Salvador De Carlo
Italian born Salvador De Carlo had a turbulent personal life; his obsession to have a baby daughter left him with two divorces and 8 sons.
Professionally, De Carlo was a successful graphic designer in Rome, Italy. As a gratitude for his services to the Mussolini administration (he worked closely with the Mussolini government in the early years of World War II) and given Mussolini’s relationship with Hitler and his contacts, he was rewarded with a license to build BMW’s in a country of his choice with the condition that this would be outside Europe.
De Carlo choose Argentina to start his new career and in 1943 he started to manufacture small electrical appliances and refrigerators and by 1947 he founded an industrial components factory named Metalmecánica S.A.I.C. in José C. Paz, a city named after an Argentine Journalist and diplomat, in the province of Buenos Aires.
As the company matured he considered it was time to monetize his license and this is how the large fleet of BMW motorcycles in use by the Argentine federal police was imported. In 1957 Metalmecánica decided to move into the automotive sector and, funded by the profits of his BMW motorcycle transactions, the production of motor scooters named Paperino, Super Paperino and DEC-100, started. The demand for these motor scooters was high. People queued to buy them and paid up to 4 months in advance for it. Within only two years 21,000 units were built.
This success encouraged De Carlo to continue in the automotive industry. In 1959 a microcar, the “De Carlo Minicar 200” was introduced. This nice three-wheeled buggy, powered by a 200c engine of Italian origin, was designed for two people. It had four forward gears and a reverse gear. Little information still exists about this buggy but it has been confirmed that approx. 800 units were manufactured in Argentina.
With a vibrant and eloquent radio message, on December 29th 1958, President Arturo Frondizi announced the launch of a stabilization and economic development plan with the intent to stimulate industrial production in Argentina. The government allowed, under a special promotional regime (‘Decree 3693/59’), for the automotive industry to import duty-free car models. This regime allowed for cars initially being assembled in Argentina with the condition that within 5 years the cars would be fully manufactured in Argentina.
De Carlo did not think twice and presented an ambitious production plan. The plan was to manufacture (within a time span of only 5 years!) 12,200 light trucks, 105,000 cars and 25,000 motorcycles. Obviously, this plan was impossible to execute but the idea behind the plan was: the more vehicles he would “claim” to manufacture, the bigger the “duty-free import quota” he would get.
Eventually the Argentine government agreed with De Carlo more realistic and credible figures and he had to modify his initial plan by abolishing the manufacture of the trucks and motorcycles, and reducing the total of the cars to a third of the initial numbers. With these changes, the total production plan was as follows: 1959/60, 5,000 units; 1961, 5,000 units; 1962, 7,000 units; 1963, 8,500 units; 1964, 10,000 units.
De Carlo would import BMW 600 Germans (at a good price, since BMW wanted to move on to the 700 series) and sell them with the national brand De Carlo, while integrating parts from Argentina. In the model 600 this would be limited to the logos, upholstery of the seats, and of course the identifying aluminum plate reading “De Carlo Industria Argentina”.
The BMW models 600 imported by De Carlo were marketed by Metalmecánica as models of 1959, 1960 and 1961, although in fact they had already been manufactured by BMW between 1957 and 1959. The last units arrived without and engine. Instead these would arrive in crates so these could be assembled locally; all this to uphold the illusion of local assembly. This also explains why some De Carlo 600’s have a chassis and engine with non-matching numbers; it was just easier to pick a crate from the warehouse without checking the number on the engine first.
All versions of the BMW 600 (European, American, with or without sun roof, except Saxomat) were imported. The American model, with its chrome bumper over riders was sold as the ‘Glamour’ (Deluxe) model.
Metalmecánica kept on selling the model 600 until there was no more supply available from Germany. Although only 1,413 De Carlo 600’s had been sold, it was sufficient to meet the production targets as agreed with the Argentinean government. It gave De Carlo also an understanding of the automotive market which then led to the introduction of the ‘De Carlo 700 Glamour’
De Carlo 700
By 1960 the ‘De Carlo 700 Glamour’ was introduced, soon followed by the ‘De Carlo 700 Coupé’ in 1961. Both the Glamour and Coupé were rebranded BMW’s with changes to logo’s, upholstery and some other modifications. To emphasize that it was an Argentinean car many references were made to the ‘De Carlo’ brand. This lead to a review of the car stating “The constant repetition of the De Carlo brand on the glove compartment lid, the horn and even the upholstery of some versions is very irritating. Whoever takes a seat in the car already knows what the brand is and does not require to be continuously reminded.”
Both models were successfully introduced to the Argentinean market, with the Coupé version being very popular to be used in racing and rally tournaments well into the 1970’s. This success made Salvador De Carlo feel confident to pay the BMW head office in Germany a visit in 1961 to talk about founding an official BMW company in Argentina. This idea however never took off and production of the De Carlo 700 was discontinued in 1963.
In 1961 De Carlo requested approval from the Argentinean government to start the development and production of the ‘De Carlo SL’. Meanwhile however, the Argentinean government had taken notice of De Carlo’s deceit and did not grant the license. Instead inspectors were sent to the factory only to discover that, besides some small parts (e.g. logo’s, upholstery) no technical or body parts were manufactured in Argentina and only assembly activities were being performed. This was a clear violation of what had been agreed in the ‘National integration of parts and components’ agreement. The company’s license was suspended and was no longer allowed to import parts from Germany which meant a full stop to the production/assembly process.
Metalmecánica appealed to the court and won their case by October 16th 1962. Soon thereafter another inspection by the Ministry of Mining and Industry determined that there was no way that the company could comply with the required integration of locally produced parts and suspended Metalmecánica’s licenses all together.
Yet again, Metalmecánica appealed to this decision and won again. Ministry of Mining and Industry and Customs in return appealed to a higher court and the matter dragged on. By the time the company could return to normal operations the damage was already done and by January 30th 1967 Metalmecánica was excluded from the ‘national car production plan’ thereby losing the corresponding benefits.
On January 8th 1970, five years after the production of cars had ended, Metalmecánica filed for its own bankruptcy. Six years later, in 1976, the Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of Metalmecánica, accusing the government of having taken unreasonable measures, delayed procedures without any justification and had pushed Metalmecánica to its demise.
De Carlo SL
Despite all the difficulties with the governmental institutions a remodeled version of the 700 was realized by 1964. This model addressed some of the concerns raised by the government and was an attempt to comply with the contractual conditions of the ‘National integration of parts and components’ agreement.
The ‘De Carlo SL’ (also known as the ‘De Carlo 700 SL’) was based on the design of the De Carlo/BMW 700 but featured a modified front and rear of which the designs were most likely ‘inspired’ by the Simca 1000. This change meant more parts would be manufactured in Argentine but key parts such as the engine and gearbox were still imported from Germany. Production started in March 1965 and was suspended in December of the same year due to financial restraints.
In total 9,060 of De Carlo 700’s (all models incl. SL) were sold between 1960-1965.
And so, the story ends?
No, the story continues. As a last attempt to save the company from going bankrupt De Carlo acquired a license to produce the Simca Ariane. This four-door sedan was, which already had been in development since 1962, was rebranded to the ‘De Carlo 1300’. By early 1966 and after only having produced 504 ‘De Carlo 1300’s the factory doors permanently closed.
While the legal battles continued little was heard about the whereabouts of Salvador De Carlo, a man with questionable work ethics but filled with ambition and dreams leaving us with his heritage that is still being enjoyed by many today.