Rare Rides: The 1985 Gurgel XEF, a Tiny and Obscure City Sedan
Today’s Rare Ride hails from an auto manufacturer you may have never heard of before: Gurgel. Made in Brazil, the conservative little XEF was an interesting side note in automotive history.
Gurgel Motores was founded in Brazil in 1969. Named after founder João do Amaral Gurgel, the brand focused on small off-road cars and buggies, initially all made of fiberglass. Not a large enough business to create its own platforms at the start, Gurgel attached its fiberglass body designs to Volkswagen Beetle chassis and engines.
In the early Seventies, Gurgel developed a new method of blending together fiberglass and steel to make Plasteel. The technology was designed and patented at Gurgel, and went into production on the Xavante off-roader in 1973. In addition to its Plasteel construction, the Xavante was fitted with individual hand brakes for each rear wheel installed next to the driver, a feature called Selectraction. The brakes stopped the wheel that lacked traction and moved power to the other rear wheel at the driver’s request. A manual limited-slip differential, if you will.
In addition to its off-road cars and buggies, Gurgel worked on urban electric cars in the early Seventies (the Itaipu). It also released a larger seven-passenger van called the X-15 in 1979. Entering into the city car space, development on the XEF began in 1981. The XEF was to be a new subcompact city car solution from Gurgel. It’s unclear when the car actually launched.
Shaped like a tiny Mercedes of the period, the XEF maintained a two-door sedan shape. It might be called a coupe except for the fact it had three-abreast seating at the front. Not in need of much power, the XEF used the air-cooled 1.6-liter engine from a Beetle. By that time Volkswagen had developed the engine to its final iteration, and it produced 60 horsepower.
The formal city car idea was not a successful one for Gurgel, and the company produced between 100 and 140 examples before it moved onto its most successful offering, the BR-800 city car. BR-800 held the distinction of being the first fully Brazilian-designed and manufactured car, as it did not use Volkswagen parts. We’ll save more BR-800 detail for another day, as it’s worth its own Rare Rides entry.
Today’s gold XEF is number 92 in the run, and its Plasteel construction has held up well. It’s yours for $21,500, and you’re sure never to see another one.
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- Fred I don't know about those big screens. Is there a way to minimize the display, so it's not so distracting? Especially at night the glow doesn't make it easy for me.
- Arthur Dailey Toronto Blue Jays' games are only available on AM radio. As I am 'on the road' quite often when the Jays play that is my only option for listening to the game. So an AM radio is something of a 'must have' for me.
- JMII My brother tracked one of these for several years... it will embarrass other sports cars. He sold it to someone who still rips it around on track days. Given my previous VW experience I wouldn't touch it but these are surprising quick and handle well for hatchback credit going to a decent AWD system. $16k seems crazy, but Rs aren't that common and this one appears to be in great condition and seems well sorted.
- Arthur Dailey I meant the grille and the profile along the passenger area. Look closely and it is reminiscent of the Journey.
- Daniel 16500 pesos
I was born and raised in Brazil, so I really appreciate articles covering our forgotten and obscure, and this takes the cake. The Gurgel XEF went on sale in December 1983. Unlike the BR-800, this was meant to be an urban luxury type vehicle, priced around 15,000 USD at the time.
I feel a little bad for Mr. Gurgel. Of course, we must always be careful when piling sympathy onto historical figures, but having read a little about his story it sounds like he was a man of his ways, no matter the cost, and I can admire that. He kept building his little VW-powered cars of fiberglass and steel even if they were impractical, sold poorly, and were visually, uh, esoteric. One factoid sticks with me, though: I read that his company basically went south once the Brazilian government opened up trade borders in the '90s and the Niva undercut its Gurgel counterpart considerably despite there still being a trade tax. The implications there, to me, are both that the Niva was incredibly cheap, but also that Gurgels were incredibly expensive for what they were (without even offering 4x4!)