Brazilian Wheels II

American Saloons, Brazilian Sports Cars, and a Clunker

by John-William Greenbaum

When my article Brazilian Wheels was published in the previous issue of Model Auto Review, I was pleased and surprised at the warm response!  The requests for a second article, and even more, to follow the Carros Inesqueciveis do Brasil partwork feature were truly flattering, an honour, and a request that I will definitely fulfil. With so many cars released, however, it will be necessary to look back at some of the many issues I glossed over in the first article. For me, it is the real car’s history that often inspires me to buy a model of it.  So, as well as  reviewing the four new releases that have recently appeared, and touching on the two that I have not yet received in the mail, I feel it is necessary to revisit the cars by type.  Inspired by the review of the 1964 Brasinca 4200GT Uirapuru, I have decided that covering the sports cars and dune buggies in the partwork would be appropriate for this issue as well.

I will start with the cars we have seen released since the last issue of Model Auto Review.  Shortly before the online magazine went to ‘press,’ I received a package with two brand-new models from Carros Inesqueciveis do Brasil: a 1964 Brasinca 4200GT Uirapuru coupe and a 1971 Chevrolet Opala 2500 Especial four-door saloon.  Ironically, one of the partwork’s flaws was demonstrated at this point, its unpredictability, as I was expecting to receive the 1969 Willys-by-Ford Itamaraty luxury saloon alongside the Brasinca.  Neither model disappointed, however.

In the case of the 1964 Brasinca 4200GT Uirapuru, I have a hunch that many British car enthusiasts will get the distinct feeling of ‘Hey, I know that one!’  Due to its visual similarity to the Jensen Interceptor, the Brasinca is often assumed to be a copy.  This is not the case, as the Brasinca predated the Interceptor by two full years.  Though they receive all kinds of flak from the Jensen Owners Club, for reasons not fully clear to me, the cars really are only stylistically similar.  The car’s designer, a Spaniard named Rigoberto Soler Gisbert, apparently pitched the idea to Willys (who of course made the Interlagos) before forming Brasinca.  His intention seemed to be along the lines of producing an American-style sports car, rather than a Brazilian Jensen.  The Chevrolet six-cylinder engine under the Brasinca’s bonnet could put out 155 horsepower in a car made of high-quality steel.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, when one measures the displacement of that engine, they get fairly close to 4200cc, which probably explained the car’s numeric designation. The name Uirapuru is actually derived from a bird known for its beautiful song.

One aspect of the Brasinca that isn’t present on the Jensen Interceptor, but appears on the Chevrolet Corvette C2, are the doors.  The overhang on top of the roof where the door curls over on the top is clearly evocative of the Corvette, and is beautifully captured on the Carros Inesqueciveis do Brasil partwork model.  Another Corvette feature is the minimal boot space. Note the small boot lid that brings to mind a 1962 Chevrolet Corvette much more than it does a Jensen Interceptor, where the Jensen’s unique, folding ‘bubble’ served as boot.  Rather than a Brazilian Jensen, it’s my contention that these cars were meant to be Brazilian Corvettes.

In hindsight, perhaps Rigoberto Soler Gisbert would have been better off hooking on to a major manufacturer such as Willys Overland do Brasil.  Unfortunately, just 73 of these sleek coupes were produced before production halted in 1966. Each one was handmade.

So, how did Ixo do in recreating this Brazilian Corvette?  If one even ignores the fact that Ixo produced a very rare, scarcely-seen variation of the Brasinca, they actually did a very nice job.  After we ended the last article with the Miura Sport, we now see that the plastic bits on the Brasinca have graduated to a better-looking finish.  Rather than using a dull grey plastic for the trim, a much shinier type of plastic was employed for parts such as the wheels, the wing mirror, and the grille and plastic trim.  Some may feel that this cheapens a partwork car, but for a machine meant to be gleaming to begin with, I believe it suits the Brasinca extremely well.  We also have the issue of making a Brasinca 4200GT Uirapuru that may not be completely familiar, even to Brazilians.  See the solitary wing mirror on the driver’s side?  Typically during production, this had a companion on the passenger side front wing; but the earliest cars produced, as can be seen both in promotional shots and early advertising for the car, do indeed have only one wing mirror.  Given how wide the Brasinca was, it was quite similar in dimensions to the Jensen Interceptor, this probably gave the car a pretty big blind spot.  Can we really fault Ixo, however, for being faithful to a prototype that really did exist?  In the end, the Brasinca 4200GT Uirapuru becomes both the first really large domestic Brazilian sports car to be featured in Carros Inesqueciveis do Brasil and also the first American-style GT along the lines of a Corvette.  Judging by the effort that went into this one, I really hope that we see it as a Premium X Diecast model, as it is something quite special.

I also said that I received a second model, a 1971 Chevrolet Opala 2500 Especial four-door saloon.  Unlike the ‘in-your-face’ blue colour and brashness of the Brasinca, this dull beige Opala, the third example we have seen in the partwork, is much more conservative (dare I say the most conservative Opala, as well?).  It should be noted that although this will supposedly be the final Opala released, it’s also the earliest design that’s been produced. It is really here, with this car, that you get a sense of just what the Opala was supposed to be: an Opel Rekord C with the engine, the front clip, and some of the trim from a 1969 Chevy Nova. While the Opala SS grabbed the attention of just about anyone able to afford it and the Comodoro and Diplomata gained reputations for luxury, it was the basic stock Opala that was Chevrolet’s backbone. The other Opala variants came and went, but standard cars such as this one were always available from 1969 through 1992.

Fitted with a 153 cubic inch straight four engine, as it would be until 1973, and before the famous Pontiac Iron Duke would be mated with the Opala, the 2500 Especial was, in spite of its name, the bottom-of-the-line Opala.  Still, it was a nice car, and the same shiny plastic on the model that may have some collectors grumbling is an accurate reflection of the amount of chrome that General Motors wanted to go into the Opala.  This, they advertised, was no European box on wheels, but rather an American saloon, just downsized for the local market.  It is also easy to see why the Opala lasted as long as it did, if we look at this car, as it combined the best of Chevrolet in the United States with the best of Opel in Germany.

How did Ixo do with their model? Well, I would give it a near-perfect grade if there wasn’t missing one important bit that quality control apparently overlooked: the dashboard (including the steering column) was not included in my example. Although I have since fashioned a pretty good replacement using a damaged Opel Rekord C for parts, it would have been nice to have received the steering wheel and dashboard with the car.  Such is the hazard of collecting partwork models.  The actual lines and colour are superb, and the car seems to have had a lot of research put into it. If you’re going out of your way to look for a drab, boring, American-style saloon from the late 1960s or early 1970s, the Opala 2500 Especial is perfect! Then again, some 1:43 scale collectors such as myself actually do get a bit tired of all the bling from this era offered to us by the manufacturers, and might find this family car a nice antidote to the usual muscle car and pony car fare from the same era. Beware of one thing, however: on the display plinth, it says ‘Chevrolet Opala 2500 (1969)’.  In actuality, the car is a 1971 model. Although this was the first time I received a model with the wrong year in this partwork, it turns out that this wasn’t the first time it has happened.

As I mentioned, I received these partwork issues in an unexpected order.  The Brasinca 4200GT Uirapuru and Chevrolet Opala 2500 were followed up (allegedly) by the 1967 Willys Itamaraty luxury saloon and the 1983 Volkswagen Parati estate wagon. By the time this article goes to ‘press,’ I’ll also have in my possession, as they’re currently on their way to my house, a 1966 Willys Aero Willys 2600 four-door saloon (another American-style, conservative saloon) and a 1964 DKW-Vemag Malzoni GT Coupe (another front-engined sports car, this one much more European in style and function than the Brasinca 4200GT Uirapuru).  While it appears that the model years are correct for the Aero Willys and Malzoni GT, I believe that both of the other cars have the incorrect years printed on their display plinths.

The first of those two ‘incorrect’ cars is another conservative, if much more luxurious, American-style saloon called the Willys Itamaraty. Willys, you see, wasn’t quite dead in Brazil when it stopped making cars in the United States. The presses for the Willys Aero series were actually sold to Willys Overland do Brasil, and by 1960 they had the Willys Aero back in production.  As the design looked stylistically dated, Willys Overland do Brasil hired Brooks Stevens, the man who designed the Studebaker Lark, and charged him with giving the old Willys Aero a fairly significant facelift. The result, perhaps unsurprisingly, looked a lot like the offspring of a Studebaker Lark and a Willys Aero. Initially called the Willys Aero Willys, presumably named by the Department of Redundancy Department, it became pretty clear that a luxury version of the car was needed during the latter half of the 1960s. The result was the Willys Itamaraty.

The name ‘Itamaraty’ doesn’t really have an exact translation in English, but it connotes ‘foreign relations’ and dealing with other countries and is comparable with a moniker like Chrysler’s DeSoto Diplomat or their later Dodge Diplomat. As a car, the Itamaraty wasn’t mechanically different from the older Willys Aero Willys.  Instead, the changes were almost all cosmetic, with a black vinyl roof, whitewall tyres, a plush interior, so much chrome that you need a pair of sunglasses to look at it, and, at least in my opinion, a more stylish grille that lacked the distinctive split of the Willys Aero Willys. Fitted with the famous F-head six Willys Hurricane engine, the Itamaraty put out 132hp. Of course, many customers realised that the engine bay was large enough to put a Ford V8 under the bonnet.

Ixo’s representation of the Willys Itamaraty needs only one enhancement: whitewall tyres.  It has all the chrome in all the right places; it has the correct roof; it is finished in executive black, but again, Ixo gets it wrong on the display plinth. The car is not a 1967, but rather a 1969. In this particular case, that truly matters.

In late 1967, the Ford Motor Company moved to acquire Willys Overland do Brasil and merge it with Ford do Brasil. They’d already obtained a controlling interest in Kaiser Motors, and in 1968, Ford started advertising the cars as Willys by Ford.  As such, thanks to having a 1969 Willys Itamaraty resting on that display plinth, what you’ve got (or will soon have) in your collection is a Ford product. In fact, they actually rebadged the car as the ‘Ford Itamaraty’ in 1971. If you wanted the last independently-produced Willys saloon, you’re out of luck.  Fortunately, I think most collectors will find interesting the 1968-1970 timeframe during which there existed the brief ‘Willys by Ford’ arrangement, due to its transitional nature. I can also foresee a few collectors complaining about the roof and the body both being black, but a large number of Itamaratys were actually produced in all-black, so I must lodge a disagreement with these collectors. Get yourself a set of whitewalls and you’ve got a beautiful model. As an aside, in the next of this series, you’ll see a 1966 Willys Aero Willys 2600 four-door saloon in pale blue, and this time you won’t have to go hunting for tyres. I won’t say too much about it, but this was clearly the design that Brooks Stevens intended to replace the Willys Aero Willys he was tasked with facelifting, and it brings to mind a far more typical Brazilian Willys saloon.

I did mention a clunker in the title, didn’t I?  Unlike the obviously-American-styled saloons that were the Chevrolet Opala 2500 Especial and the Willys Itamaraty, and the beautiful Brasinca 4200GT Uirapuru, so realistic that you can almost hear that Chevy inline six, the dubious distinction of ‘clunker’ falls to the Volkswagen Parati estate wagon. Let me start out by saying that I really wanted to like this model. After all, the real car was the estate car version of the Volkswagen Gol, the car that displaced the Volkswagen Fusca (‘Beetle’) and the Volkswagen Brasilia as well, two of the most popular Volkswagens in Brazilian history. The Gol itself was wonderfully modelled, so therefore I assumed, the Parati would follow suit. Goodness, was I ever wrong!

Do you remember in the first article where I named my top five and my bottom five in the partwork to that date? Well, recall that in the bottom five was the later-model, silver-coloured Volkswagen Fusca from the 1980s, for the simple reason that it was a mishmash of two different cars. Ixo’s Parati isn’t quite as bad, but it still has problems: it takes parts from the first and second generation Volkswagen Paratis. Although it still captures the essence of the car, something the 1980s Fusca failed to do, it does have issues with the bonnet and the grille being from later models, the wheelbase being too long, and with the B-pillar, which is also clearly from a later car. Some collectors may also find the shiny hubcaps to be problematic, but on their own, I don’t see this as an issue. I personally find that the Parati’s treatment is a shame, especially given the rich, correct, deep red colour that would be right at home on a rural diorama. The subject matter is also absolutely fascinating. In conclusion: for the new models I’m reviewing here, we got three great cars and one that I really wish had turned out better.

Now, I also mentioned something about Brazilian sports cars. As I said earlier, I really wish I could have covered this partwork from the start, as I think that collectors of unique, indigenously-designed sports cars from far-flung locales are a market where this partwork will really catch on. I’m not talking about the Chevy Opala SS, Willys Interlagos, or Ford Maverick GT, they are factory-built, and more or less based on American or European designs. What I’m referring to are cars like the aforementioned Brasinca 4200GT Uirapuru, cars that are completely indigenous to Brazil. The 1973 Puma GTE was the first of these cars, and you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for an Italian sports car. Inspired by Lamborghini’s styling, Puma produced cars in the vein of the GTE throughout the 1970s. A small car, it could really ‘fly’, thanks to its fibreglass body. Apart from a handful of German internals (courtesy of Volkswagen), the Puma was pure Brazilian.  It was also one of the few Brazilian sports cars to be exported, and it did indeed gain in South Africa what we might call cult status, where it was assembled for five years.  The reason I mention the Puma GTE first is because its predecessor, the precursor to Puma as a manufacturer,the DKW-Vemag Malzoni GT, is forthcoming in a lovely stark white finish.

I have been asked questions about the other two local exclusives: the 1977 Miura Sport and the 1973 Volkswagen SP2. The Miura Sport was inspired very heavily by the Lotus Esprit, and someone else noted the resemblance. Apparently, the designer was very forthcoming about making the Miura Sport his interpretation of the Esprit when it came to styling, although the car was much smaller and ran very differently. With the larger Esprit, we see a typical European sports car. With the Miura Sport, what we see is a Volkswagen-based car with a lightweight body that reflects the best in Brazilian sports car design.  The really good news for those people that like this one is that we’re also going to see a 1982 Miura Targa, the Miura Sport’s successor. I also had someone ask me if Miura had anything to do with Lamborghini, and I pointed out that a Miura bull is the type of animal used in bullfighting, having nothing to do with Lamborghini other than sharing its name with one of their cars.

With the 1973 Volkswagen SP2, I know I promised I wouldn’t write about any European or American factory sports cars, but the SP2 is an exception.  It was Volkswagen’s attempt to produce a car like the Puma GTE, the Brasinca 4200GT Uirapuru, or the Malzoni GT, and it failed horrendously.  The car was sluggish, underpowered and weighed too much. The principle of using the running gear from an existing Volkswagen was incorporated by its designers. They designed a car meant to appeal to the same people who were buying Pumas, but it just could not perform up to expectations. The SP2 was, however, an indigenous Brazilian design. Nothing even remotely close to it appeared outside of Brazil, and there is nothing to indicate that Volkswagen planned to make similar sports cars outside Brazil.

As final note, as there is not much to cover in the way of dune buggies, just the Bugre I and the Gurgel Xavante,I thought I’d cover them here, as they are unique to Brazil, and in the case of the Gurgel Xavante, unique full stop.  The Bugre I is a very typical road-legal dune buggy that was made on Volkswagen underpinnings. I was a common sight on Brazilian coastal highways during the 1970s.  Watch the James Bond film Moonraker carefully and you’ll see a similar vehicle driving down a highway in a scene that was not staged.  Although it would be easier to classify these vehicles as merely ‘buggies’, I don’t think there’s really anything analogous to these vehicles outside Brazil, apart from dune buggies, which is why I’m going with the ‘road-legal dune buggy’ description. Although the Bugre I is a great representative example of these vehicles, I would honestly say the Gurgel Xavante is a more interesting one.

The Gurgel Xavante was designed by man named Joao Gurgel, who was quite a genius and an outside-the-box thinker. Gurgel introduced two innovations on his buggy known as Selectraction and Plasteel. Selectraction, intended only for the buggy, was a fascinating way of moving a stuck vehicle. By using a set of handbrakes, which Ixo brilliantly reproduced on their model of the Xavante, the driver could actually stop one of the rear wheels and send all power to the other, thereby spinning the vehicle around and getting a stuck wheel loose.  The other innovation was Plasteel, and this isn’t the last you’re going to read of it, as there is a Gurgel BR-800 city car planned for the partwork series Carros Inesqueciveis do Brasil. Basically, Gurgel wanted the strength of steel without the rust, and the light weight of fibreglass without the warping, so he came up with a pretty clever fibreglass-metal composite that slowed down corrosion and resisted deforming to quite an extent. The problem with Plasteel was its high cost, meaning that Gurgel had to cut back on the rest of went into his designs to save on the final cost. With dune buggies, this wasn’t much of a problem. With the BR-800, well, let’s wait for that model to be released.

I really hope you enjoy reading about these remarkable Brazilian vehicles and I can promise you that in the next part I will cover more cars (of course!) but also I’ll come back to some of the cars I didn’t describe in much detail in my first article.  I think that for next issue I’m will cover Ford and Willys, but we are a few months away from that, so I’ll see what develops, and what dovetails in best.  I hope you will also leave some feedback with our editors, and let me know what you’d like to see in future articles as I follow Carros Inesqueciveis do Brasil. If you are a fan of American saloons or Brazilian sports cars, be sure to try and find yourself a Willys Itamaraty (by Ford, of course!), a Chevrolet Opala 2500 Especial, and a Brasinca 4200GT Uirapuru. Happy collecting!

Readers are reminded that the first article in this series can be found on this site