Rare Rides: A 1990 UMM Alter II, Lots of Lime

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

What would you call a car designed in France out of parts from a Jeep, then built in Portugal by a company which previously ceased to exist?


The story of the UMM started out with a French company called Cournil. Founded by Bernard Cournil early in the twentieth century, the company initially made its business altering American Jeeps in post-WWII France. The military left many Jeeps behind, and Cournil modified them for agricultural usage.

Cournil’s lot improved in the late forties, via a stroke of luck. Struggling French luxury car manufacturer Hotchkiss started building licensed Jeeps in France, and Cournil became a regional distributor for the utility vehicles. After a few years, he inked a deal with Willys Jeep and began his own manufacture.

What started out as a shoestring assembly lead to improvements, as it seemed Cournil was a tinkerer. As he listened to customer concerns over the Jeeps he produced, he made edits. A revised transmission here, a different engine there. Eventually Cournil determined the Jeep chassis was not suitable for the agricultural work of his customers, and dumped it. His creation was first known locally as the Tracteur Cournil, and was used in mining and agricultural applications.

In 1960, the Cournil became its own vehicle. The company introduced their own chassis on the Cournil Tracteur JA1. The next year, the design was changed to look more Cournil and less Jeep. The Tracteur stayed in production throughout the early Seventies, but trouble brewed at the bank.

Bernard’s son Alain took over the organization after a bankruptcy in 1970, and produced very few Tracteurs between 1971 and 1977. At that point, the family behind the name split the operation in two. The French part went to French armaments manufacturer Gevarm, while a new Portugese part was sold to UMM of Portugal.

União Metalo-Mecânica was founded in 1977, with the intent of manufacturing four-wheel drive utility vehicles for industrial and agricultural uses. In total, UMM built six different versions of the Cournil, which remained in production from 1977 through 1996. UMMs had success in heavy use applications, and even ran in the Paris-Dakar rally.

Between 1986 and 1994, UMM built the Alter II, seen here. Advancements over its predecessor (the Alter) included a new four-speed manual, transfer case, and suspension. Engines used were mostly of 2.5 liters in displacement, with either four or six cylinders, and in standard and turbodiesel formats. A safe assumption is around 75 to 100 horsepower.

The Alter II ceased production in 1994, at which time UMM discontinued civilian vehicle offerings. It continued to take large orders from military and utility customers through around 1996. Shortly afterward, UMM intended to introduce a new model called the Alter 2000, but had no funds to invest in its development. Today UMM exists as a metalwork company.

The lime green three-door that is today’s Rare Ride is located at a dealer in Florida. A 1990 model with a shocking 455 miles, the UMM asks $26,900. Worth it?

[Images: seller]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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4 of 13 comments
  • Albert Albert on Jun 24, 2019

    I can only recommend to stay clear from this vehicle. Engine, gearbox and axles come from the Peugeot 505. Spare parts? No longer available, not even in Africa or South America. We got stuck with about 50 of these (our government sold a few hundred trucks to Portugal and we got UMM’s in return). In four years time we spent 75% of the cars price when new on maintenance.

    • See 1 previous
    • Lorenzo Lorenzo on Jun 25, 2019

      @thelaine That almost never happens in Europe. We're the only ones who think bribery is bad. In Europe it's institutionalized and an accepted part of doing business.

  • HotPotato HotPotato on Jun 27, 2019

    Cool lookin' thing. I guess my dad's riff on rural French farmers wanting a single vehicle to serve both as tractor and family car wasn't an exaggeration.

  • Daniel J Alabama is a right to work state so I'd be interested in how this plays out. If a plant in Alabama unionized, there are many workers who's still oppose joining and can work.
  • ToolGuy This guest was pretty interesting.
  • NJRide So this is an average age of car to be junked now and of course this is a lower end (and now semi-orphaned) product. But street examples seem to still be worth 2500? So are cars getting junked only coming in because of a traumatic repair? If not it seems a lot of cars being junked that would still possibly worth more than scrap.Also Murilee I remember your Taurus article way back what is the king of the junkyard in 2024?
  • AMcA I applaud Toyota for getting away from the TRD performance name. TuRD. This is another great example of "if they'd just thought to preview the name with a 13 year old boy."
  • Jeff Does this really surprise anyone? How about the shoes and the clothes you wear. Anything you can think of that is either directly made in China or has components made in China likely has some slave labor involved. The very smart phone, tablet, and laptop you are using probably has some component in it that is either mined or made by slave labor. Not endorsing slave labor just trying to be real.