Brazilian Wheels

The Good, the Bad and the Interesting.

By John-William Greenbaum

When we are discussing automotive industries what do we think of in regard to South America? It’s an interesting question, but it is perhaps given little thought.  Look closely, however, and we find a vibrant automobile history. By the mid-1950s, the Americans, French, Germans and Italians were all clamouring to be top dog in Brazil’s auto industry.  None of them truly succeeded in this regard, but they did spawn schools of design thought that encouraged the Brazilians to start making automobiles of their own from the ground up, or at the very least, producing heavily modified designs to cope with local conditions.

Before Carros Inesqueciveis do Brasil, there were only a handful of detailed, 1:43 scale models of Brazilian automobiles.  In the French Simca partwork, Ixo wonderfully recreated the Simca Chambord four-door saloon, a more powerful Simca Vedette Chambord, which was made in Brazil between 1959 and 1966.  In the James Bond Partwork, Ixo made a magnificent job of the Chevrolet C-10 Ambulance as it was constructed in Brazil.  Neo even got in on the action, making the rear-engined Volkswagen SP2 sports car, albeit with some flaws in its scale representation. In 2011 Altaya and Brazilian Planeta DeAgostini announced a joint release of 50 models of cars that were made in Brazil, all to be produced by Ixo.  Most of these cars, from the 1960s and 1970s, were totally new castings.  Rather than have numberplates, a white plaque with the car’s name is placed where the real plates would have gone.  Although there are minor mistakes with certain models, related to badging and aftermarket hubcaps, one can overlook these minor quibbles. Many look at home on American dioramas due to their similarity to vehicles made in America, while others have whetted the appetites of Volkswagen collectors the world over.  The partwork magazines are well-written, illustrated with real cars and advertisements alike, and feature an ongoing series about automotive history in general.  These magazines are a great way to learn Portuguese car terms. Like all partworks it is difficult to obtain Carros Inesqueciveis do Brasil if you do not live in the publisher’s distribution area and eBay prices are much, much higher than the cover price. Around two models are released each month and the series is currently at issue 42 of 75.

My top five models so far

See pictures in gallery above.

  1. Willys Rural – this has a lovely paint scheme and is an affordable recreation of the Willys Wagon with an interesting facelift has to come in at number one.
  2. Ford Galaxie 500 1967 – a close second and is superb.
  3. Alfa Romeo FNM JK2000 – a masterwork regarding almost every aspect of the model and a sharp-looking four-door saloon at that.
  4. Chevrolet 3100 Picape (“Pickup”) 1958 – is nothing short of a marvel, and its two-tone white and blue colour scheme is sure to turn heads.
  5. Toyota Bandeirante – is the only Japanese car in the collection so far and is the Brazilian version of the Toyota Land Cruiser FJ40. It is a must thanks to its left-hand drive and western-style wing mirrors as well its striking blue and white colours.  When placed side-by-side with the superbly-made Ebbro Models FJ40, the dimensions are identical.

My bottom 5 so far

Please see gallery above

Whilst one of the best automobile partworks available today Carros Inesqueciveis do Brasil has its share of clunkers.  If there were five ‘turkeys’ to avoid, they would be:

  1. Fiat Uno Mille – for its incorrectly-shaped bonnet and bonnet lid (which are only correct for the Italian-market version)
  2. Volkswagen Karmann Ghia – for being the German version with Brazilian bumpers
  3. Simca Chambord – for its dull paint scheme, lack of whitewall tires, and incorrect trim (although fortunately, the same model of car from the Simca partwork is available at a cheaper price and is a much better model).
  4. Chevrolet Chevette – for having a poorly-shaped front end with an extra grille bar
  5. Volkswagen Fusca 1980s – Which is horrible and stands in stark contrast to the brilliantly-executed 1961 version, which is a pale blue in colour.  The 1980s version has the front end shaped incorrectly, the front bumper is wrong, and in general, it’s a car that never existed.

A look at some other interesting models from the series

See pictures in the gallery above.

The very first issue in the series, the 1976 Chevrolet Opala SS Coupe sums up the Brazilian automotive industry in many ways.  It had an American engine, frontal styling and paint scheme.  The real car turned in a strong performance as a pony car capable of competing with the Ford Mustang or Chevrolet Chevy II Nova of the 1960’s.  However, it used a number of Opel parts and was a descendant of the Opel Rekord C Coupe in terms of its body styling.  Even the car’s name, ‘Opala’, was meant to connote a mixture of Opel and Impala.  The SS was the pinnacle of the Opala line, lasting twenty-three years from 1969 to 1992. The Opala could be legitimately called a cult car in Brazil.

This 1976 version was released later in Ixo’s Premium-X Diecast range and this is the model shown in the pictures on this page. The more expensive Ixo has interior details, finer wipers and chrome work but is otherwise identical to the partwork release.  The later, face lifted version is seen, as well; released as an estate wagon to avoid too much repetition.  Equally masterful in its execution, this car, the 1988 Chevrolet Diplomata Caravan 4.1/S, had the somewhat unique distinction of being a luxury-trimmed utility wagon, featuring two doors instead of the traditional four. At the time of writing a 1969 Chevrolet Opala 2500 four-door saloon is expected in the series.

While self-developed Brazilian cars like the Opala were expected, other cars more familiar to an international audience such as the Volkswagen Beetle (known as the Fusca in Brazil and tremendously popular) and the Volkswagen Passat B1 (also tremendously popular) were announced.  Volkswagen is very strongly represented in the Carros Inesqueciveis do Brasil partwork.  After an extension was announced, 17 of the 75 total cars in the series were Volkswagens.  Two Type 3 derivatives exclusive to Brazil, the Volkswagen Variant estate wagon and the Volkswagen 1600 TL fastback saloon, have already been released, with a third, the Volkswagen 1600 saloon, on the way.  Although some of these Volkswagens can be found elsewhere, like the Beetle and Passat, others are unique to the collection.  The Volkswagen Brasilia, a hatchback developed as a local mid-range car to be more luxurious than the Beetle, is one of the best examples.  The little Volkswagen Gol, a three-door hatchback, is another.  Similarly, the Volkswagen SP2, which had already been produced by Neo, was more accurately dimensioned when produced by IXO.  Although one would need to paint the interior and hubcaps, the Ixo model has the potential to be better than Neo; something we rarely find ourselves talking about in any partwork.

Ford fans won’t be disappointed, either.  Ford do Brasil, which absorbed what was left of Willys Overland do Brasil, is brilliantly represented with some of the best quality models we’ve seen to date.  Ford entered the partwork with the Willys Rural and then the Ford F100.  The former is actually quite similar to the famed Willys Wagon, but received a facelift courtesy of Willys Overland do Brasil.  This facelift was repeated for the upcoming Willys Itamaraty and Willys Aero saloons.  Ford, not wanting to kill one of Willys Overland do Brasil’s bestselling products, simply renamed the vehicle the Ford Rural and kept producing it in one form or another into the 1970s.  A future issue, the Ford F-75, will feature the pickup variant from 1980. Speaking of pickups, there was also the Ford F100.  So close was this to the American 1972 Ford F100 that if one went on eBay and saw the Premium-X diecast version being sold, they often had the sellers labelling them as “1972 Ford F100”!  Both the partwork pickup and the Premium-X diecast version have plenty of goodies in the way of details, such as a trailer hitch and detailed cargo bed.

American production models inspired other locally made vehicles. Brazil’s Ford Galaxie 500 was nothing more than an American 1966 Ford Galaxie 500, facelifted each year.  Fortunately for American collectors the 1967 model year portrayed is featured in a beautiful gloss black, and that car didn’t differ from the American ’66 Galaxie 500 at all.  Likewise, those pining for a Ford Maverick Grabber can at least get something pretty close in the Brazilian 1975 Ford Maverick GT.  This pony car was considered a premier racing car and featured a 302 cubic inch V8 under the bonnet.  Although decked out in 1975 trim, the actual body of the car is from 1971 and should be familiar to many American collectors.

The partwork offers quality, if not quantity, for fans of MOPAR.  The 1975 Dodge Dart Gran Sedan (a US 1969 Dodge Dart saloon derivative with a unique grille), Dodge 1800SE Doginho (a derivative of the two-door Hillman Avenger), and Simca Esplanada (a lovely car developed under the Simca marque that was little more than a modernised Simca Chambord) stand out, but little else has either been announced or issued.

Fiat and Alfa Romeo fans should take a look at the series too. Virtually all of the Italian-designed cars, such as the Fiat 147, Fiat 147 Panorama, and Alfa Romeo FNM JK2000, are unique “Brazil-only” designs.  These three models are especially terrific, with the FNM JK2000 possibly the most detailed saloon in the series.

Brazil’s minor makers are not overlooked.  DKW, which licence-built its cars with the help of Vemag, gets it’s DKW-Vemag Belcar, a three-cylinder, two-stroke saloon with locally-designed bumpers.  It also receives an earlier version of its estate car, the DKW-Vemag Vemaguet, the age of which can be told due to its bumpers.  Cars with almost no foreign input at all can also be found, and best of all for collectors of sports cars, that’s exactly what they are: sports cars.  The rear-engined Puma GTE and Miura Sport and front-engined Brasinca 4200GT Uirapuru will all be released by the time that this article appears and pictures suggest that they have had a magnificent job done on them.  The partwork also features two dune buggies: a Gurgel Xavante and a Bugre I, both Volkswagen-based.  Dune buggies are road-legal and common on the coastal roads in Brazil so it appropriate to find them in this partwork.

I hope to bring you more news of models from this interesting series in future editions of MAR.