This Pictorial History of the Brazilian Car has been graciously made available by our man in Brazil, Marcelo de Vasconcellos. This is part one of a five part series.
When writing about Brazil and the Brazilian car industry, many of times it has been pointed out to me that made of the statements I made were very broad and didn’t take into account the many nuances of our automotive history. Specifically, the statement that Brazil has done little but take old stamping presses from corporate HQs and produced technically inferior cars has proven to provoke repercussions. So, in order to correct some of that, I’ve been inspired by your comments to write a brief history of the Brazilian car industry. Happy reading for a beautiful sunny, summer morning (well at least from my little corner of the world)! Hopefully, you will also get a better hang of what the hell I’m always going on about!
Brazil was a little, isolated, largely agricultural country back then. It survived exporting coffee, but little else. As in other countries, WWII brought on some immense opportunities and whetted the desire for more. At the end of the war, similarly to the US and Argentina, Brazil was debt free and a creditor country. We had been on the winning side, after all.
In terms of industry we were a wasteland…in the sense there wasn’t any (practically). All cars at the time were imported. Big American yachts predominated and ruled the few roads. Ah! Oldsmobiles, Buicks, Cadillacs! The stuff that made our granddads dream! Some European cars, too, though usually they were shrugged off for being too small and sluggish (oh how time changes perceptions).
Brazilians wanted more. In these years, the dream of becoming technically proficient and thusly (as was believed) more independent and truly rich, was burning a hole in the Brazilian soul. Out went fiscal prudence, small government. In the next few decades the government would take charge and industrialize and enrich this country, whether it wanted to or not. Costs, what costs? Where there’s a will (not to mention WWII money), there’s a way!
The new decade brought a new optimism. Brazil was really growing now! Besides coffee, we now produced steel (we got the factory for our efforts in helping the allies, an American grant shall we say)! TV was starting. Mass migration to major cities had begun in earnest. New roads! A new capital! Boy, oh boy, we were just a step away from first world status. In Rio, new music called bossa nova provoked new mores. Or perhaps the new attitudes brought on the new sound?
We had our man. Juscelino Kubitschek. His slogan for President promised 50 years of progress in his 5 years of mandate. People loved him. He was a man of many dreams. Using up all of Brazil’s newfound wealth, he built Brasilia. He built the interstate road system (until the road was completed in the 60s, it took a full day to drive from my town, Belo Horizonte, to Rio about 500 km away. Heck, half of the way wasn’t even paved! And if that was the main link between Brazil‘s second and third largest cities, imagine the rest of the “road“ system!).
Kubitschek also had a dream related to cars. He believed the car industry would be a locus for the development of other industries. It was necessary to build in Brazil! For jobs! For industrialization! No more would we be pictured as the land of the sugarcane plantation. Where ignorant and cruel white people abused innocent black people in a tropical hellhole! No. Now we would join the civilized world and get the respect of foreigners for our engineering prowess.
Some critics say the program was unnecessary because some companies were already installing here and producing on their own. But Brazil was having a head rush. It couldn’t wait for the vagaries of liberal policies. No, we wanted the future and we wanted it now. However, some examples show it didn’t have to be that way. Cases in point: Chevy developed and built the first vehicle in Brazil (in the sense that most of its parts were sourced locally), but doesn’t get recognition as they built a pick up and an SUV-like thing, not a car as the per government definition.
The Chevrolet Amazona looked like American pick-ups of the time. If I’m not mistaken, it was the first to use a Brazilian engine. Romo-Isetta came too, but ended up having to close shop as their car didn’t qualify as a car in the program mentioned, and thus they didn’t have access to the rich funds allocated to the car makers who decided to follow the plan (plus they were a little bit too modern and too precocious). The reason was that the car had just one door. (Amazing, this car was one of the foundations of BMW …)
The government’s program established that a car had to have at least 2 doors. Poor Isetta, but such are the vagaries of capitalism, heavy-handed government style!
VW was the fastest, and using government incentives, built their first out-of-Germany factory. In it, the star was the Beetle, the first official “national” car.
Though weirdly, the Bus had already been produced in the thousands before the first Beetle.
French Simca and Renault came. Willys-Overland (long dead American car company) came, too.
German DKW (whose Vemaguet is pictured above) came as well.
Ford and GM were already here, but up until then sold only imported cars (with exceptions like the Ford T) and mounted some trucks Ckd. Now they participated in the program and got hold of incentives. They started building cars.
The cars that marked people’s memories of the times were things like the Aero Willys.
The Jeep Willys found enthusiastic friends in Brazil.
The French brought us an American-styled Simca Chambord …
… and a distinctively French-styled Renault Dauphine.
Mercedes, BMW, Austin, Olds, Cadillac, Volvos, Ferraris disappeared due to restrictive trade policies. Never to be seen again. Well, never to show their faces again until the 90s.
Look tomorrow for parte dois of this five-part series.