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

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
rare rides a 1990 umm alter ii lots of lime

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]

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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.

  • JMII I know people behind me get POed when I refuse to turn (right or left) depending on traffic. Even my wife will scream "just go already" but I tend err on the side of waiting for a gap that gives me some cushion. It's the better safe then sorry approach which can be annoying for those behind. Oh well.
  • Bobbysirhan Next thing you know, EV drivers will be missing the freedom to travel on their own schedules instead of their cars'.
  • Cprescott I'm not surprised by this behavior - it is consistent with how owners of Honduhs, Toyoduhs, or Mazduhs drive. Without fail, these are the consistently obtuse drivers on the road.
  • MaintenanceCosts Timely question as this happened to me just this morning. The answer was "my kids were engaged in a stupid fight in the back seat." I was trying to drive and keep them from killing each other at once, and I cut off a pedestrian in a crosswalk while making a left turn. Thankfully I wasn't close enough to create serious danger, but it was a jerk driving move.
  • Dave M. "81 million supposedly". Landslide according to some statisticians.