By on February 13, 2015

Ford Brasil LtdaCorcel I e II

The year was 1968 and it was a good one for Brazilian motorists. GM launched its Opala and Volkswagen its 1600 (sedan). Meanwhile, Ford launched its first car aimed at a broader swath of the market, the Corcel. Up until that time Ford aimed at better off consumers and commercial applications. Its only car was the Galaxie 500 and F100 pickup besides medium and large trucks. It signaled the future direction of the market in Brazil as this Ford was in reality a Renault…

Ford had acquired Willys Overland do Brasil in 1967. Besides such cars and trucks as the Aero Willys and Itamarati and Rural and Jeep (not to mention Renault Dauphines and Gordinis), Willys had been developing internally what was known as Project M. According to William Max Pearce, then Ford Brazil president, that Project was a very large part of the reason why Ford bought Willys out. He said that two prototypes were taken to Detroit and extensively tested before the Americans green lighted the purchase and as such, instrumental to the decision.

Renault-12-1

Willys had a history of working with Renault in Brazil. They built and sold here French products and worked together with them to adapt those cars to Brazilian conditions. When Willys started looking for a buyer, that Project was almost ready. Curiously, while it was launched here in 1968, Renault would only launch their final version in 1970. It was the R12 and lived on until recently having been well sold in Europe and elsewhere. It had a long career. Dacia, then an independent East-bloc automaker from Romania had close ties with the French and kept building the model until the present century (2004).

Ford purportedly did some work on the car though how much is anybody’s guess. Supposedly they beefed up the suspension and increased its course. Most of the mechanicals however were in fact developed during the Willys-Renault cooperation. The engine for example was all French. The Corcel was an important launch in Brazil as it showcased many technologies for the first time in Brazil. It offered such things as front wheel drive, five engine bushings, sealed cooling system, and an early version of a collapsible steering wheel. It was a small car, but partly because of the front wheel drive system it offered internal space of a medium car from back then. The trunk was large and finishing and decorations depended greatly on version, coming from quite simple, but correct, to almost sophisticated and sporty.

For Ford it also marked greater cooperation between the local and corporate units. To launch this car Ford invested in the local engineering team and a large degree of autonomy was granted. The car was well received in the market and got off to a good start.

Oon however, trouble struck. The Corcel gained a reputation of being impossible to align and incapable of going up hills, especially those paved with cobblestones (then so common) and in the rain many would park their cars and wait for things to dry out. This was due to the gutless but economic engine (68 hp according to the metrics then, about 55 today, and given more power over time) and distrust of front wheel drive (though DKW-Vemag had sold FWD cars in Brazil for more than a while). As such, sales took a major hit and the car was looking like a flop. This made the car a star of another first in Brazil.

renault_12_tl_6-600x342

In 1970, Ford did the first official recall in Brazilian auto history. All owners were called upon to head to the dealer and receive their free fix. The problem was that due to its unique setup, the front suspension looked like a traditional McPherson, but it was not. What Ford did was simple. They fixed the steering system at a predetermined point and called it good. The original Renault system was more sophisticated and varied that point according to how high the car was sitting. To get it right, some calculation and care was required and the after market and even the dealers were just not prepared for it.

manual characteristics

The Corcel in its original form lived on until 1978, when a more modern looking one, the Corcel II, was launched. About 600 000 cars of this vintage were sold, taking into account all versions, coupe, sedan and station wagon. They are still a relatively common site on Brazilian streets, often terribly rusted and gutted. However, due to the many firsts and luxury versions it has always been a favorite of well-heeled collectors. Recently, Brazilians have experienced some prosperity and the car collection bug has started biting more middle class members. The numbers of well-kept Corcels and other cars of its time has increased on the streets. Though rarer than 80s cars, I see some of the 70s specials driven about.

orange corcel

Now I have had a chance to drive one. A kid I know bought one from his uncle. It is a 1975 Corcel Luxo. It has an improved 72 hp 1.4 CHT engine. I love the orange paint job and the interior is in good shape. The lines are crisp and slightly sporty. This is the coupe and it helps with the impression of sportiness. The back lights are different from what is done today and seems to me the part most stuck in the 60s. The front had the revised less chrome-y grill and looks quite nice. The greenhouse is tall and the beltline low, hinting of great visibility that I would later confirm. It is a tidy package that though dated is a timeless design.

This car was bought in 2007 and has been slowly been recovered over this time. They young man who bought it has been involved with the resuscitation since the start and plans on a making yet a few more changes to make it reliable. He intends to put it to use as his daily driver, driving it to university and his job and in his nightlife soon.

engine bay

The car is on its original engine and marks a little over 90 000 km. The owner is sure that has turned over at least once, but they opened up the engine and changed all the parts to get it back to standard. They did a good job because the car fires up the first time you turn the key and runs smoothly and surely.

back

Getting on the go takes a bit of effort. The car does not have hydraulic steering so its necessary to muscle it a bit. The oversized (for today) steering wheel helps the effort and it not too bad as the wheels are just 13 inches and the tires have a nice sidewall. A note on those wheels, the Corcel might be the only three lugged Ford in history (yes, due to its French inheritance).

The gear box is the only non-original change made to the car. This orange Corcel uses a Ford Del Rey 5 speed box from the 80s. The original 4 speed was broken and hard to get when the time came to change it. The engagements are nice and crisp and can be done relatively fast. The seating position is correct with pedals, wheel and seats (though they do not recline) well-aligned. There is a surprising amount of space in the front though in the back space is at a premium. People must have been smaller back then as this car did fill family duty.

inside (1)

The ride is very soft. It absorbs the imperfections well and goes straight without the need for constant corrections. The steering once at speed is light, too, and very communicative. This all harks back to more pristine time and the driver does feel more in synch with the machine. None of the modern creature comforts are available and the car is not isolated from the driver. It is also relatively quiet too, with no overbearing noise from the finishing. The engine does intrude though, very much the faster you go. Of course, this has to do with the lack of air conditioning. As such, I drove about with the windows open to try to refresh some in this very hot Brazilian summer.

Because of the soft suspension and weak engine, this car is not a canyon carver. On curves it inclines more that any more modern cars I’ve driven. I was aware of this characteristic and thus looked out for it, but it will surprise those used to modern suspension set ups. Allowing for this and anticipating it, curves can be taken at speed. It helps that the brakes are relatively modern. This one sports front disk brakes and braking power and characteristics are similar to modern small Brazilian cars.

fuel gauge

The interior is dark. Almost everything is black. Instrumentation is a delight and quite complete however. The design language used in this car is no longer in vogue and there are quite a few surprises on how the various knobs and commands function. Nonetheless, they are easy to use and for the most part visible, though not that intuitive for a modern driver. It also helps they are all very light to operate.

To me driving this car was surprising. I expected a more primitive experience, but it wasn’t except for the lights which were just awful and did a terrible job of illuminating. Maybe because this was a modern car from the get go with its front wheel drive and disk brakes. Maybe because so many Brazilian cars make use of small 1.0 engines that have (slightly) better performance. The Corcel did prove to me that it would be a fun daily companion.

The Ford Corcel. A French Ford. A purveyor of many firsts in this country. Now a kid’s first car. May it go on pleasing its owner for a long time as it has undoubtedly has many other owners since it was built 1975.

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23 Comments on “Dispatches do Brasil: 1975 Ford Corcel Luxo...”


  • avatar
    Jean-Pierre Sarti

    ahhh miss the simplicity of old school car interiors. Put me squarely in the fuddy duddy group of people who hate the way car interiors have gone. I don’t need my dash to look like I am piloting a freaking airliner.

    • 0 avatar

      It is a welcome break from modern interiors to be sure, but so dark. Plus the illumination is seemingly done by one candle. However, loved seeings the markings in Portuguese. Last time I saw that in a car was in my 1989 Uno. By 1995 when I got my second Uno, everything was in English…

  • avatar
    Vega

    I really enjoy your reports from Brasil. I also admire you calmness. If I would live there I would be furious every day about protectionist import barriers that force me to pay astronomical prices for (mostly) economy cars based on 2 decade old, hand-me-down platforms from Europe. And pay $1,200 for an iPhone…

    • 0 avatar

      Hey Vega, thanks for the kind words.

      I would argue thought that this is not the case and as times move on, there should be more improvements on this. Talking about the 2 decade old platforms. Most cars are now sitting on modern platforms in use in Europe and even the US. Though examples of old technology still abound, and some makers like Mitsubishi and Hyundai still send their used up tooling here, most don’t. Ford,VW, GM and all the newcomers are using basically what they use elsewhere, while even FCA is starting to do it this year (the Renegade is here!). What does happen is that some systems are not modernized fast enough, see GM and their 80s engines…

      As to iPhones there are other options and also canals. The internet is your friend, as are Brazilians traveling abroad, ;).

  • avatar
    jhefner

    Thank you Marcelo. It looks like the more I read about Ford history, the more cars that wear the Ford name I find I did not know about.

    The Ford Corcel is interesting in it’s looks. though it started out as Willys-Renault 12; I can see some Mk1 Escort in it’s looks; in particular the nose and rear caps. That is where it appears Ford made the most changes to bring it into it’s corporate image; the remainder still looks like the original R12. But it worked; it does resemble the Escort and to a lesser extant the Cortina.

    • 0 avatar

      Hey jhefner! Thank you for reading (and commenting). Being that Ford (and others) was always so huge and that the world car idea only came about in the 80s, this was to be expected. Maybe I should write about the Ford Maverick. A car that came at the wrong time, but is becoming more valuable by the day. It even had a V8!

      And I agree to your analysis on looks. Ford was very successful into making it look like a Ford, so even some knowledgeable people find it hard to see the Renault in this Ford (being the wheel with their 3 lugs the biggest indication). As is I like it and it is sort of a time capsule stuck in the 60s carefully acknowledging the 70s. Take a look at the Corcel II. At least in design that was a 70s car through and through.

      I love this car’s nose.

      • 0 avatar
        jhefner

        Thank you Marcelo; I did find some pictures online; and the Corcel II definitely looks like a MkII Escort two door; with a dash of Ford Carpi thrown in.

        I have almost finished my Ford timeline in miniture from 1903 to 2013:

        https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/14882190448/

        Something that is hard to appreciate until you see them all together is how much Ford managed to maintain a corporate image across so many product lines. The Corcel II is unmistakably Ford, with it’s square headlights, long hood, short trunk, and rectangular tailights. Those tailights are nearly the same whether it is a Corcel, Capri, Escort, Taunus/Cortina, or even Maverick or Pinto.

        And I would love to read about the Maverick in Brazil. I am familiar with the Maverick and it’s weaknesses in the United States; it would be interesting to hear how it was recieved and played out in Brazil. I have a Fresh Cherries diecast Maverick in my display, along with Escorts and Taunus/Cortina and a paper Capri model; doesn’t look like anyone made one of either mark of the Corcel.

        EDIT: but someone did make paper models of the Corcel II. Will have to scale it, print it out, and put it together now:

        http://felipestanque.blogspot.com/2011/09/paper-model-de-ford-corcel-ii.html

        http://clubedocorcel.blogspot.com/2012/08/corcel-ii-197879-papercraft.html

        • 0 avatar
          jhefner

          Oh, and a paper model of the Corcel I as well!

          http://hiperfanauto.blogspot.com.br/2012_06_01_archive.html

        • 0 avatar

          Hey Jhefner, that is a very cool collection. I looked on line and found the following places where you can get miniature Brazlian cars. As to Ford, a quick skim showed me a Belina II (sw of the Corcel II), F100 and Del Rey (also based off of a Corcel and Ford’s luxury car in Brazil in the 80s and 90s – brother had one, and it was oh so soft, like driving on a cloud, to me it looked very much like a downscaled American car and for some reason I always thought it looked like a Cadillac).

          http://www.minimundi.com.br/miniaturas/miniaturas-carros/filtro=ordenacao=_mc=2114

          http://www.superminiaturas.com.br/produtos/1/5025/Nacionais/14/0/Nacionais/oi

          http://www.arteemminiaturas.com.br/website/loja_cats.asp?loja_cat=6&loja_sub=101

          http://www.maismini.com.br/loja/categories/Miniatura-de-Carros-Nacionais/

          Most seem to be from the same maker and I have some of them. Quite acceptable I think.

          And here you can see a store specialized in old cars. Some nice Fords there, among them, a Maverick and a Corcel.

          EDIT. I also noticed a Rural in those collections. Could be a nice little sidetrack to your collection as Ford kept on building the Jeep (original Willys one) and Rural for years under their own name.

          • 0 avatar
            jhefner

            Marcelo;

            Thank you very much for the links. I should have clarified that I collect almost exclusively in 1:64 due to space limitations and for comparison purposes.

            And now for you and your young friend is the Ford Corel in almost the same orange paint; next to a lineup of Mk III and IV Taunus/Cortinas, Mk I and II Escorts, and a Capri, with a Maverick and Pinto in the background. The dimensions and basic shape of the Corel are correct within a millimeter.

            https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/15925442923/

            And here it is from the front. I placed it on Truck row because of space; but notice how the grill also favors the Bronco and Econoline van next to it.

            https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/16519627896/in/photostream/

            WIth it’s square tail lights and round headlights, it definitely fits in the light grey band from roughly 1960-1973.

            I printed out, but did not make the four door Corcel yet; and I have not printed out the Corcel II yet.

  • avatar
    djn

    Oi meu Rei!
    Great article. I rode in a similar era Corcel from Salvador to Paulo Alfonso and back over dirt roads. My Brasilian family in Bahia had a Corcel II. How about an article about the FNM 2150?
    David

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    The Corcel looks very much like something that would of come out of Vauxhall in the 60s not a Ford.

    Interesting.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Hey Marcelo,
    I do hope the links work as it appears it’s a hit and miss affair on TTAC.

    http://www.nickwhalesportscarsdirect.co.uk/files/car_images/Viva%20GT/Img_2311.jpg

    Even the correct colour!

    http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-QYEI0J0oKXI/Tl9s_FR2BfI/AAAAAAAAHWw/BMr4JAiA0tA/s1600/vauxhall%2Bviva%2B1.jpg

    • 0 avatar

      Oh wow. It does Big Al. The first link still looks like what I would identify as an early Escort, while the grill on the car in the second link… Guess that is where the inspiration came from (though earlier Willys had eeringly similar grills….)!

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      That second one is in the states; complete with a “catfish” Ford Taurus wagon in the background.

      Not just today’s cars look alike. You had your outliers (Citeron); but when someone found a formula or style that was a hit; others often emulated it. Look at all the BMW 2002, Jeep, Ford Cortina and Taurus look-alikes; just to name a few.

  • avatar
    outback_ute

    An interesting read on a car I was not familiar with Marcelo. Have you driven cars of this age before? The tail lights look similar to the Ford Granada.

    I had a relative who owned a Renault 12 from the late 1970s until she could no longer drive, but I never drove it. I have a 1975 Ford Escort 1300 Mk1 and there are many similarities to the Corcel apart from the drivetrain layout and it sounds like it would be similar to drive.

    Jean-Pierre as well as the dashboard being simpler, the wiring diagram probably fits on one page too.

    • 0 avatar

      From that era that I have driven, well most were from a bit later, but were more or less the same models or closely related: VW Beetle and Brasilia; Ford Del Rey and F1000 and now Corcel; Chevrolet Opala and Chevette; Fiat 147. In comparison to those cars (except the 147 and Del Rey) the Corcel did feel more advanced.

      This car defined the Ford experience for many years in Brazil, comfortable, well-finished, economic and slow. Only later with the Escort would the real Euro-Ford come to be well-known in Brazil. Before that only the Corcel and Galaxie, Maverick and F100 which were different (American).

      BTW, the Corcel was so French that when Renault started importing cars here in the 90s, many parts from the Corcel could be and were (as they were cheaper) adapted into those cars. In a lot of cases, especially with early (in Brazil) Clios, but apparently not only, many Corcel parts will simply fit and work.

      As to the Renault 12 can’t say much except I like its looks and I know it was a successful car. It seems much more a 70s car, while the Corcel I always looked like it was stuck between the 60s with just a hint of 70s.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    I’m surprised Ford didn’t have the British market Cortina in mind for the Brazilian market – or did they? Too high priced?

  • avatar
    jhefner

    Marcelo;

    I recently recieved a 1960 Falcon diecast (by Yatming.) When I placed it next to my completed Corcel paper models; I realized the Corcel’s front grill resembles that of the Falcon:

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/15996738864/in/photostream/

    In side profile, it resembles the 1966-1970 Falcon, like this Junkyard Find:

    https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/03/junkyard-find-1970-ford-falcon-futura-sedan/

    Finally, I also completed a paper model of the Corcel II:

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/15999168423/in/photostream/

    Both Corcel marks are an interesting combination of European and North American styling on a French design.

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