From homegrown sports cars to a tiny Mopar supported truck.
Brazilian automotive industry is still one of the top ten in the world, down from sixth in 2013 to 10th in 2021. Its automotive history is complicated and steeped in protectionist automotive policies, including a lengthy ban on importing cars last century. Ford casts the most considerable shadow in Brazil as Henry Ford created the Brazilian subsidiary of Ford Motor Company in 1919 as he introduced the Model T there. However, most large automakers now have a footprint in the country and leave little room for homegrown Brazilian automakers. Many have come and gone, though, and the large automakers have built cars specifically for the Brazilian market. These are the ones we find most interesting.
Puma was a sports car manufacturer in Brazil between 1964 the mid-1990s. The car that earned Puma its reputation was the GT, a sports car that competed strongly in Brazilian GT racing. The 1973 Puma GTB was Brazil's most expensive car until 1984. The front-engine, rear-wheel-driven touring car was based on the Brazilian-built Chevrolet Opala and powered by a 4.2-liter inline-six engine that was often modified for more power than its stock 168 horses. Puma sold 1,589 of the first and second series models. The third iteration ran on Brazilian Sugarcane Alcohol, and the fourth was turbocharged but failed to compete with the large automakers as import restrictions were lifted. Puma went down in 1985, but was resurrected and limped on until 1993. The name has been revived twice in South Africa, but the automaker is, sadly, defunct again.
The full name of the automaker is Companhia Industrial Santa Matilde, and the SM4.1 was a refined sports car. It took over from the Puma GTB as Brazil's most expensive car in the 1980s, but people were paying for its high-end styling with excellent manufacturing quality rather than performance. Between 1978 and 1997, the SM4.1 was consistently improved upon, but the 2+2 coupe and convertible rear seats were always only spacious enough to store bags. It was manufactured with a fiberglass body reinforced with polyester and came with either a 4.1-liter straight-six Chevrolet Opala engine making 171 horsepower or a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder Chevrolet engine.
The SM4.1 was designed by engineer Humberto Pimentel Duarte and race car engineer Renato Peixoto. The body was designed from a clean sheet by Duarte's daughter.
Farus was a car company created by father and son Alfio and Giuseppe Russo. The ML-929 was then built by Industria de Veiculos Esportivos LTDA and nearly had an export version created to bring it to the US. In 1979, the ML-929 was technologically advanced with its mid-mounted engine, a steel backbone chassis, all-wheel disc brakes, and a MacPherson strut suspension. Through its production from 1979 to 1990, the Farus car used Fiat, Volkswagen, and later, Chevrolet and Chrysler engines. The mills ranged from Fiat's 1.3-liter four-cylinder making 71 hp to a 2.2-liter Chrysler turbocharged four making 146 hp. The car was shown at the 1987 New York Auto Show and earned itself 1,500 reservations. However, the high level of investment needed to bring it to the US never materialized.
Volkswagen's Brazillian subsidiary had a lot of freedom from its home base in Wolfsburg in the 1960s and 1970s. Due to the lack of imports leading to a lack of sports cars, Volkswagen Brazil decided to design and build a sports car to fill the gap. Project X became a prototype in 1971 and a reality in 1973 as the SP2. It was based on the chassis of the Brazilian Type 3 and used Volkswagen's air-cooled engine but bored out to 1.7 liters and delivering 75 hp. SP was short for Sao Paulo but was nicknamed "Sem Potência" - Portuguese for "without power." It didn't sell well as the Puma had better performance, and the SP2 went out of production in 1976. However, it is now one of the more valuable Volkswagen cars of its age due to its rarity and good looks.
Much more successful for Volkswagen in Brazil was the Gol, which isn't to be confused with the Volkswagen Golf, which was sold in North America as the Fox for a while. The Gol name refers to football, Brazil's national sport, and was the country's best-selling car from 1987 to 2014. The little hatchback is still in production, but the Gol GTI we're talking about here was part of the first generation, built from 1984 to 1989, and has the same sort of legendary status in South America as the Golf GTI in Europe. It arrived with a 121 hp 2.0-liter engine and a 115 mph top speed. It also holds acclaim as the being Brazilian-built car to feature electronic fuel injection.
Ford bought Troller in 2007, and the automaker promptly upgraded its T4 off-roader to use a shortened version of the Ranger truck platform. Under the hood is a Brazilian designed and built 3.2-liter turbocharged diesel engine. It does look like the bastard son of a Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco, but the T4 is no joke when it comes to off-roading. It's also equipped with a Dana 44 differential, Eaton gearbox, and a 1352 Borg Warner transfer case. Unfortunately, in January of 2021, Ford has ceased production completely in Brazil after 101 years. That means the chances of the T4 coming to North America have gone from vague at best to absolutely zero.
The Renault Fluence is a small sedan primarily designed and built for the Latin American market. The Fluence GT was developed by Renaultsport working with engineers from Brazil and Argentina for the first time, and based on the higher-end trim, Privilège. It featured upgraded springs and dampers as well as the engine and transmission from the Megane GT offered in Europe. At 177 hp, it's not the most powerful sedan around, but it'll hold its own against the European Clio GT. The GT2 replaced the GT and came with a 10-hp bump from its 2.0-liter turbo engine, bringing it to a total of 177 hp. Unfortunately for Brazilians, the GT2 was only made available in Argentina.
Chevrolet's Onix is the Brazilian replacement for the Sonic, and the first RS version of the pint-sized car looks like a lot of fun. Under the hood is a 1.0-liter turbocharged three-cylinder producing 116 horsepower and 122 lb-ft of torque. The Onix is Brazil's best-selling car, so the feisty little RS model should do well; as Chevrolet says, "it is in the same price range as other similarly equipped versions of Onix." As well as a sporty body treatment, the Onix RS comes with a flat-bottomed steering wheel; special air vent surrounds, unique graphics for the instrument panel, and wireless Apple and Android smartphone integration.
If you've been following automotive news recently, you couldn't be blamed for thinking the new Ford Maverick is the only compact truck in existence. However, the Fiat Strada pickup is doing well in Brazil, and the bizarre thing is that, as of 2020, it already had over 50 official Mopar accessories. The tiny truck has an 88-hp, 1.4-liter engine, although a 1.0-liter unit is due anytime now. For the first time the new generation is available as a double-cab configuration, though a single cab is due to go on sale. In some markets, it's branded as the Ram 700, and as we've been getting tired of the race to be bigger and more powerful in the truck market, we think Ram should bring it to the US just to out-compact Ford in the truck department.