Raid Los Andes

Published 12:00 AM, February 5 2012

75 years ago, in 1937, a Volvo truck was driven over the Andes, from Argentina to Chile, in order to demonstrate the quality and reliability of Volvo products as part of a South American marketing campaign for Volvo. In November every year, the Club Volvo Chile and Club Volvo Argentina run the Raid Los Andes together – but going the other way.

Since 2009, the two clubs have jointly staged Raid Los Andes as a rally for classic Volvos and as a tribute to the achievement 75 years earlier. The main driving force behind this is Alberto Averill, president and founder of the Club Volvo Chile. This year, Volvo Cars Heritage’s Claes Rydholm took part in the rally as a driver, piloting not only one but two excellent Volvo classics on roads that are more than challenging. One was an Amazon, the other a PV544.

The rally started from Ditec – the importer and distributor of Volvo cars in Chile and Argentina – whose president Sebastian de Cárcer had arranged a superb reception and invited not only all the participants with their cars, local media and VIPs, but also the Swedish Ambassador to Chile, Eva Zetterberg. In her speech she did, just like de Cárcer and Claes Rydholm in their speeches, stress the importance of Volvo Cars and its strong heritage being present in Chile and wished the teams, who are really the Volvo heritage ambassadors, the best of luck.

After this fabulous event, the rally participants turned east and started for the Andes mountains. The first overnight stop was at the Inca hotel in the small mountain town of Los Andes at an altitude of appr. 1,500 m. Here more cars joined the group, including the Argentinians from the other side of the border and the evening was spent in the most atmospheric (!) way. 

Climbing the side of Aconcagua in the Andes mountains required a certain amount of concentration and engine power. The well sorted out Amazon of Hugo Tagle Fernández was the car used by VCH for this task.

The next day, rally preparations took place in front of the hotel and then the teams started out for the serpentine roads (mostly without road barriers) of the Andes, steadily climbing upwards with the trusty Volvo engines working at mid to high revs. 

VCH did the driving in the perfectly restored Amazon 122S of Hugo Tagle Fernández. From a crashed wreck, Hugo has built a very nice 123 GT replica with a B20 engine, twin Solex carburettors and perfectly working mechanics. Thanks to this, the car held up well to the high tempo of the driving, keeping pace with a bunch of racing drivers in the group, but like most of the cars it also lost some breath when the altitude exceeded 3,000 metres. Only the condors are unaffected there!

The racing drivers in the group set the pace for the rally and all other participants simply had to hang on to them on the serpentine mountain roads with its many hairpin curves and no road side protection. 

Driving on the twisting road with its numerous hairpin curves that links the two countries at the foot of Aconcagua was a constant fight for road space. Not only other cars but also a great number of trucks and buses keep this link busy. The actual border between Chile and Argentina is located inside a tunnel and once through the tunnel, the country opens up. And after going down the Andes again on the Argentinian side, it is rather straightforward driving to the city of Mendoza, the capital of the Argentinian wine district.

Maybe the most scenic of all the places that were passed during Raid Los Andes was the lunch stop restaurant in Portillo on the Chilean side. This is a ski resort at some 3,000 meters altitude and very popular during the winter, but since November means summer in Chile, the snow only covered the upper parts of the surrounding mountains. The air was thin, clean and cool, some 5-6 degrees. Besides being a well-known ski resort, Portillo is also famous for its Lago Verde, a lake with green icy water in which an Inca princess once drowned according to the local legend. 

According to the local legend, a young Inca princess on her way to her wedding drowned in the mountain lake at Portillo, giving it its name Lago Verde, the green lake. 

Saying bye-bye to the Argentinians later on, the Chilean teams turned back for Santiago de Chile. VCH again took the wheel of a classic Volvo. This time in Alberto Averill’s red PV544 with is racy looks but somewhat lacking the excellent brakes of the “123 GT” – a downhill necessity unless you really want to stress the engine or want to be taken for a ride! Nevertheless, it was good fun and after reaching the outskirts of Santiago, VCH was able to try another odd piece of machinery. This was an Amazon 122S, assembled in Chile in the mid-1960s with steering-column gear lever and a very low mileage. A very nice and well-kept car which is now in the hands of its third owner, Mario. 

VCH’s Claes Rydholm had the opportunity to drive the Raid Los Andes in two cars. After having done half the rally in an Amazon, the red racy-looking PV544 of club founder and president Alberto Averill was used for the descending of the Andes, on the return to Santiago. 

Raid Los Andes finished where it started and since it was a rally for classic Volvos, there were no breakdowns or major problems. A fuel leak here, a vapour lock there, but nothings serious. About 20 cars joined in with its enthusiastic owners/drivers – all of them excellent Volvo car heritage ambassadors with perfectly rolling machinery and an enthusiasm which is even bigger to that found nearer to Volvo’s home in Sweden. For Volvo Cars Heritage, this was a great experience which made a strong imprint – thanks to all the Volvo friends and supporters in Chile and Argentina – and which hopefully will be repeated again in the future.

“Where condors fly….” There were no condors in the air that day but the group of 20 classic Volvos fought their way through the thin and cool air to reach altitudes where trees don’t grow and the snow never melts away, like here in the ski resort of Portillo.