In a populous sector of Bogotá lies a property with a hidden garage housing over 85 cars and a history that stretches back more than 400 years. Santiago, a car nut like us, let me visit this amassed collection of cars in various states of disrepair and restoration recently, and it was an experience worth sharing.
Bogotá is the kind of metropolis that’s seen significant growth in the last few decades, with the population climbing from around 800,000 to in excess of 8 million inhabitants in the span of just six decades. That’s a long time, but that’s an even bigger growth in people. To further put that timeline into perspective, during all of that population and demographic change, a colonial mansion in the heart of the city has stood for more than 400 years, part of the foundation of Bogotá, this estate’s witnessed the domination of the Spanish crown, the indoctrination of the Chibchas and other indigenous peoples, was lived in throughout the centuries by various wealthy landowning families, and in the Republican era was the home of a few presidents. In 2001 it was listed as an important national heritage site, and now is occupied by a passionate car enthusiast and collector, Santiago.
In his family, he is the unique member with a passion for cars, and his taste is unique in that he doesn’t buy most of his cars in mint condition; he prefers to search for rare and lost-to-the-world cars, so understandably most are found in a poor condition.The collection range includes abandoned cars, cars with significant stories from important socialites (ones from Colombia are preferred), cars owned by presidents, actors, university founders, etc., and most in a rather sorry state. Eventually they will be rejuvenated under his ownership, but all the requisite labor is near unimaginable in this endeavor of restoringthe nearly 60 cars that need it, but he has his own team of five specialized people who carry out the task of bringing these machines back to pristine condition, and a few more third-party workshops also chip in on the effort.
A few days after we’d spoken on the phone, I took the trip to visit his garage and we finally had some time to talk about his cars in person. Coincidentally, that day was the 20th of July, Independence Day in Colombia! With the appropriate date to talk about history, we started to go over the first cars of his collection. Going back into the ‘90s, it all started with a 1961 Mercedes-Benz 180, a car he loves to this day because it ignited the passion for cars that led to this sizable lot.
One of the particular stories that caught my attention though was this silver BMW 2002. The car was owned by Gloria Lara, a young woman with an enthusiasm for rallying and racing in the ‘70s who was sadly the first woman kidnapped and later killed by the M19 guerrillas. More important than that tragic end though was the fact that she was a woman with that spirit of racing in her veins; she competed in rallies across the country and in the GPs held on the old, now extinct Autódromo Ricardo Mejía, Colombia’s first purpose-built racetrack.
In front of the 2002 was this rare Porsche 911 slant-nose-look. While not the most beautiful car, it is a rare one; originally modified by EVEX, a German tuner from the ‘80s, there were only five reportedly built. The story with this particular one was that it was imported in the ‘80s when new or relatively new by a rich coffee farmer who, in keeping with patrons of‘80s tuner Porsches, later went bankrupt and was forced to sell the car. It was stored for a long time until it was discovered by Santiago. It only has 60k kilometers on the odometer.
The next story is something crazier, not for the car but for the first owner of this 1952 Mercedes Benz 170. According to the story, it was imported by a German Nazi militant who lived in Colombia after the end of WWII (as you may know, South America was a popular place to emigrate to for the everyone running away from the war trials). But that’s not the full story with this Benz, as the ending was befitting of a war criminal; because he went into a region rich in diamonds and emeralds (Colombia is also one of the richest countries in emeralds) he tried to take ownership of some land, but because many others had the same idea he ended up being killed in his car in the middle of a shootout over land ownership disputes.
Aside from these German cars, Santiago also loves Toyota FJs, and he uses a rare-for-Colombia diesel model to get around often, but what really caught my attention was the long-wheelbase model; this car served as a support vehicle for an Armenian airport apparently.
At first it’s kind of crazy to think about how overwhelming it might be to try to restore each car here, especially given the state of some of them, but Santiago and his team enjoy the process and in the future he plans to create a foundation with the aim to preserve historic cars from Bogotá. He hopes and expects that more people will join this endeavor with their hidden treasures in Colombia as well. There is a long list of stories from each car in his collection that could constitute a book, but I’ll let the photos do the talking for now; which car ignites your curiosity? Let me know in the comments and I will try to answer with the help of Santiago.