Di Tella

Many of you have heard of Di Tella Farinas ­ here is their story told by COOC member Ernesto Gasulla...

My name is Ernesto Gasulla, I am an Argentine engineer living in Chicago, USA, and proud owner of a '65 Di Tella Magnette 1622.

Since I don't know if you are familiar with Di Tellas here comes a summarized history of the cars:

Siam Di Tella was (still is) an Argentine company dedicated mostly to the manufacturing of semi-heavy machinery and home appliances. By the dawn of the 60s, when many European car manufacturers installed factories in Argentina, Siam Di Tella reached an agreement with BMC to produce the Cambridge line. The first cars which rolled out the lines in 1961 were made almost entirely of locally assembled British components, but by next year they were fully produced in Argentina (following heavy protectionist government guidelines). All these cars were called "Di Tella", although they were externally identical to the Riley 4/72 family. There was the sedan Di Tella 1500, the station wagon Di Tella Traveller and the pick-up (never produced in England) Di Tella Argentina. All of them were fitted with the 1498cc engine and 3 speed manual column change.

In 1964 the factory included the Di Tella Magnette 1622, the model I own, fitted with 4-speed gearbox and the larger engine. The other models also received the 4-speed change.

In 1966 the license was sold to IKA-Renault (IKA was the local affiliate of American Motors). While the Di Tella 1500 remained in production, they facelifted the whole line, launching the Riley 1500 (rear fenders actually were the ones of the Morris), Morris 1650 (the one you call Oxford) in sedan and station wagon models, and MG Magnette 1622 (still the Mk III version, only with MG badges). However, the factory was clearly more dedicated to support sales of their French and American cars, and other mid-size cars like Fiat and Peugeot offered more updated models, so production of the Di Tella family was soon stopped.

My own Magnette was purchased in 1997 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I lived then, in pretty bad condition, hardly running at all and in bad need of extensive body work. I spent more than one year rebuilding it from bare metal (not myself), and also doing complete mechanical restoration. When it was almost finished I got a great work opportunity here in the USA; although I did not want to miss it, I just could not leave the car behind after so much work, so I just brought it over. As far as I know it is the only Di Tella in the USA, and also very likely the only one outside Argentina and its surrounding countries (Uruguay, Paraguay and Chile). You might want to know that it won a prize in the 2000 Chicago British Car Festival where there were more than 600 cars competing. It was in the "Sedan MG" category, competing with a bunch of Magnettes ZA and ZB, and despite the fact that everybody knew it was not strictly a MG.

I am always more than willing to interchange information about these almost forgotten Argentine Farinas.

Yours sincerely,

Ernesto Gasulla

Chicago, USA

We have since received the following message from Argentina:

My name is Federico Ojeda and I live in Agrentina were many of this "unbreakable" cars still are used daily. I hope this data can be useful to your organisation.

I read the history of the Di Tellas published in your site and I want to make some corrections.

First, the pick-up was called Argenta (not Argentina). The first version was built from 1960 to 1963 and it was based on the Austin A-55 MkI. This vehicle could carry 500 kg. The second version built from 1963 to 1967 was based on the Di Tella sedan and it could carry a little bit more weight.

In 1965 it was rebadged as Riley.Second, the Di Tella sedan and station wagon were like the Austin A-55 Mk2 but the grille of the Riley. In 1965 the Traveller production was stopped and the sedan was renamed Riley after changing some features, such as A-60 rear lights and a narrower gauge.

Third, IKA was an argentinian company (35% was owned by Kaiser Corporation, 20% by the Argentinan State and the was in hands of shareholders). They bought the automotive branch of Siam (which still produces its famous refrigerators and house (hold) appliances) because they didn't have a medium-sized car. The IKA catalog in 1965 consisted in cheap Renault cars (4, Dauphine, Gordini), the luxury sedan from Rambler (Custom, Deluxe and Ambassador) and the comercial vehicles (Jeep, Jeep Pick-up, Jeep Gladiator, the Willys-Station-Wagon-based Estanciera and the panel van version of this station wagon, the Furgón Utilitario). IKA tried before to buy IAFA (Peugeot of Argentina) to cover this hole, but the negotiations didn't succeed. IKA also tried to purchase a license from Volvo to built Volvos in Argentina but it was not possible.

Di Tella cars were very succesful because they were strong and had quality. Nevertheless the company was losing money because their workers were unionized with UOM (metal workers) and not with SMATA (automobile workers). This problems lead to poorly efficient production and poorly plant management. When IKA bought the Monte Chingolo plant find excess of workers, many of them under-qualifiedand union problems. They tried to save Di Tella but 1965 was a terrible year for cars sales in Argentina and there was little cash in IKA because the launch of the Torino brand was imminent. BMC was also in crisis and couldn't help, so the last Riley, Morris and MG were built in 1967.

Yours truly

Federico Ojeda


P.S: I'm sorry if my English is not good but I did my best effort.

...and it is appreciated! Thank you Federico.