By on January 23, 2011

This is part two of the Pictorial History of the  Brazilian Car, a five part series, brought to you by our boy in Brazil, Marcelo de Vasconcellos.  Part one one took you back to Brazil’s Stone age (WW II and thereafter.) This part takes you to …

The 60s

The 50s were the golden era of Rio. The 60s marked the rise of São Paulo. Rio: sun, fun, beach and romance. São Paulo: drizzle, dirt, work and gray.

Politically, critics of Kubitschek gained ground. Accusations of corruption flew. Communists and socialists were on the rise. Some people started thinking a military solution would be in order. Washington, via its Condor covert operation, was working hard on a military solution. Washington was in the military solution business all over South America.

In the car industry, the ground was also shaking. Turmoil around the world made its way to Brazil. Takeovers changed the game in Brazil. Chrysler came (and absorbed Simca). Willys closed shop, but Ford took over operations and (weirdly) kept the Jeep products alive, selling Jeep and Rural (distant relative of Wagoneer and Bronco, too!).

Later in the decade, Ford would buy out Renault (resulting in another, uniquely Brazilian, but weird car for Ford, the Corcel:

It was in reality a Renault 12 – beautiful car and a runaway smash). They also launched their first “national” car, the Galaxie.

This car, along with the Corcel, would help consolidate Ford’s image in Brazil, makers of true luxury. Which meant younger people generally ignored them.

VW took over fellow countrymen DKW. They had bought them along with Audi in Germany. Volkswagen rode on the coattails of the Beetle to first place in the market. A position it would keep for almost 40 years. At some point in this decade (I think 1967) the Beetle would be 75 percent of all new cars sold in Brazil. Volkswagen also launched the Karmann Ghia. It became the slow riding whip of Brazil’s urban playboys.

GM would launch an enduring success: The Chevy Opala.

Based on the Opel Reckford, it inaugurated the era in which GM would turn its back to America and look to Europe for inspiration. Where the car was called Opel Rekord The market, and those who survived, also turned its eyes across the Atlantic, towards Europe.

Chrysler didn’t. Instead they launched the Dart/Charger.

Using the Dodge brand, it would forever burn its image into the imaginations of boys and men. Hemi ruled (briefly) here, too. Hemi kept American muscle ingrained in Brazilians’ imaginations.

Little noticed (especially in cities), Toyota also came (in fact when they started importing cars in the 90s, few associated that Toyota with the Brazilian one that kept producing that rustic jeep well into the 90s). Toyota’s first factory abroad was built here in Brazil. In that plant, Toyota produced, with minimal changes, the first generation Land Cruiser (which they re-baptized as the Bandeirante for the Brazilian market) for 40 very long years.

The 70s

Seen by many as the dark ages of military government. But most people didn’t really mind. Government spending fueled the economy. Nearly everybody had a job. After the turmoil of the 60s, wages were on the rise. The results though were high inflation and humongous debt (oh what a difference a few decades make). But that wasn’t felt until the late 70s and, especially, early 80s when the American crisis helped to finally knock that model for development down. Of course, the Arab oil crisis had a huge impact. Politically it spawned the Alcohol (Ethanol) Self-Sufficiency Program. In the car industry…

The first victim was Chrysler. Reeling from low sales. it hastily put together its version of the Hillman Avenger (or Plymouth Cricket in the USA) – the Dodge Polara (too little, too late, to say nothing of the early version’ reliability issues) in an effort to avoid the unavoidable.

Together with the crisis at home, Chrysler was forced to say bye-bye to Brazil. VW bought their operations in Brazil (for a song!). This lead to a curious situation. Some late model Chargers came out with VW tags. Imagine a VW Hemi V8 Challenger! Only in Brazil.

Ford’s Galaxie also bit the dust. Ford deposited many of its hopes for the decade and future into the Maverick, which carried much promise and provoked great anticipation and enthusiasm.

Unfortunately, it came out in the midst of the oil crisis. Gas-guzzler that it was, it flopped big.

So, Ford followed GM’s lead and started to look to Europe for inspiration. After all, the Corcel and, later, the Corcel II proved that Brazilians preferred (or were forced to prefer) European engineering. Many factors contributed to this no doubt, but high gas prices were, if not the strongest reason, certainly among the top 2 or 3 reasons.

VW soldiered on with the Beetle and the Bus. It did lead the market comfortably. The 70s were the decade when Volkswagen k new that the bug had to be euthanized – replaced by what? Just like back home, they haplessly puttered around for a while. They tried some variations of the Beetle such as the Bras.lia (basically a different, Brazilian-designed shell on the Beetle body) which was a success.

Other efforts failed miserably.

Zé do Caixão, as it was popularly called, or officially the 1600.

It also came as a  TL fastback. Like in Deutschland, the cars were a dud.

A curious car came out. It smacked of sporting pretensions, but it was hampered by its Beetle mechanicals. Nonetheless, it was considered so beautiful that VW held on to one and exposes it in its museum in Germany. Developed largely in Brazil (like the Brasilia), it was called SP as a project and SP2 when it finally hit the streets.

Later in the decade the car that started Volkswagen’s turn-around in Germany, the Passat arrived in Brazil. It became the dream of urban racers and would be very important because unlike the Brasilia and its Beetle-derived cousins pictured previously, it looked to the future, not back.

GM held on to second place throughout the decade. The Opala marched on unbothered, especially after the demise of the Galaxie and Dart/Charger.

This decade also marked GM’s entry into the small car segment.

Rather uncharacteristically, the world première of the Chevette was in Brazil and not in Europe, where it also would go on sale.  GM repeated this later with the Meriva, a Corsa-based minivan, that would also be launched in Brazil first


Unlike in the US, it  enjoyed great success here (and Europe). It lasted, unchanged (save cosmetically) into the 90s.

Arguably, the most important legacy of the 70s was Fiat’s entry into our market. It was the first factory to install itself out of São Paulo state. The Minas Gerais government became a partner, and Fiat would start building in Betim one of the largest factories in the world. It became so successful that Fiat would eventually (and before the deadline) buy out the government’s share.

Fiat’s first offering was called the 147. It was based on the award-winning and game-changing 127.

It boasted such firsts as front wheel drive, transversally mounted engine, among others (it also had quite a few defects, most famously a temperamentful clutch). Especially important in the Brazilian context, it was the first factory car offered that would run on ethanol. It was a harbinger of things to come. Small on the outside, roomy inside. Small engine, great economy. It also was the first car in Brazil (at east that I’m aware of) that gave rise to a complete family. This was much copied later on by other makers and Fiat continued with the practice. To wit, the Oggi sedan.

Or the Panorama SW (the fist compact SW in Brazil).

Then the vehicle where they could not come up with a name. They called it Pick Up, and the name stuck. It gave rise to a segment that never stops growing in Brazil.

Then there was a weird car-based van called the Fiorino. These versions were developed largely for, and in Brazil, by the local engineering team.

As a side note, the 70s were also marked by various tries at having a purely Brazilian car company. The most ambitious effort was Gurgel. An odd name. It’s German for “gargle”. Using fiberglass plastics for the body, they launched truckish things to great acclaim.

They also tried cars, but,well, would you have bought that?

Puma was probably the most successful of the true Brazilian cars. The story goes that they even managed to export to America and Europe. As proof, a picture of one in freezing Switzerland.

Most of these cars would use fiberglass bodies and VW (and later Fiat) mechanicals. When the market opened up in the 90s, they fell by the wayside.

That concludes part two of the Pictorial History of the Brazilian Car. Stay tuned for Parte Três!

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39 Comments on “(Not So) Brief History Of The Brazilian Car. Parte Dois...”

  • avatar

    Pumas made it to Canada. I remember those as the cheap exotic like the Opel or FIAT X1/9. Funny hearing the traditional VW boxer sound whenever one would drive by.

    BTW Marcelo, could you get an arrow or something for whichever car you’re describing to the photo. Almost all of these things are totally foreign and sometimes I can’t place the car with the photo. It makes for a fascinating walk through history though!

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    I love the character of these cars. Lots of space, fuel efficiency, ruggedness, and bang for the buck.
    Keep up the beautiful work!

  • avatar

    Now you are getting to my first recollection of cars:
    My father’s Doginho (the Polara). One of the few memories I have from being 3 years old: climbing on the back seat and in the process noting all the rust in the metal parts…
    My grandmother’s beige Passat: I thought it was such a sports car because of its design…
    My uncle’s Gurgel “jeep” with the canvas roof and plastic windows plus a shovel on the door!

  • avatar

    The pumas were introduced in Canada in 1982. My first thought was “poor man’s Porsche.” If you stared at it long enough it even began to LOOK like a 911. But at $16,000 it just didn’t measure up— especially when a vastly superior top of the line 280ZX or RX7 could be had for $3000 less.
    Still, a few were sold, and I recently came across one in a parking lot. Considering its rarity, I’m guessing it would be worth a tad more than the afore-mentioned ZX or 7…

  • avatar

    Bertel, you are wicked!

    Gurgel was the man’s name. João Gurgel gave his name to his creations (à la Ford). Have no idea whether or not he knew what his name menat, but there are plenty of people in that particular family down here. Maybe that ”ll be another reason to pint them out and laugh.

    Anyway, in a closed market, his SUVs enjoyed great success. Relying to much on the government (and a stroke and his hard-headedness) slowed him down when he was trying to up the ante with the cars. If he had made it longer in good health, who knows? Maybe they would’ve been ablt to grow and develop into something.

  • avatar

    Stared long and hard!! LOL! The price was crazy, but in a protected market with no competition, it ruled. Briefly, but it made people dream.

    Made me dream too— of buying one and dropping a Porsche 6-banger into it. But at 18 years old and an annual net income of around 10K it was a pipe dream. Sure wouldn’t mind having a pristine original now though…

    • 0 avatar

      Come on down to Brazil. You’ll find many. A lot of them were scrapped, because yes they were treated like race cars, but a surprising number of them survived. Mostly because some of them were bought by richer folk, who trated them as a cruiser. To pass in front of the bars and look good. Many of them have been well kept. There’s also a Puma Club in all mayor cities of Brazil. They’ll help you cater to your Puma.

      try If you know any Spanish you can get through it. Or else go to page, click on “Comprar”, then “carros usados”, then write Puma. You’ll see hundreds of adds.

      Good luck!

  • avatar

    We out in the world have picked up drips and drabs of what happened in Brazil, automotive-wise, over the years. Placing it in context and the invariably new knowledge is a treasure. Thank you, sir.
    Does TTAC have an Australian correspondent?

  • avatar

    Marcelo, it’s ironic that you’re doing this series. I was waiting for my fellafel calzone at the kosher pizza shop and I noticed that Brian, the owner, had hung some Hot Wheels models out for sale. There was a Volkswagen SP2, I thought of you and bought it.

    • 0 avatar

      Wow! Cosmic coincidence. Congrats on the acquisition. The SP2 was one swell car. They didn’t sweat out all the details. but it was an iconic car for the moment (and a reason for Brazilian engineers to thump their chests).

      Funny how this internet works, there you are, thousands and thousands of kms away, and  something I write from so far away triggers an emotional response. If it were not for the internet, chances are our worlds would never ever cross paths. I’m richer though for them to have crossed.

      BTW, loved your site!

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for the kind words about Cars In Depth. We recently added Jason White, who’s done design for Ford & Hyundai and teaches design at CCS to the team. He’ll be doing styling analysis, and he started with a look at Lotus’ upcoming models.
      Now I’ll offend all the Hot Wheels collectors and take the SP2 out of the bubble pack. It’s a toy isn’t it?
      I collect certain Hot Wheels and Matchbox models. They have to have normal paint jobs and look like real cars and they have to be a car that I think is cool. Then I remove them from the blister pack. Actually, the limited edition models I get at the car shows I leave in original packaging, but retail models all come out of the packaging. Collectors hate that. Like I said, they’re toys, not Faberge eggs.

    • 0 avatar

      LOL! Loved your attitude on the toys. Afterall, they are toys! Can’t stand people buying things and keeping them in their original packages. That’s like buying a car and keeping it forever n the garage.

      Wait, some people do that. All power to them I guess.

      Sounds interesting your latest addition to Cars in Depth. I’ll be sure to check it out. Thanks for the tip!

  • avatar

    Come on down to Brazil. You’ll find many.

    That would be an awesome trip. I’m not sure what the rules are in Canada regarding importing cars from Brazil, and unfortunately my knowledge of Spanish is next to nil. I’ve since looked online and found that decent examples of the early-80s Pumas for sale in North America can be had for 8 to 10K.
    Some are trying to get up to 13K for pristine ones, but the general consensus seems to be that those sellers have an emotionally-charged elevated sense of their cars’ value. Not-so-decent (needs work) examples are advertised for as little as $2500.

  • avatar

    I see. Even with the currency exchange rate for the Canadian dollar in Brazil (about 1.67 in Canada’s favour) it would almost not be worth the trip and import hassle even if the Brazil prices were the same as they are here. But if they’re even more expensive in Brazil before exchange that would be a deal killer. Still, they are a rare car up here. If I were to buy one it would be a weekend summer toy only.

    • 0 avatar

      would be a weekend summer toy only

      And a fun, head-turning one.Who knows? Puma entusiasts are a dime a dozen here.Maybe you could start such a craze up north. Different and unique it’d surely be.

      Don’t give up. Who knows there’s a Puma out there with your name on it.

  • avatar

    Yup, who knows? Thanks Marcelo!

  • avatar

    The Maverick was considered a gas guzzler in Brazil?  Even the four cylinder versions?  Hmmm.  Mostly, I want one of those very low production Brazilian Maverick station wagons.

    • 0 avatar


      At launch allthey had was the V6 IIRC. One of the reasons the car flopped was that, due to this error, the 2.4 (I’m really almost guessing here) was rushed. SO when it came out, it wasn’t ready. Besides the Ford V6, up until that time Ford had used Renault’s time tested OHC 1.4 engines. Very economical, but slow. And much too weak for the heavier Maverick.

      Bu the time they got the four cylinder right, the market had already cast off the car. NAd in such a market as the one at the time, all new cars were examined with a magnifying glass when they came out. Afterall the press and public would get soething new once every few years. So it was really break or make it.

      Interestingly, when the Corcel first came out, they were almost impossible to align. Rhis generated the first recall in Brazil’s history. Being that the first Maverick’s problem was engine (and more expensive to fix), the market unjustly condemned the car.

      Much like Dodge’s Polara. The first iteneration sold well but was very problem prone. Sales almost stopped. By the time the second itineration came out (the one pictured in article), most problems were fixed. But they couldn’t give away the car. NOBODY wanted it.

      It was a smaller market back then (barely cracking a million). With launches few and far between launch was critical. Plus, as I touched on in article, there was a deeper undercurrent. One that understood that Ameican cars were not modern enough, not “smart” enough. Sure, we appreciated their grunt, but what the market really wanted was European wizardry that promised much lower consumtion, with better handling, though less speed. Who wanted speed? BTW, I do believe it was in the 70s that government invented the 80 km speed limit (which would only be relaxed and increased to 110 in th 90s!!!!).

      Another point I shuold’ve stressed more was the Arab oil shock. It shook us to the bones (to wit, the ethanol program, if gas finished tomorrow Brazil would keep on motoring!). Though lines came and went and were forgotten in USA, they were never forgotten in Brazil. To this day 50% of the market belongs to cars with 1.0L engines. GAs prices have been steady for at least 2 yrs, but people won’t relinquish that small engine. Memmories are longer here (’cause a car is that much bigger of an investment, it’s a major life decision for most. People compromise 30 percent of their income for 5 yrs to buy a car. In that environment you don’t want to go wrong, nor suffer if gas goes up). Recently in my posts I have written about how imports are growing in Brazil. Want to derail them? Raise the price o gas. Keep ethanol low. Prices goes up 30 % tomorrow. See the marketr respond by buyning 75 percent of brand new cars in 1.0L form (it’s happened before).

      Thanks for the interest!

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      It sounds like the Maverick was the same bodyshell as the one we got here, but different engines. Here, the smallest engine was a 200 cu in in-line six, and optional was a 250 six or the 302 V8. I don’t think the bigger Ford V8’s were available in that car, but I could be wrong. Perhaps Ford was using the same engines in those as in the Pinto here – initially 1600 then 2000 then 2300 cc four cylinders.
      That Chevy Opala front is a dead-ringer of a 1970 Nova.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks Brian P! You said all there was to know about the engines. At launch (IIRC) they had a v6 and the (smaller) v8. Then they rushed the Pinto’s I4 engines into production. Owing to the vagaries of production the first batch of the 4 bangers were terrible. And sealed off the car’s chances of success in Brazil.

      This was a major disappointment. For those still in love with American metal in the 70s in Brazil, the Maverick would prove that all was well in Detroit (and its Brazilians branches). However, a launch could not ever have been more bangled. It killed the Amercian car in Brazil (at least in terms of a viable day-to-day car). The American car still lives on in people’s minds as an almost unattainable, fire-breathing, gas-swallowing moster that’s fun to drive. But strictl on weekends!

    • 0 avatar


       Mostly, I want one of those very low production Brazilian Maverick station wagons

      Sorry, but I had the time to do a little research and no, there are no Maverick station wagons. Maybe you’re confusing with the Belina. That was a stationwagon derived from the the Corcel I and Corcel II and also later from the Del Rey (a Corcel II for all intents and pruposes and a hell, albeit, sloow, of a car). Now they had them in 4 doors, but up until the 90s people in Brazil hated 4 doors (crazy? Yes, don’t tell me about it). Case in point, when Corcel first came out, it was a 4 door. The market forced ford to do a 2 door version of it. And the 2 doors, together with the Belina station wagon version (2 door version too) largely outsold the 4 doors. It got so ridiculous the larger Corcel II when it cam out (and SW, too) only offered 2 doors, and was a special item of attention for Ford’s engineers as they aimed to make the door as long as possible so that people could tumble into the back seat but light enough so that people didn’t complain the door was too heavy). By the time the Del Rey came out, the marklet was saner and started accepting these cars with 4 doors. To the point I think, at leat for the Ford Del Rey sedan and Belina the 4 door sold more (over its production rum).

      So, how’s about it? A SW with 2 doors? Just yummy right?

  • avatar

    Nice history; can’t wail for the next installment when the Fox brings Brazilian cars to the US.

    • 0 avatar

      Sorry. Really didn’t go there. As this was a Brief History of the Brazilian car, I concetrated on the most important cars and trends within our market. That unfortunately, would be another story for another day.

      Don’t wish to rain on your party though. If IIRC, there’s a very brief mention of that (or not). But hope you find the other material worth your while.

      Thanks for the interest!

  • avatar

    I think I speak for most (if not all) TTAC readers when I say – Thank You !
    This is an excellent piece. Do more.

  • avatar

    As a great fan of Amália Rodrigues, the sublime Portuguese fado singer, I loved watching the video. What a pleasant surprise! In fact, I watched it several times. Now the Truth About Cars gives me two reasons to visit: cars and fado. Obrigado!

  • avatar
    Andy D

    My first  four wheel drive car  was a Willys Rural .  It was  a  hoot  to drive and  was  a very  useful 3rd  vehicle. I know next to nothing about its history. The window glass a Ford insignia with Sao Paulo under it. Great article

  • avatar

    Oi Marcelo:
    “Fiat’s entry into our market. It was the first factory to install itself out of São Paulo state.”  Did you put that line in on purpose to see if I was napping?  Please issue a correction. Duque de Caxias.
    Passat-  Yes the boy racers loved it, one of my brasilian brothers fashioned himself as a 16 year old Emerson Fittipaldi.  He would scare the crap out of me when we drove the Passat from Salvador to Itapua.
    SP2-  Pretty car until it rusted and fell apart.  So slow it couldn’t get out of its way.  Steel body unlike Puma so it was heavy, slow and handled like a turd.   Interestingly, somebody has brought one up from Brazil to Seattle.  I see it now and then near the Microsoft campus.
    Pumas are still being made today, in South Africa.

    • 0 avatar

      Hey David!

      It seems like you are the one who’ll keep me honest!

      Now the line that Fiat was the first out of SP State was a hyperbole. FNM was in Duque de Caxias but it never provoked a level of “interiorization” of factories like Fiat did. I mean, FNM had every trucked in from SPaulo. Fiat meanwhile developed all of BH and surrounding areas. They had a plan to “force” suppliers into our area. A|nd come they did.

      So in a sense Fiat’s Minas adventure was different. It provoked the “mineirization” of industry. I often ask folk what would be of this State had Fiat no come in. A lot more agriculture and even more dependence on mining that’s what. Now we have world class designers. Worldclass car developers. Specialist in AC. In Suspension, You could build your own car taking -parts from factories in this state.

      That was never in the cards for Duque de Caxias. So you see, I have a point!

  • avatar
    Carlos Villalobos

    Hola Marcelo
    A lot of memories from the 80s with these cars. The Opala was used as a police car. They even had a special pursuit 6 cylinder model. The Chilean market was full of Brazillian cars. the Chevette was a success here until it was replaced as the number one car by the Nissan Sunny.

  • avatar

    “Puma was probably the most successful of the true Brazilian cars. The story goes that they even managed to export to America and Europe.”
    Puma sold less than 22.000 cars, Gurgel sold more than 40.000. Puma exports a few units. Gurgel was made in Holand by Ruska. And exports to almost 50 countries.

    “They also tried cars, but,well, would you have bought that?” Well, the BR-800/Supermini sold smething as 3/5 of ALL PUMAS.

  • avatar

    All the more reason to want a Puma. If they’re that rare, and it’s not your primary ride, you’d have a rare, fun and affordable toy.

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