Blanco and this Reo scored podium finishes for 22 years-from 1931 to 1954-a monumental accomplishment


Car collectors have known for a long time that some of the greatest barn finds have come out of Argentina, but not many realize why this is so. To understand, it is necessary to appreciate Buenos Aires in the inter-war years.

Argentina was at that time the world's third largest economy, and motor racing was virtually the national sport. Some of the greatest drivers came from this vibrant motoring world, including Juan Manuel Fangio. As great as Fangio was, Ernesto Blanco was the national hero. Unlike Fangio, he never went to Europe to race, but in Argentina, his record was unsurpassed.

Ernesto Blanco's Reo was designed by Macoco de Alzaga and Luis Viglione one afternoon in 1930. "We were trying to copy the "Gold Seal Special" of Guadno, which was a gorgeous car," said de Alzaga. The body was new, but the car was mechanically very similar to the Chrysler they were copying. They kept the Reo engine, rated at 125 hp, although displacement was increased to around 7 liters. They fitted Winfield carburetors and a custom exhaust manifold, but changed little else. According to de Alzaga, the result was good for 180 hp-190 hp, more than enough to be competitive. The standard Reo "silent second" transmission was retained, as was the spiral-bevel rear axle.

The chassis was not so easy. The original Reo frame was very high, and they found it necessary to modify the rear of the chassis by increasing the curvature and lowering the frame down over the axle. In addition, the front-to-rear weight balance was lopsided, given the huge size and weight of the inline 8-cylinder engine, so they moved the drivetrain back several inches. Volpi brakes were added later.

Blanco began racing this car in September 1931, and in what is believed to be its first outing, he finished second. Over the next ten years, Blanco would earn an astonishing twelve 1st place finishes, along with five 2nd and a half dozen 3rd and 4th place finishes. Although Blanco retired the Reo in 1955, he continued racing until just before his death in 1961. After Blanco's death, the Reo wound up in a farmer's field in rural Argentina, where it was found by Roberto Vigneau. He restored it to the way it was when Blanco raced it, in respect for its heritage as an Argentinean national treasure.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1963 Chevrolet Corvette 327/340
Years Produced:1963
Number Produced:21,513: 10,594 coupes, 10,919 convertibles
Original List Price:$4,359
Tune Up Cost:$350
Distributor Caps:$25
Chassis Number Location:Plate attached to instrument panel support brace under glovebox
Engine Number Location:Passenger side engine block on pad forward of head
Club Info:National Corvette Restorers Society 6291 Day Rd. Cincinnati, OH, 45252-1334
Investment Grade:B

This car sold for $927,000 at RM’s Automobiles of London auction on October 31, 2007.

Let’s start with a bit of background. Ransom E. Olds was one of America’s great automotive pioneers, responsible for the “curved-dash” Oldsmobile and the company that bore his name. Unfortunately, he ran into policy differences with his backers and was removed from the company in 1904. He immediately formed a new auto company named Reo, after his initials. It specialized in relatively light, simple, mid-market cars with advanced engineering, and was very successful from the teens to the 1930s.

An early Royale made it to Argentina

Either in response to or in spite of the arrival of the Depression, Reo went up-market in 1931 by introducing a larger, more expensive and complex car, the Reo Royale. It was a very modern car for its time, particularly due to a new straight-8 engine that featured nine main bearings and advanced design and metallurgy throughout. Though it’s a bit difficult to parse the details from the catalog copy, apparently an early example of the Royale made its way to Argentina and immediately became the basis for this Blanco Reo special.

It makes quite a lot of sense. Blanco had prior success with Reo cars, so he was comfortable racing them. In those days, the car to beat was the Mercedes SSK, several of which had made the trip to Argentina (many more than that have since been “discovered” there, but that’s a different story). It was an on-demand supercharged car with about 170 horsepower normally and 210 or so with the supercharger kicked on for passing (you couldn’t run it that way for long).

The 8-cylinder Reo used an advanced, pretty much bombproof engine that, properly modified, could make 180 to 190 horsepower all day long. The drivetrain was well proven and dependable. If you could fix the chassis to get the center of gravity down and fit a lightweight racing body, there was no reason it couldn’t be a very competitive car. That’s exactly what they did.

We need to spend a moment considering how the Argentines raced their cars. First, there was no such thing as a race track; all the racing was on public roads, at the time almost exclusively dirt. Second, they raced for long distances. The sprint races were 500 kilometers, and the longer ones could be over 8,000 miles. To race across the Andes, then turn around and race back was a relatively common event, and they did it year after year. Successful cars (and drivers) had to be fast, robust, and extremely dependable.

Podium finishes for 22 years

Motor racing was highly popular in Argentina, and the competition was intense, with many of the best cars in the world brought in to compete. In this demanding environment, Blanco and this Reo managed podium finishes for 22 years, from 1931 through 1954, a truly monumental accomplishment for both, and certainly the stuff of legend.

So how do you value something like this? There is no question this Reo is historically important. It is also very cool, with all the stuff you really want to see in an early-’30s racer. It practically exudes the kind of heroic manliness that we like to associate with racing of that era-an old but unbowed prizefighter standing defiant all these years later. It stood up to and defeated Mercedes SSKs and 8C Alfas in no-holds-barred competition, time and again proving its worthiness.

The problem is that it is also a production-based, one-off special that only raced in Argentina-long ago and far away . Though it is apparently almost completely original with unquestioned provenance (candidly, somewhat of a rarity in racing cars with Argentine history), it still qualifies as a “story car” in most of the world. My definition of “story car” is one where the owner has to take people aside and explain what the “story” is, as opposed to having them automatically understand, kneel, and genuflect. This has a huge effect on market value.

In Argentina, of course, it’s not a story car; it’s a national treasure. The good news is that with globalization, a number of serious South American collectors have emerged. The seller of this car is an expatriate Brazilian, which might explain his original interest in it, and my sources have suggested that the purchaser is also South American and intends to repatriate it. With the expansion of collector money beyond the traditional borders, perceived value of collectibles has also broadened.

A few years ago, I’d have thought this car would have been a tough sale, but in today’s market it brought over $900,000. This is still a fifth to a tenth of what a good SSK or 8C Alfa is worth in today’s market, and it stood in the ring with them and won, so you’ve got to give it some level of equivalence. To a European, it might be an oddity, but to a collector with knowledge of and attachment to the car’s importance to Argentina, it’s a chance to have a national icon without having to fight for it. I’d say reasonably bought.

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