Enchulame La Maquina
10 Jan, 2013 | Theo Haynes
Pimp my Ride, Bolivia
Neon lights more evocative of the Christmas season than high-performance motoring; oversized exhausts with noises so strange they suggest engine malfunction rather than power; unsightly spoilers so hyperbolic it’s only possible to think they make cars less aerodynamic, not more. These are some of the sights I encountered when I first arrived in La Paz, usually on inner-city taxis driven by heavily hair-gelled young drivers. I wanted to find where these cars were, erm, pimped out. My investigations led me to talleres scattered across various parts of town: from Cota Cota to San Pedro.
Photo: Michael Dunn
One day, while walking up the calle Landaeta I spotted a yellow Subaru which actually looked good. The car’s owner, Romer Fernandez Martinez, was a man on a mission with a serious passion for driving. He was happy to explain to me how he went about tuning his car, its sound system and, of course, the costs associated with turning an average car into one that wins competitions. Just like the movie series The Fast and the Furious, Martinez and around 20 of his friends compete against other drivers from around Bolivia on empty roads. They call themselves STR, Street Team Racing. In contrast to the chapi looking taxis found all over La Paz, these guys certainly sounded (and looked) like the real deal. So, I arranged to meet them and learn more about the Bolivian high-performance car scene.
Photo: Gustavo Verduguez
The Fact File:
Just four years after The Fast and the Furious told the world - just like in ‘30’s advertisements - that cool cars can get you fame and girls, in 2005 La Paz’s oldest and most famous street racing team was born. R-Evolution started it all in only two years later that more teams joined the fold, among them were Street Team Racing, Japan Tuning, 1/4 Mile Club, Stallions, and Hot Wheels. The competition grew and grew across Bolivia, on street corners and in special tracks where four major country-wide events take place annually. These drag races can draw massive crowds.
There are three kinds of racers: those in it for the audio, those in it for the tuning, and those in it purely for the race. Street Team Racing’s red Mitsubishi Evo is a pure racing car with the ability to go 0-100 km/h in less than six seconds. Meanwhile, Martinez’s yellow Subaru, albeit extremely fast, is more dedicated to audio and tuning with an earth-thumping and trunk-filling subwoofer. Some teams like Japan Tuning are, as their name suggests, more in it for the tuning than the racing. Racecar or not, part of the game is looking good. Decals, stickers and neon lights all add to the effect and make these cars stand out even among the shoddily tuned up taxis.
Photo: Joel Balsam
In Pucarani and the Avenida 6 de Marzo (in El Alto), cars line up for a quarter mile race, revving their engines and giving it their all for a chance to win the big prize. The winner gets money for tuning or a brand new sound system. The drivers must be careful about where they ride because their low cars are not necessarily built for the rough Andean terrain and steep slopes of La Paz.
Street racing is a hobby and not a full time job. Speeding up and down Bolivia’s mountains may be enjoyable, but it costs quite a lot to maintain. However, despite occasionally being pestered by the pacos, the team don’t seem too worried about police trouble. In fact, the driver of the white Honda is a police officer (though he doesn’t work in the city).
Photo: Niall Flynn
Car prices are not much better in Bolivia than they are abroad as they have to be imported, which involves high shipping and customs costs. Riders spend several thousand dollars souping up their cars for the race or simply to show off on the narrow La Paz streets. Bolivian drivers do save on gas, which costs over five times more in the UK.