January 25, 2010

Volkswagen do Brasil.

In the 1950s and 1960s European car companies from all over the old continent fought for a share of the U.S. market. Citroen ventured out to sell its 2CV and in ten years sold roughly what all the Honda dealers in Utah sell in a five-day work week; a look in a 1965 issue of Road & Track reveals you could purchase a 1959 Borgward for $850 or a Renault 8 Gordini new for $2,400.

Volkswagen entered the fray in the mid-1950s and sold its standard lineup of rear-engined cars. However, it took a different strategy for the south American continent. The Wolfsburg company established Volkswagen do Brasil (Volkswagen of Brazil, VWdB from now on) in 1953 to gain a foothold in the Latin American market. Of course VWdB was still part of the main Volkswagen company but it had more autonomy than other branches. With VWdB Volkswagen invested in a production factory to save money on the cost of importing cars. While at first VWdB sold the same standard lineup offered in the U.S. and in Europe (Type 1 and Type 2), they quickly started to design and build their own cars. It would take a very long article to cover all of the Brasilian Volkswagens but we’ve picked three interesting ones to feature (and have avoided the SP2, which near everyone seems to know about.)

VWdB built its own, Brazil-only version of the Karmann-Ghia called the Karmann-Ghia TC. Like the Type 34 Ghia it was based on the Type 3 and used its drivetrain. The Giugiaro-designed body looks like the illegitimate yet curiously attractive offspring of a Fiat 850 Coupe and a Porsche 911. The Ghia TC was built between 1970 and 1976 but they were never sold outside of South America.

An interesting model is the Brasilia, initially designed to replace the Beetle in the Latin American market. Launched in 1973, it looks like it could have been a prototype for the 412 but it is in fact based on the Beetle and uses the same Type 1 engine. This one was imported to various countries throughout Latin America and some were actually built in a Mexican assembly plant. It looked considerably more modern than a Beetle inside and out and had more cargo space but it was never able to replace venerable Beetle and was phased out in 1982. Most models were sold as three doors but a five door was also available.

Lastly, VWdB still builds the Kombi – the same Type 2 design that debuted halfway through the last century. The main difference between the 2010 Kombi and, say, a 1970 Kombi is that the former is powered by a straight-4 fuel-injected 1400cc engine, water-cooled but still mounted in the rear. The radiator is mounted in the front of the car (visible in the photos below). The engine is more modern than the one in its 20th century forerunner but the transmission remains a 4-speed manual, arguably obsolete in a time when you can order a BMW with an 8-speed box. The 4-speed limits the Kombi’s top speed to about 130km/h (or 80mph) though my experience with older VWs makes me question how much faster you’d really want to go in one of these. It is worth noting that a company in England, Danbury Motor Caravans imports new Kombis from Brazil and sells them in LHD or RHD form starting at £22,999.

1 comment:

Ian Rothwell said...

I'm still pleased that my Golf is made in Brazil rather than Mexico. I hear Mex-built VWs, even of the same model of car, have more issues...