – For years of awesome service and friendship.

Aaron and Paul – For being the most awesome co-pilots one could ever wish for and sharing the most epic and incredible journeys in the Torino. 

Everyone who came for a ride Whether a short or long trip, whether sitting up front or in the back, it was great to have you along to share the adventure.

Bernardo – For being a fitting inheritor and curator of this magnificent history.

Everyone who waved, stopped to talk, shouted out, shared a moment, received a postcard, asked if the car was a Ford or a Torino, asked what motor it had, asked if it used a lot of petrol, smiled, turned around, made a compliment, took a photo – muchas gracias to all. I am grateful for every moment shared and every interaction.

With my daughter Nat in 2019
With dad at Pinamar
The new owner of MT, Bernado, as I say goodbye to the Torino in 2020

Motorsport Flashback – Kiwi rallying in the 1970s

Rallying arrived in New Zealand in 1973 like a tsunami. It had been only a few years since the sport was introduced here and shortly afterwards Heatway came on board as the sponsor to take rallying to a new level. The 1973 Heatway would be the longest and biggest yet, running in both islands with 120 drivers over eight days and covering some 5400 kilometres. The winner was 31-year-old Hannu Mikkola — a genuine Flying Finn who had been rallying since 1963 before putting any thoughts of a career on hold until he completed an economics degree. The likeable Finn became an instant hero to many attracted to this new motor sport thing. I was one of them.

Think of it as a four-door Cooper

New Zealand Mini Owners Club coordinator Josh Kelly of Dunedin loves his Minis. It’s a family affair. Julie and Mike, Josh’s mum and dad, are just as keen, and they can usually all be found taking part in the club’s annual ‘Goodbye, Pork Pie’ charity run from the North of the country to the South.
But lately Josh’s young head has been turned by some other revolutionary BMC cars. He has picked up a couple of Austin and Morris 1100 and 1300s, which he started to restore — that was until an opportunity arose to buy a rare example stored in a shed.