Home » Meet The Argentine Company That Made The Strangest Looking Porsche-Powered Cars And A Karmann-Ghia Knockoff

Meet The Argentine Company That Made The Strangest Looking Porsche-Powered Cars And A Karmann-Ghia Knockoff

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I think one of the things we automotive obsessives in the Northern Hemisphere are sleeping on is that there are so many fascinating and relatively unknown (to us) cars south of the equator. I think this is especially true about South America, which has all sorts of cars that are, to my eyes, strange and wonderful. Many countries in South America had closed economies, where the governments wanted to foster growth and development by limiting imports, and as a result local carmakers ended up filling all available niches in ways unseen on the rest of the globe. That’s why I always think of Volkswagen of Brazil as being analogous to how marsupials were in Australia, and that’s also sort of why these particular Argentinian cars exist: the Zunder 1500 and Zunder 1600 Coupé. The Zunder 1500 may be the weirdest-looking car ever to be officially powered by Porsche, so I think it’s important you know about it.

Zunder Brochure

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Vidframe Min Bottom

 

The Zunder (that’s German for “tinder,” but I think like the wood used to start fires, not the phone app used to find people to bone, which, of course, didn’t exist. Also, other sources say the name means “spark” and I’m more inclined to go with that) story starts in 1952, when a pair of Italian-descended brothers, Nilson and Eligio Bongiovanni, found that running their Chevrolet dealership would be difficult, since the Argentinian government was looking to develop their native automotive industry by limiting imports like all those Chevys.

So, the brothers, not wanting to lay off their employees, became a repair shop for ambulances and private cars, but Eligio wasn’t quite satisfied. Inspired by the success of the Volkswagen Beetle, he started to sketch some ideas, which resulted in the founding of ITA, Industrias del Transporte Automotor, in 1958. Still inspired by the VW, they tried using the 1200cc 36 horsepower engine from the Beetle in their initial prototypes, but found it just didn’t have the power they wanted, so they decided on a pretty bold plan: get 1500cc Porsche 356 engines, which made nearly twice the power of their VW flat-four siblings.

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Engine

Also, look at those taillights; that’s a very clever use of three basic round lamps, made interesting by those rounded-triangular bezels!

I suspect that part of the reason they found the 36 hp motor didn’t cut it when it was at least adequate for the Beetle is because the Zunder was not built from steel, but rather a plastic resin/fiberglass-like material that I suspect weighed more than a steel Beetle body did. I can’t prove this, but it’s a hunch.

Nilson Bongiovanni made the trip to Germany and sourced 100 Porsche engines, actually managing to get approval from Porsche to install their engines in the car. This didn’t happen often, so it’s quite an achievement. In fact, Porsche was either impressed or curious enough that they sent an engineer to evaluate the car, and, according to the brothers, they managed to improve on the Beetle, impressing Porsche’s engineer:

“I’ll just tell you that they sent a certain Doctor Grupillo from the German engine factory to Río Cuarto to test the Zunder and he said: “It’s approved. But I have a question, how did you manage to not hear the engine inside?” We had improved the Beetle, because with those air-cooled engines, the noise is felt, and we made a double wall of pressed fiber that insulated the sound.”

A double wall of pressed fiber! Why didn’t you think of that, Porsche?

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Zunder1500 1So, the end result of all of this was a two-door sedan with a 57 horsepower, 1500cc, twin-carb Porsche engine, all contained within a plastic body that looked, well, unique, let’s say. That body was mounted on a tube-frame chassis and used VW or Porsche (I’m not exactly clear) torsion bar suspension.

The look of the car was dramatic; the quad headlamps arranged at 45° angles at either side, VW-type chrome-dome hubcaps but inscribed with Zs for Zunder, and a roofline reminiscent of a Ford Anglia or Citroen Ami with a reverse-rake C-pillar, but in this case the rear window was a wraparound one instead of being angled. The rear engine lid had three air-intake grilles that looked like they came right off a Porsche 356, and the hood/trunk lid had a long central chrome molding/handle, also similar to a 356.

Zunder1500 2

The interior is interesting as well; from one picture I found, it appears there was some interesting re-use of what looks like VW Beetle trim parts:

Zinder Int

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See the heater outlets in the footwell there? I’m just about certain they’re made from VW Beetle horn grilles, that you’d see low on the fenders of Beetles until 1968.

Here’s a little video showing some Zunders and many of the same pictures used here, because there’s just not that many photos of these things out there.

Only about 200 Zunder 1500s were built, but that’s a hundred times more than the one other car Zunder built: the Zunder 1600 Coupé, which, like the Zunder 1500, used Porsche 356 mechanicals and a plastic/fiberglass body, but in this case instead of a charmingly-homely and unique body design, this one was pretty obviously a knockoff of the VW Karmann-Ghia.

Zunder1600 1

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I mean, look at that thing! That’s a Karmann-Ghia, just without the expected fresh air intake “nostrils” and the door handle set strangely low. Oh, and with some odd taillights that look a bit like they’re from a Corvair, and this time four engine air intake grilles from a Porsche.

Zunder1600 2

Also, the way that bumper is sort-of integrated into the body is interesting, too, and kind of looks like what a Ghia would have, bumper-wise, in the 1970s.

These Zunder 1600 Coupés came near the very end of Zunder, and for a while it wasn’t even certain that two Coupés were built, until a second one re-surfaced in 2014, partially given away because it was strangely non-rusty, which confirmed it wasn’t some oddly-modified Karmann-Ghia, but a plastic-resin Zunder.

These are fascinating little cars and have some greater impact because of their Porsche associations. There’s many, many more fascinating things lurking in South America, and I can’t wait to show you more. Until then, just enjoy imagining how much fun it could be to make hardcore Porsche purists uncomfortable by parking a homely Zunder 1500 between a couple mint Porsche 356s.

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Actually, I bet they’d love it.

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Strangek
Strangek
10 months ago

Wow! I love that thing.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
10 months ago

South America produced all sorts of weird stuff. There was a company in Brazil that made replica BMW motorcycles in the 80s as diversion from their usual shingle making machines. There’s also the survival of Willys and the Ford Corcel which was a Renault 12 under the skin

Cam.man67
Cam.man67
10 months ago

Between this and Mercedes’ air-show Beetles, I am definitely getting my daily air-cooled fix. More please!

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
10 months ago

Zunderbar.
I like how the steering wheel and gauges make a smiley face. Hard to get road rage in that driver seat.

Ron888
Ron888
10 months ago

Beat me too it!

Nic Periton
Nic Periton
10 months ago

A zunder, in many parts of England was a well known phenomenon. Although today some houses have indoor plumbing the goes under is still sometimes in use. In some parts they are known as the G’sunder .

Cuzn Ed
Cuzn Ed
10 months ago

I… love that 1500!
That wrap-around glass front and back really hits my eye right, and then that reverse-angle C-pillar says, “I’m not what you expected, am i?”
I think the big headlights-V is only unsettling because it looks like it belongs on a bigger car. But it sure makes a statement. I wish i could think of what American car it’s reminding me of…
Those character ridges along the sides. It’s like the car is saying, “Wanna race? I gotta warn ya, though – i’m ridin’ 57 horses, so i’m pretty GD quick.”
And then those taillight trios, perfectly capping the ends of the car’s “hips”.
I love all of its quirks. They don’t fit together, and yet they so do.
Now i’m just annoyed that i’ll probably never see one in person, but at least i got to see and learn a little about it here.
You’re doin’ the gods’ work, Torch!

Toecutter
Toecutter
10 months ago
Reply to  Cuzn Ed

I think the big headlights-V is only unsettling because it looks like it belongs on a bigger car. But it sure makes a statement. I wish i could think of what American car it’s reminding me of…

1961-1962 Chrysler Newport

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
10 months ago
Reply to  Cuzn Ed

Those headlights kind of freak me out. Mainly because they look like the cats-eye glasses from the ‘60s which I have some sort of deep-seated phobia of. Maybe I need therapy, but they really are off-putting to me. Same with the Newport

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
10 months ago
Reply to  Cuzn Ed

It also looks very Czech to me.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
10 months ago

What therefore Porsche hath joined together, let man not put in a Zunder.

BigThingsComin
BigThingsComin
10 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

Golf clap.

CSRoad
CSRoad
10 months ago

A wonderfully weird story.
Thanks.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
10 months ago

We’ve been…
Zunderstruck!
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, Zunderstruck!

10001010
10001010
10 months ago

Zunderstruck is my favorite AC/DC song

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
10 months ago
Reply to  10001010

Dammit, beat me by 52 secs.

Cuzn Ed
Cuzn Ed
10 months ago

I happy-faced both yours and theirs, but i secretly think yours is the better one. Just don’t tell 1001010; i don’t wanna start anything.

10001010
10001010
10 months ago
Reply to  Cuzn Ed

O.O

Last edited 10 months ago by 10001010
Cuzn Ed
Cuzn Ed
10 months ago
Reply to  10001010

Cheese it! Who ratted me out? [medium-light-skintone laughing face]

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
10 months ago
Reply to  10001010

Me too!

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
10 months ago

This thing is making my head hurt to look at. And is causing colon spasms.
Crack pipe.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
10 months ago

Nilson and Eligio Bongiovanni had Italian lineage?

Who’da thunk it!

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
10 months ago
Reply to  MATTinMKE

Honestly, I thought it sounded Irish

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
10 months ago

Porsche engine, only 57hp? WTH?

Peter Thompson
Peter Thompson
10 months ago

There’s lots of cool South American cars.
Do the IKA Torino next, or maybe the Simca Esplanada.

Leandro Pertusati
Leandro Pertusati
10 months ago

I saw that very car in Autoclasica (the largest Classic Car Expo in South America) some years ago. Looks surprisingly well made. the other Porsche engined car made in Argentina was the Porsche- Teram Puntero, a strange Justicialista Sport car with a 356 fascia grafted in. Ferry Porsche called that car “Indianer Porsche” (Indian Porsche)

Martin Ibert
Martin Ibert
10 months ago

“Zunder” doesn’t mean “spark”. It’s some highly-flamable material that you use to light less-flamable material like wood on fire.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
10 months ago
Reply to  Martin Ibert

So kindling, basically?

LuzifersLicht
LuzifersLicht
10 months ago
Reply to  Martin Ibert

Zunder literally means “tinder”yes. But I’ve heard “das hat Zunder” (this has got Zunder) as an expression, if a bit archaic these days, for “this thing goes hard”. Similar to how one might say “this car has spark” in English, which I assume is how Torch meant it.

Last edited 10 months ago by LuzifersLicht
Chronometric
Chronometric
10 months ago

Talk about bragging rights for P-snobs. You might have a Spyder but I own a true 4 passenger 356! This thing is uber kul. I wonder how many still exist?

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