Costa Rica’s forgotten car industry

It might be hard to imagine now, but in the 70’s Costa Rica was recognized worldwide for producing cars. Nearly forgotten, the model “Amigo” by General Motors, was a car with the Tico stamp that become a tool for the agriculture industry and was admired worldwide.

Costa Rica is known for its production of coffee, bananas, flowers, and many other agricultural products that have been the motor of our economic growth, but only a few recall that for a some time Costa Rica was recognized for producing cars. During the 70’s on Costa Rican land General Motors assembled vehicles called “Amigos”.

We wanted to do a journey into the past and remember everything about the industry with the Tico stamp, the cars that sold for an affordable 980,000 colones each and became major tools in our agriculture industry.

In the 70’s and 80’s the “Amigos” circulated throughout the country, vehicles made in Costa Rica that now cease to exist. The majority of them were pick-up models but there was also compact cars and buggy models. It was an initiative of General Motors (GM) developed by their European affiliates (Vauxhall in The United Kingdom and Opel in Germany).

The project was named BTV (Basic Vehicle Transport) after its English initials and it was directed towards less developed countries. For a price of $50,000 they placed a plant in each country and GM trained the leaders of the country to participate. The vehicular parts were brought over from England and the project sought to drive industrialization in various countries, as well as offer a more affordable car to the public, according to a representative of GM.

It was a motor of four velocities, gasoline of 1.256 cc which was an overall moderate gasoline consumption rate at the time, it had acceptable power, weighed a total of 1,200 kg, it could support a load of up to a half a ton, and was 3,500 mm in length, according to data from Auto Pasión 18. The car sold for approximately 980,000 colones and was a good option for workers in the agriculture and livestock industries, it could also travel without using much traction.

Pablo Garro, resident of Cartago, knows the history of these cars due to his work in the agriculture industry during the time, he remembers that it was a very square model with a low price, and that most of the people that bought it owned large farms who used it to make agricultural deliveries, it gave off a lot of fumes but this wasn’t a huge issue given how small and unattractive of a car it was, according to Garro. The pick-up was for two people max.

Interestingly enough it generated pride amongst these countries as was reflected in the cultural names given to each model, but in the end it didn’t have much success because the generated benefits were very low and the availability of labour, and local components were very limited. It was very limited prediction and sadly came to a close around the end of the 70’s.