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:

1 comment:

F. Tiago said...


That 100 liters fuel tank was important because the Alfa Romeo 2300 ran with special gasoline (Blue Gasoline in Brazil).
The regular gasoline (leaded) was too poor, being used in low compression ratio engines, like VW air engines (almost 60% of Brazilian market at moment).
Less than 5% of Gas Stations provided blue gasoline at time, particularly in capitals.