BOGOTA – The curious history of the automobile in Colombia is now told in a book that includes unpublished photos of the first one to arrive in the country in 1899, which completes a quixotic project by Juan Guillermo Correa, a businessman who dedicated 22 years to research in order to speak of his country’s progress from a different angle.
Correa compiled, in 820 pages, 127 stories in which he meticulously lays out much of what Colombians experienced in adopting those “diabolical machines” that move themselves without being drawn by horses.
In the two-volume “Stories of the Automobile in Colombia,” this company manager relates that the first car to arrive in the country was bought in Paris by Carlos Coroliano Amador, an extravagant millionaire, owner of the biggest gold mines of the period, who brought it back to Medellin.
He found, however, that his new De Dion-Bouton was made for the smooth, asphalted streets of Paris, but its top speed was 25 mph (16 mph) and it lacked the power needed on Medellin’s rocky mountain roads.
The disappointing auto was soon buried on a hacienda and its French chauffeur sent back to Paris.
Correa also tells of two limousines owned midway through the last century by the president of Colombia, Gen. Gustavo Rojas Pinilla. Besides being armored, the windows were fixed so they could not be opened, and one of them was a gift from Argentine President Juan Domingo Peron.
“Dictators understand each other,” Correa says.
His research, which was aided by historian Gloria Angelica Morales, also indicates that the first car to reach Bogota was a Cadillac in 1903.
That “monster,” imported by the photographer Ernesto Duperly and his brother Oscar, terrified some of the locals in Bogota, others climbed trees to safety, and some knelt on the ground to pray.
The dismantled vehicle was sent by boat up the Magdalena River to the central Colombian city of Honda, and from there by muleback to Bogota, where it was assembled by a US engineer.
Correa also tells of Margarita Brigard de Umaña, the first woman in Colombia to have a driver’s license, issued on Dec. 22, 1919.
“Margarita was roundly criticized by society at a time when driving was considered an activity suitable for men only, and consequently, went against all the norms of feminine behavior,” Correa said.
This encyclopedia of the automobile also includes stories of famous vehicles, car racing, public transport, highway infrastructure, car dealers and advertising narrated by the author and by other auto experts.