by Tom Smith
Sports Car Market - March 2015
It began, as many adventures often do, with a phone call.
My great friend Don Polak was on the line, asking if I'd seen that morning's "Bring a Trailer" email. It seems a 1961 Volvo PV544, with long-term ownership, was on offer and the price was right.
"Wouldn't this be a perfect car for the Argentine 1000 Millas?" Polak said. I said I thought it would, so a few eBay clicks later we owned it.
It's been my great privilege to enjoy some of the world's great automobile events with Don Polak. We've driven on two Italian Mille Miglias in our Siata 1100TV Vignale. We enjoyed the 2014 Austrian Ennstal Classic in our 1947 Healey Elliott Saloon and, together with our wives or children, have enjoyed countless New England 1000s, Mountain Milles, Copperstate 1000s and Texas 1000s.
I've also had the opportunity to drive an Aston DB2 in the always-terrific Colorado Grand and California Mille. So, it was time for another adventure. After doubling our investment in the Volvo in preparation for the rally, we were ready to go!
1,000 miles, Patagonia and our Volvo
This was the 26th edition of the 1000 Millas Sport, an event organized by the Club de Automoviles Sport in the spirit of the Italian Mille Miglia Storica.
Spanning nearly 1,000 miles over three days through Patagonia, the event draws nearly 160 entrants from around the world. A tremendous amount of work goes into organizing the event, with a combination of club members and professionals engaged in making sure everything goes without a hitch.
The event begins in Buenos Aires, with the gathering of the participating cars on the Saturday before the rally. The cars then are loaded onto transporters and shipped the 1,000 miles to Bariloche, in Patagonia, for the start at the Llao Llao Hotel and Resort.
Out of gas — but not luck
Entrants catch the two-hour flight from Buenos Aires to Bariloche and rejoin their cars at a remote airport parking lot. Upon arrival in Bariloche (after an all-day flight to Buenos Aires from Nashville and an overnight at an airport hotel), we discovered
that when a car is moved around several times after arriving on a container ship from the States, the small amount of fuel required for shipping is all used up, resulting in it being out of gas.
The organizers drove us the 30 minutes to the nearby town to a fuel station. I believe a business opportunity for an airport area gas station awaits someone in Argentina.
Polak participated in a previous edition of the 1000 Millas, but I was a rookie for the event. After our refueling adventure, we drove from the Bariloche airport to Llao Llao through the fairly large city of Bariloche. When we stopped there for a full refuel, we noticed as the tank neared full a pretty significant fuel leak, which seemed to stop when we stopped refueling.
So we set off for the hotel in hopes that we could find a mechanic to assist there. Along the way we stopped to check, and we discovered no more fuel leak, so thinking all was well we pressed on — only to discover upon parking on a hill at the hotel that the leak had returned.
A consultation with the concierge put us back on the 20-minute drive to a Bariloche Fiat dealer. The service manager was a friend of the concierge. None of the mechanics spoke English, but, after much pointing and gesturing, we finally reached understanding and they promptly replaced the rotten rubber hose that connected the fuel filler cap to the tank.
Crisis averted and back to the hotel.
Scrutineering at the hotel was next on the list, and fortunately, even after a lot of planes, trucks and boats, the Volvo passed with flying colors and we were allowed to affix the rally numbers (and ubiquitous sponsor stickers) to the car.
Then it was off to the drivers meeting conducted by the affable Manuel Elicabe, the president of the Club de Automoviles Sport. His first question to the group was to ask how many attending had participated in the Italian Mille Miglia. Surprisingly, almost all had done so, which was a great relief to Eliçabe, as he then proceeded to explain that the regularity sections of the rally were identical to the Mille Miglia.
With the route book in hand, we began to look at the maps and the book to see where we'd be heading on each of the three driving days.
At this point, we met some of the other United States entrants, which included Publisher Keith Martin and Dean Koehler, who were driving an E-type Jaguar. Sandra and Martin Button were competing in a Ford Mustang. They, along with some of the U.K. participants, provided welcome meal companions, as the predominant language of the participants and organizers was Spanish, and my high school study in that area is long forgotten.
Breathtaking roads and sights
The Patagonia region in the Andes mountains area of Argentina features breathtaking landscapes and wonderful roads.
We were based each day at Llao Llao, so our adventure took us north, south and west into the mountains and along the numerous glacier lakes that feature prominently wherever you go in the region.
Each day's driving was almost 300 miles and featured a terrific combination of "fast road" driving (with local and national police providing welcome assistance at most major intersections) and challenging regularity stages very similar to the Mille Miglia.
Day One took us on a circuitous route through Confluencia, Alicura and San Martin de Los Andes and through the wonderful 7 Lagos (Seven Lakes) region. Along the way, we had a lunch stop at a military base (complete with the Argentine Army Band welcoming us) and a 10-mile dirt-road excursion, which made me appreciate the fact that we were in a 1961 Volvo and not a pre-war Aston or Maserati.
Day Two saw us tour into neighboring Chile, where we were treated to a wonderful outdoor open-pit barbeque featuring great food and scenery.
Day Three put us south to Arelauquen and El Hoyo de Epuyen before we routed back to the hotel for the awards dinner.
An epic trip with a Mille Miglia flavor
So how did we do? Well, the transmission's overdrive quit halfway through Day Two (resulting in a proper, if not loud, 4,500-rpm 4th-gear driving experience for the remainder of the rally). Add in that we are better drivers than we are navigators (as evidenced by our scores), but we still finished pretty well.
In fact, as we successfully shipped a car and ourselves some 6,000 miles and then drove around Argentina another 1,000 miles, the rally was a great success.
From the accommodations to the support given by the organizers to the wireless headsets provided to English-speaking participants, so they could understand what was being said at the banquet, the organization of the rally was top notch.
This event was the closest yet I've experienced that captures the essence of the Italian Mille Miglia, particularly in the way the regularities are set up. Teams from the U.K., Italy, and most of South America all added to the international flavor of the event. The Argentines are car people through and through, and they know how to put on a great vintage automobile rally. •