April 29, 2011

Fàbrica Nacional de Motores.

Some interesting variants of European cars have come out Brazil. After Volkswagen do Brazil’s specific models and a Fiat Tempra coupe that the rest of the world never got, we’re looking at what Alfa built there.

The story goes back to 1942 when General Antonio Guedes Muniz convinced the government to create Fàbrica Nacional de Motores (FNM from here on out). The company obtained the license to build Curtiss-Wright airplane engines in Brazil. That was profitable at first but by 1947 demand had practically collapsed and FNM needed to move on to something else if they wanted to stay afloat.

They turned to truck building and inked a deal with Italy’s Isotta-Fraschini. They assembled D80 trucks that they purchased as CKD kits from Italy and sold them as the FNM 7300 on the local market. Isotta Fraschini went under in 1951, leaving FNM struggling once again.

They found an unlikely partner in Alfa Romeo. At the time Alfa was producing its own line of trucks and FNM bought the rights to produce the 430 and the 900 lines, called the FNM D9500 and the D11000 in Brazil. Unlike the Isotta Fraschini trucks they were previously building, the Alfa-based trucks had specific bodywork for the Brazilian market.

The first FNM cars.

As the alliance grew, FNM’s interest turned to passenger cars and they started entertaining the thought of building a sedan in Brazil based on the 102 series Alfa 2000. Their first production car was introduced in 1960 under the moniker FNM JK – JK stood for Juscelino Kubitschek, Brazil’s president from 1956 to 1961. Early cars were imported from Italy but production soon shifted to Brazil. In the first year of production a Brazilian-made JK won the Mil Milhas Brasileiras endurance race; things were off to a good start.

The JK was a luxurious sedan meant for Brazil’s elite. It had the advantage of being fairly modern in a time when its competitors, notably the Simca Chambord, were aging. It had a dual cam 1975cc with a reduced compression ratio to deal with the lower octane gas that Brazil had at the time. Mated to the four-cylinder was a five-speed synchronized transmission. The JK went from 0 to 100km/h (62mph) in 18 seconds, which was fairly respectable back in its day. Four finned drum brakes with no booster took care of stopping the car. It boasted a complete instrumentation that included a tachometer and an oil pressure gauge and came with a complete tool kit and even a tire gauge. All of these little details contributed to the luxury aura that surrounded the car.

As can be expected the JK was extremely expensive and with an initial production of about 500 cars annually, it was hard to get one even for wealthy Brazilians. Since the factory was owned by the state one of the best ways to order a JK was to get a prominent politician to intervene in the process. This drove up the value of used JKs, which sometimes sold for more than new ones.

The first big change in the JK’s production run came in 1964. A coup d’état ousted president João Goulart, the same man who had been Kubitschek’s vice president. Brazil’s new leaders ordered that the car be named simply the FNM 2000, dropping the Kubitschek reference.

That same year FNM asked Rino Malzoni, a coachbuilder in Brazil, to design a coupe based on the 2000 platform. After toying with several designs Malzoni showed the final version, dubbed the Onça, in 1966. It looked like the illegitimate offspring of a stepnose Alfa 105 and a Ford Mustang but FNM was satisfied.

The Onça used the same engine as the 2000 but put out 20hp more thanks to a higher compression ratio and Weber carbs. It had a floor mounted shifter as opposed to the 2000’s, which was column-mounted. The body was made of plastic reinforced with fiberglass, making it a very light car and consequently a fairly fast car for its day. It is estimated that less than ten were built, with the last ones assembled in mid-1967.

An upgraded 2000 called the TIMB (Turismo Internacional Modelo Brasil) made its appearance in 1966. On the outside it had a smooth hood and a specific grille to differentiate it from the 2000. The compression ratio was raised (now on par with Italian models) and thanks to two double barrel carburetors it gained 45 extra horsepower. To complete the sports sedan transformation, the TIMB had a floor-mounted shifter.

In 1967 the Brazilian government started liquidating its FNM shares and Alfa slowly bought them. They had complete control of the company in 1968 but the 2000 remained essentially the same until 1969 when it morphed into the 2150. Engine displacement grew to 2132cc (125hp) and the car hit 62mph from a stop in 16 seconds. It finally had front disk brakes, an upgrade that customers had waited a long time for. On the outside the 2150 had a new grille and the now-retired TIMB’s smooth hood. A floor-mounted shifter was standard on all versions.

1970 was FNM’s best year yet with 1209 cars sold. All was well on the surface but in reality the competition was getting stronger and despite the previous year’s upgrades, FNM’s only model was starting to show its age.

The Alfa 2300.

FNM’s JK was an Italian Alfa modified for the Brazilian market. That recipe worked well for over a decade but Alfa wanted to replace it with a car designed specifically for Brazil.

That replacement came in 1974 under the name Alfa 2300. On the outside it looked like an Alfetta Sports Sedan but it was 41 centimeters longer, about the size of an Alfa 6. It had a 2310cc four-cylinder with a five-speed gearbox bolted directly to the back of the engine as opposed to the Alfetta’s transaxle setup. With a 0-62mph time of 11.7 seconds it was much sportier than its predecessor. Four disk brakes made sure the 2300 could stop as well as it could accelerate. Owners could make less pit stops thanks to the 26.4 gallon capacity of its fuel tank.

The driver steered the car with a three-spoke steering wheel and had a full instrument cluster to monitor speed, engine rpm, engine temperature and oil pressure, among others. Four seatbelts were standard. In short, the 2300 had just about everything a mid-1970s sports sedan should have.

Brazil’s 1976 ban on imported cars gave the 2300 a boost in sales and eliminated some of its competition. Alfa took advantage of that ban to launch the 2300B, a base model with a single downdraft carburetor and a less-luxurious interior.

A year later Alfa expanded the 2300 line upwards and launched the 2300Ti, an acronym well-known to Alfa fans. The Ti had two sidedraft Solex carburetors that helped give the car 149hp. Among the most noticeable differences between the Ti and other 2300 models were the addition of a quadrifoglio emblem on the C pillar and the use of real wood trim inside the car.

In 1978 Alfa was in financial trouble and sold FNM to Fiat, who was also present in Brazil. That same year a high-compression engine was available in the 2300 and raised the power output again, this time to 163hp. Equipped with this engine the 2300 was faster and more economical but it made an already expensive car more expensive.

Starting in 1976 Brazil had laws about alcohol in gasoline and Alfa jumped on the bandwagon in 1981 with a 2300 that could run on alcohol. It used a single carburetor like the 2300 B and logged 145hp. 1981 also marked the availability of power steering.

The 2300 ran into the same problems as the 2000/2150 before it: it was aging against a quickly-evolving competition and had to soldier on with minor upgrades since no replacement was in sight. In 1983 the only version left was the Ti4. It was given a facelift in 1985 but that was too little, too late.

By 1986 Alfa was deep in its financial woes and Fiat bought its entire operations. They pulled the plug on the 2300 and killed the Brazilian-built Alfa.

European models.

Alfa had no plans to sell the 2300 in Europe and focused on their flagship Alfa 6 instead. However, certain rumors claim that independent importer in Germany saw potential in the car and ordered about a thousand of them in 1979 to distribute there and in Holland. This claim is backed up by the Dutch magazine Autovisie. In their 1979 issue covering all the cars available in Holland that year, the 2300 is listed as the Alfa Rio.

Below, period FNM ads:

April 25, 2011

Hershey Porsche Show & Swap 2011

This years Central PA Porsche Club of America swap-meet could best be described as mildly disappointing. While it was great to see a large collection of Porsches in one location as well as have the opportunity to hunt for parts and memorabilia, the attendance seems to be dropping significantly. Perhaps it's the ever-growing popularity of eBay and other online parts availability, and perhaps it was the rather poor weather combined with a date so close to Easter that kept many away this year. Gas nearing $4.00 per gallon may also be a factor when one considers even a relatively efficient Porsche's tendency to consume large amounts of petroleum.

Alas, my dad and I couldn't get our 914 to the show either due to trouble getting the car up and running after having the engine out this winter. Again, considering the rain, probably just as well.
As usual, there was no shortage of the newer Porsche models. Plenty of 911s, 944s, 928s, etc. Many of the handful of 914s left something to be desired and 356s were very few and far between.

The number and quantity of offerings from vendors was also quite low compared to many past years. Amazingly enough, this was the first year I've attended the show and didn't find anything we could use.

All that being said, it wasn't terrible. Hopefully next year's event will be graced with better weather, lower gas prices, and not suffer from a lack of attendance due to disenchantment with this year.

For those in the Cleveland area, I would still suggest the relatively small swap-meet at Stoddard's new location in Highland Heights, Ohio. The literature and collectible swap-meet is Friday, June 10th, and the car swap and show is the following day. While it's nowhere near the size of Hershey, Stoddard is a world-renowned supplier of vintage Porsche parts with a helpful and friendly staff. They recently lost the Porsche dealership franchise to Penske, but deserve much support in their endeavors as a parts supplier and restoration shop.

April 6, 2011

The Volkswagen Iltis (type 183).

When the West German army (known locally as the bundeswehr) needed a Jeep-like vehicle after WWII, they rejected Ferry Porsche’s 356-engined type 597 and instead picked the DKW Munga. The 3-cylinder, two-stroke Munga entered production in 1956 and was phased out in 1968. During that time Volkswagen purchased what was left of Auto Union and owned the rights to the Munga.

The German army continued to use the Munga for several years after production ended but as they started to disappear from the fleet, it became evident that there was nothing available to replace them with. They hesitantly ordered Volkswagen 181s (better known as the Thing) but those had no real offroad capacity. In 1976 the army made a call for offers: they needed a vehicle that could transport four people, 500 kilos (about 1,100 pounds) and climb a 50° incline fully loaded. It had to be capable off-road but still be street-legal. It had to measure less than 4 meters (157 inches) long and 1.60 meters (63 inches) wide.

It’s with these and many other guidelines in mind that a team of ex-NSU workers led by a certain Ferdinand Piech mixed and matched Munga, Audi, mk1 Golf and Beetle parts to create the Volkswagen type 183, more commonly called the Iltis (ferret in German). The army approved the design in 1977 and placed an order of 8,800 cars. The first examples were delivered in late 1978.

The 183 was powered by a 1714cc water-cooled four-cylinder that came in two variants: there was a 70hp with lower compression (running on normal gas) or 75hp with higher compression (premium fuel only). A Solex 1B1 carburetor was in charge of fuel delivery.

The transmission was a 4-speed manual unit with a low gear indicated by a G on the shift lever (for gelände, terrain in German).

Under normal driving the 183 was rear wheel drive but there was a lever to engage the front axle and turn it into a 4x4. All 183s had a locking rear differential and some also had a locking front differential. Story has it that it’s this setup that inspired Audi engineers to begin working on the Quattro project.

The 183 had all the equipment one would think of finding on a military car including a NATO-spec 24 volt electrical system (two 12 volt batteries hooked together), a jerrycan of gas, blackout lights, and a flag holder on both front fenders. It had storage space under the hood, above both wheel wheels. On the opposite end of the spectrum, it used four drum brakes borrowed from the eternal Beetle.

Below, a Volkswagen 183 interior, heavily influenced by the Beetle:

Not just for war.

Volkswagen presented a civilian version of the 183 at the 1979 Geneva Auto show and sales began shortly after. Less than 1,000 of them were assembled before the plug was pulled. Several reasons have been pointed out for the 183’s failure on the European market: it’s not a terribly good-looking vehicle, it’s not a particularly comfortable vehicle, it’s too rustic, and so on. In reality the most valid reason for the 183’s lack of success was its price: in 1982 it cost about three times as much as a base-model Golf; it even cost more than a V8-powered Range Rover.

Perhaps in an effort to create publicity for the Iltis Volkswagen fielded four of them in the 1980 Paris-Dakar. The result was spectacular: #137 took first place, #136 took second place, #138 took fourth place and #139, a support vehicle, took ninth place. Patrick Zaniroli, pilot of the #136 car, said that aside from a different cam and a bigger carburetor his Iltis was 100% stock, an impressive feat considering how modified most Dakar cars were (and still are.)

When all was said and done 9,547 examples of the 183 were built, with the last one rolling off of Audi's Ingolstadt assembly line in 1982. That was just part one, though.

The Canadian connection.

In 1983 the Canadian government bought the rights and the tooling for the 183 and gave Bombardier the task of assembling them in their plant in Valcourt, Quebec. On the outside there were very minor differences between the Bombardier 183s and the VW 183s: the emblem on the steering wheel, the emblem on the grille and the taillights are among some of the most significant ones.

2,500 Bombardiers went straight to the Canadian government to be used locally. Another 2,500 were purchased by Belgium in 1985. To save on shipping costs the ones earmarked for Belgium had their bodies shipped from Canada, their engines trucked from Germany and the whole lot assembled in Volkswagen’s Forest, Belgium plant. The exact number of 183s produced by Bombardier is unknown but it is estimated to be close to 6,000.

No civilian Bombardiers were built but the army sold them off when they were finished using them so a few are out there. The Bombardiers are generally considered to be of lesser quality than the VWs and are less desirable. Some companies in Canada even specialize in importing VW 183s from Germany while the Bombardier-branded ones sit on army surplus lots.

In 1985 production for the bundeswehr started back up in Ingolstadt but was sporadic at best. In 1987 the end was near and Volkswagen made a final modification to the 183: they equipped it with a 70hp 1588cc turbo diesel four-cylinder.

Production ended in December of 1988. The second round of German production yielded 1254 examples, bringing the total number of 183s built to about 16,000 units. In the bundeswehr they were progressively replaced by the Mercedes G-Wagen but much like its predecessor, the 183 stuck around for a while after production ended. It saw combat duty in 1991 in ex-Yugoslavia and Canada and Belgium still used them in their fleet in the early 2000s.


As a side note, in the late 1970s France decided it was time to replace their aging fleet of Hotchkiss Jeeps and like Germany they called out for offers. No French company had a fitting vehicle on hand and designing one from the ground up would have been too expensive so they worked with the manufacturers that did have something to offer. Peugeot teamed up with Mercedes, put a 504 engine in the G-Wagen and called it the P4, Saviem put a Renault 20 engine in Fiat’s Campagnola and dubbed it the TRM500 and Citroen built the C44, a Volkswagen 183 powered by a CX engine. In the end the P4 was awarded the contract and the other two projects were scrapped but a team entered a C44 in the 1981 Paris-Dakar. It did not finish the race.