By on January 29, 2011

This is part three 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 the beginnings, part two did let you revisit the turbulent 60s. This part takes you to …

The 80s

For countries up north, this was the end of the malaise and the beginning of party time. In Brazil, it was the decade of doom and gloom. Politically, the military regime was running out of steam. Gradual democratization was unavoidable. Culturally, the country exploded. Censorship, which had marked the 70s, disappeared. Playboy showed full frontal (female) nudity to grateful teenage boys and men. Brazilian rock came into its own. Economically, the country tried hard, but ran hard to stay in the same place. This decade is often referred to as the lost decade. Foreign debt was the overriding problem. The dollar became king. Inflation was reaching hyper mode. People didn’t have money. Smaller and smaller cars took a bigger and bigger piece of the sales pie.

The decade came down to a continuance of 70s cars with new sheet metal. Engines also had a very familiar sound. Some could trace their coughing history back to the 60s (GM, Ford). Alcohol-fueled cars became the norm.

Volkswagen had retired the Beetle in Europe. In Brazil, Beetles multiplied unabashed, unaltered and made from tired tools.

Volkswagen also launched the Gol, which would kill the more technically modern Passat. Deliberately?

The Gol marked some firsts for VW. It was a water-cooled car (something they had much ridiculed in their propaganda throughout their history in Brazil and elsewhere). It was also front wheel drive. The engine was however a sure sign of VW’s traditional ham-fisted engineering. It was mounted longitudinally (and would remain so until the Gol’s fifth redesign in the 00s), taking up much needed real estate from passengers. After a couple of mistakes, it would take first place in sales from Chevy’s Monza (which had taken over this position from the Beetle) and never (until today) let go. VW had finally found its Beetle substitute.

The Gol would spawn a very sprawling  family. Here above the Voyage.

Then the Saveiro, for the handyman.

Finally the Parati, for folks who want their luggage in plain view.

VW also ventured for the first time into the, well, for them, luxury market. They launched the Santana. Basically, a VW version of Audi’s 80.  Or a Passat with a trunk. or a Passat Variant that was called Santana. It brought many new technologies to Brazil. Things like onboard computer and fuel injection. I learned to drive in my dad’s wagon version (the Quantum). Comfortable, it introduced Brazilians into a new world of luxury, which up until that point had been represented by Chevy’s Opala. I remember it did cost about the same as a BMW Series 3 in America.

GM kept the Opala. Here is its 80s version.

At least the design had changed a bit over time. Though it was evident to the naked eye just how outdated and outclassed this car was. Yet, again, it was one of the few options available to Brazilians and it enjoyed a huge cachet. GM also kept the Chevette. It was the same sad story as with the Opala, new design, old mechanicals and engines. Yet it sold.

GM’s most important car for the decade was the Monza. Based on Opel’s Ascona, it was a resounding hit. The Monza took over the middle class dreams of what a dream car should be (before this role belonged to Ford’s Corcel). It actually lead the sales chart for a couple of years.

In a rather bizarre, but later common, twist of fate, GM also started to produce the Opel Kadett. While abroad the 70s Chevette had given rise to the 80s Kadett and was killed off by the newer car, in Brazil both versions lived on, side by side. This strategy was later widely copied by other makers, much to the bewilderment of the market .

The Kadett was launched in 1989 and created great anticipation, enthusiasm and goodwill and press for GM. This was due to the fact that this was the first all-new launch after a hiatus of 5 years! 5 years without any new launches. Malaise indeed. The most recent launch before it had been that of Fiat’s Uno (which had been launched in 1984). It also was a thoroughly modern car and blew most of everything that was available (especially in its segment) out of the water. A taste of what Brazilians would experience in disbelief in the 90s.

Ford meanwhile would depend heavily on the Escort. Launched with approriate fanfare, Ford’s world car enjoyed much initial success. I had one exactly like the one in the picture (though mine was bordeaux in color). Boy oh boy! I was living the life. Flying high.

However, that was an expensive Escort for Brazil. Cost cutting measures followed, and damaged the car’s image. Such things as using the 60s Renault CHT engine instead of a really modern mill that could compete against the others. As it turned, out that engine was good for economy and it was durable, but it was much less powerful than what the competition had to offer.

In Brazil, the Escort just couldn’t compete in price with the likes of VW’s Gol, Chevy’s Chevette or Fiat’s 147 and later Uno. Gradually but surely, Ford lost market share in Brazil. So much so that by the end of the decade, Ford’s very existence in the Brazilian market came into question. Yet they could never convince themselves to bring in a smaller car (like the European market Fiesta). They decided to tell themselves and the market that their car in fact competed against everything from the Chevette and Uno below, to the Monza above. Very foolhardy.

Fiat meanwhile hammered away with their 147, until in 1984 the Uno came to Brazil. It gained traction slowly. Initially rejected, it would eventually define what a modern Brazilian car is.

The Uno sired a sedan, the Premio.

The Uno begat a station wagon, the Elba.

The Uno even fathered a pick-up,  the LX.  A van version (which kept the Fiorino name) survives even today. All body styles of this car were exported all over the world. Even back to Europe.

That concludes part three of the Pictorial History of the Brazilian Car. Come back tomorrow for Parte Quatro, when we enter the 90s.

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

  • avatar

    My memories of this decade: a continuous string of Paratis for my mom and Monzas for my dad. I still remember the sound of their engines and the smell of the alcohol. And the 5 or more minutes you had to leave the engine turned on before the engine temperature would be high enough to allow one to drive. And the car  refusing to turn on during winters in Campos do Jordão.
    And no mention of Autolatina? (or was that early 90s?) That’s a bizarre piece of automotive history.

    • 0 avatar

      Oi Autobraz,

      I think Autolatina is one of those side roads that went off into neverland, so, though I know it’s very important, I opted to leave it out since this a brief history. Like Gurgel, I intend to a piece on them in future. Keep an eye out. Suffice to say it was one of the reasons Ford almost left Brazil in the 80s.

      Were your Monzas 4 doors or 2? I think one of the reasons the Parati (and VW by extension) lost market share in this decade was the insistence on making a viscerally family car (VW) into something “sporty” (and thus the insistence on the 2 doors). Though the trend finally became norm in the 90s, I think in the 80s Brazilians finally came to terms with 4 doors (except VW). Why did VW insist so long?

    • 0 avatar

      Mostly 2 doors. I think only my father’s last Monza was 4 doors. And for a little time he had one with air conditioning. Oh the luxury!

    • 0 avatar

      Ah Autobraz, that’ss what so beautiful about my XR3, it had some things so uncommon that people didn’t even know the right names , like “teto escolar, farol de milho e roda de maionese”, not to mention AC, DH power locks and windows..

      Suc h luxury was so rare at the time… Even in a Monza AC was optional. Crazy to have imagined we could have survived it all. And to imagine we tolerated and thought such a state was normal.

    • 0 avatar

      You didn’t mention in the article you had a XR3!! You are now my new God. I will worship you as I worshiped my neighbour with the convertible XR3 and remote control ignition – which later caught on fire but I digress…

    • 0 avatar


      I had a friend with a XR3 2.0 (Autolatina version) w/ that remote ignition too. That was so cool for the time!

      Now as to my XR3, we had 2 in the family. One in white and another bordeaux. The bordeaux staid in the family for more than 10 yrs (first father’s, then brother’s, then, finally, mine). Ours was a 1989 exactly like the one in the picture, except for color. And if you read carefully, you’ll see that I did mention I had one.

      I dream of buying an old one, restoring it and keeping it forever as a weekend toy. Maybe someday…

  • avatar

    i believe the vonage was sold in the states as the fox. i always really liked the simplicity of it and the nice big greenhouse. i believe the santana is still sold in china. i for one don’t think that cars have gotten better in every aspect over the years. solid state ignitition, dual diagonal brakes, self tensioning seatbelts, airbags, roll cage construction are real improvements. eight way power seats and seven speed automatics not so much…

  • avatar

    Marcelo, I have been merely doing a brief read of your series. One of my coworkers worked for GM in the 80’s and from the tales he told me, the Monza is exactly as you said, here we had the Century which was much more luxurious and the Sierra which was The Car after GM discontinued the Malibu and Caprice.
    I remember one of the neighbors buying a Monza hatch, real pretty, but a headache because of its many defects.
    We got the Chevette (loved by people and one of the most sold cars in Venezuela, after the Malibu), the Uno and Premio (that are like tanks and really durable for this roads), the Escort (rubbish).
    You forgot to mention that Brazilian Uno is VERY different from the European one. The European got a fixed rear axle (or twist on gen 2), front L-arm suspension. “Ours” instead got a transverse leaf and independent suspension in the rear and in the front something similar to the Ford Festiva. Whe I went to Italy in 96 I remember seeing some of them in the street (very few) and well, the Italians didn’t like it and preferred the local (and much better) version.
    Something similar happens with “our” current Fiesta. The European previous gen one looks much much superior in comparison.
    I’d love to write more, but I’m moving overseas in one week, and you can imagine the armageddon going inside my house now.

  • avatar

    Oi Marcelo. Mi comentario no aparecio :(. Saludos

  • avatar

    Very cool, I remember riding in a fiat 147 when I visited Brasilia back 03′. It was kinda neat to ride in but honestly I was more focused on the scenery than the car. One thing I remember was the drivers seat was no longer attached to the car! So if you rode behind the driver you had to kind of brace him from moving around lol.

  • avatar

    After VW ended the beetle in the US, remaining VW fans looked longingly at Brazilian variant bodies that used the beetle floorpan/mechanicals. For a brief history, you left them out, but could you do a separate post sometime on those variant bodies on beetle underpinnings? It would be bittersweet for US former VW fans (they all drive Hondas now), but it would be cool to see all or most of the variants in one place.

  • avatar

    Oi Marcelo,
    The Quantum/Santana were the 2nd generation Passat B2 platform, also Audi 80 or Audi 4000 (USA).  Smaller platform than the Audi 100.

  • avatar
    Carlos Villalobos

    I have a relative that still has a Monza. Comfortable car for the time. Also the Fiorino its still sold here.
    Finally, the Saveiro was very, very popular between the young population looking for something cheap and fast. Thing is, they were not very safe (the frontal crumple zone were the driver knees and had no weight in the back) and become known as Camino al Cielo (Way to Heaven) because lots of irresponsible kids got killed on them.

    • 0 avatar

      Hola Carlos!

      I know a guy who drives one everyday, too. And its his choice! He has more than enough condition to buy a better car (his wife drives a Fiat Linea!!), but he just loves his Monza!

      The Saveiro, Fiat Strada, Chevy Montana, Ford Courier and Peugeot Hoggar dispute this market in Brazil. The market is split pretty evenly among people who need them (trades people, small businesses, people with a country house etc) and people who don’t (urban cowboys and gals, urban and rural playboys). The latter are all dangerous drivers and you’ll see them doing dangerous stunts. You see, these trucklets are the cheapest cars in Brazil above the 1.0s. And yes, a little more power plus difficult driving dynamics also lead to a lot of sorrow here, too.

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