CC Global: Brazilian Maverick – From Deception to Passion

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43 years after its debut in Brazil, the Ford Maverick has reached superstar status among gearheads and collectors. They are in love with the many qualities of the car, and for them it represents power, speed and style.  It’s a classic, a legend and it’s a real Brazilian muscle car. It shares that status only with the Dart/Charger, since the purists don’t consider the Chevy Opala as a member of this club—no inline six belongs here.

Obviously all that love has kicked the value of the car to the stratosphere on the collectible market; a decently restored Maverick GT nowadays commands the same price range of a ’68 hardtop Mustang. Here’s its story, including the bad, the good and..the fast.

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Sure enough, the market considers only the V8 Mavericks valuable; the other versions, 6 and 4 cylinder, are completely forgotten. I have in my family a real example of how the enthusiasts are dedicated to the hobby.

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My brother-in-law is finishing a complete restoration of his 1975 Maverick. The car has an interesting story: it is a junkyard rescue and was born a 6 cylinder car. Now it has a 347 stroker with aluminum heads, Crower camshaft and a 650 CFM Edelbrock carb on top. The engine is bolted to a 5 speed Tremec and the car has disc brakes on all 4 corners and a nice set of large, imported wheels.  The next step will be something we Brazilians are still trying to master: full sequential fuel injection on a vintage V8.

From the crusher to a top-notch resto mod, this guy is spending my niece’s college money on that car. Why? Because he is passionate about it. And yes, I do regret not being there to take that Maverick for a spin. But the Maverick road wasn’t always paved with love and tenderness,

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The car had a troubled start in 1973, and I do believe that is the reason the Maverick died so young.

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In the early 70s Ford was in need of a mid-size family car. Since the acquisition of Willys Overland in 1967, they kept building the “Itamaraty”, a fancier version of the Aero Willys but it was in no way a car that could face the new Chevy Opala.

In 1971 Ford finally ended the production of the Itamaraty .

Interesting fact: during the military dictatorship, it was a normal procedure for the automakers to try to “please” the government by naming their cars after something related. Itamaraty is the name of Federal Government’s palace.

In the early 70s, Ford threw a cocktail party and invited some random people from the Brazilian society, mostly journalists. In the room there were four cars, all in white, with no badges and no name plates.  Two of them were very well-known from the streets.

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The Chevy Opala.

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The Ford Corcel.

And the other two cars were complete strangers to the Brazilian consumers:

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The German Taunus.

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And the American Maverick

While people were happily drinking and eating, they were asked to vote on the car they liked best. The winner was the Taunus.

Of course the people who attended this party were just a tiny little fraction of the market, but among them there were some of the most influential automobile journalists of the time. The Taunus should have been the obvious and logical choice for Ford. It was already the competitor of the Opel Rekord in Germany, the very car that was the basis for the Chevy Opala.

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Part of a “massive investment ” to produce the new car was already under way, Ford was building a brand new engine assembly plant just for the modern 2.3 OHC four. This would be the entry-level engine for either the Taunus or Maverick. The only problem with the Taunus was finding an engine that could face the Chevy 250 six “mano-a-mano” since the most powerful option in Europe was a 2294cc V6. The Taunus had to receive a “hot rodding” process, just like the Opala did, to be perceived to be competitive.

Ford had this great opportunity when the customers whispered in its ears what car they wished to buy, and they decided to ignore it.

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Instead they got the green light from Detroit to produce the Maverick. They said the Taunus would be too costly to be produced in Brazil, especially for a car that would have less than fantastic sales numbers.

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The Ford Maverick had a hard task to take some of the Opala’s market share. The Opala had created a sales niche of its own in 1969, comfortably positioned above the Ford Corcel and below the Dodge Dart. By 1973 it already had a legion of loyal customers.

Nowadays we can only guess just what made Ford pick the Maverick over the Taunus. The lack of a powerful engine was perhaps one of them, but time played a very important role. 1973/74 were very exciting years for the Brazilian auto industry, and all of the auto makers had new models set to be released:

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VW had the Brasilia.

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And the revolutionary FWD Passat.

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GM had the Chevette.

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Chrysler had the 1800.

And Ford had to bring something to the table as well.

Deciding for the Maverick, Ford supposedly took the easiest path: the big engine problem was solved, as the 302 V8 would make those Opala SS owners swallow their arrogance.

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And the car even had unintentional advertising, as we always considered the Maverick to be a close cousin of the Mustang.

But time was not on Ford’s side. The new 2.3 L engine factory wouldn’t be fully operational until 1975, leaving the entry level engine option to the existing 6 cylinder. Here things started to turn ugly.

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The first wave of Mavericks built in Brazil provoked a mix of feelings. The GT version was exactly what the market was expecting, an “almost a Mustang” kind of car, with the superb, rev-loving small block V8, disc brakes in front, four on the floor transmission, wider wheels and tires and a “bad ass” graphics package.

On the other hand, the inline six Maverick was a total disaster. Before we go on to explain why, let’s do a bit of history recap: When Ford acquired Willys Overland do Brasil in 1967, the main idea was to grab the project that would become the successful Corcel. But, keep in mind that Ford’s management was committed to squeeze that lemon to the last drop.

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Ford kept some of the Willys line up in production until as late as 1984, like the CJ, called here simply “Jeep”

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And the F-75 Jeep-based truck. Shown here is the later 2.3 OHC alcohol-fueled option.

With that conception of business in mind, they didn’t see a problem in dropping the ancient Willys inline six under the Maverick’s hood. It was cheap and immediately available.

To complete the combo, there was the clumsy Willys 4 speed transmission with the column shifter and drum brakes all around.

That was the car Ford was hoping to make a dent in Opala sales? Seriously?

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The 2.6 L (161 CI) Willys six dated back to 1950, when the even older Willys flathead six received an F-head conversion (overhead intake valves, side exhaust valves in the block). It was outdated by the mid 60s even by South American standards.

Willys did some work to improve it, increasing displacement from 2.6 to 3.0 liters, giving it a better-flowing exhaust header, and even offering an optional dual carb version. They indeed got a few extra horses out of the engine but it was just not enough.  Reliability was another concern, as the engine was know as “six burner stove”. The last cylinder, the one closest to the firewall, would overheat under higher RPM to the point of melting the piston inside.

Ford did some improvements as well, things like new pistons and connecting rods able to use better rings and journals, redesigned head, intake and exhaust manifold, and they even installed a bypass coolant hose out side of the engine to cool down the last cylinder.

Oh yeah… the vision of that hose always gave me a sense of how poorly car was built.

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Obviously the best choice was the 302 V8. It was the standard engine for the GT, and an option for the rest of the line, but all the V8 models came with some sort of performance package, things like better brakes, 4 speed manual or automatic transmission, wider wheels and tires, all of which made them considerably more expensive than the mundane models. The bulk of the sales would fall on the cheaper 6 cylinder Maverick, at least until the arrival of the 2.3 L four banger model.

The Maverick was sold in 4 different trims, standard, Luxo, Super Luxo and GT. To be honest, I always paid so little attention to the non GT models that I couldn’t tell the difference between them.

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At first, the only body option was the 2 door coupe and a few months later the 4 door sedan was available.

Comparatively, the 4 cylinder Chevy Opala was better in just about every detail against the 6 cylinder Maverick. Finally in 1975 came the really good 2.3 but the damage was already done.

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The V8 models comprised roughly 20% of the total Mavericks in 1973; Ford was expecting a low demand and that was the reason to import the 302 instead producing it here.  We believed those V8 engines were all coming from Canada and soon, on the streets, the unofficial name of the 302 became “The Canadian “. Years later we learned they actually came mostly from Mexico, but the name stuck even to these days.

For American standards, our small block was pretty tame: 7.8:1 comp ratio, bijet carb on top, single exhaust. Nothing special. Ford officially declared the power just a bit under the 200 hp limit in order to make insurance cost more affordable. On the title of the V8 Mavericks you can read “198 hp”.

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In 1976 the Galaxie/Landau/LTD got a facelift and the aging “Y” block was replaced by he 302. Now, with greater demand, Ford started to build them here.

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Also in 1976, Chevy decided to make the life of the Maverick a bit harder on the streets, so they created a spicy version of the 250, especially for the Opala SS. The engine, called 250-S, got a more aggressive camshaft, higher compression ratio, a better carb and solid lifters. Just a few little tricks from the race track.

The Test Everybody Was Waiting For.

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Now, with a more powerful Opala, our most traditional car magazine, Quatro Rodas (Four Wheels) felt comfortable to bring together the three Brazilian Muscle Cars for a complete test. Here’s the part that gets our attention the most:

From zero to 100 km/h (o-62 mph)

Maverick: 10.85 sec

Opala: 11.67 sec

Charger: 12.00 sec

Top speed

Opala: 189.5 km/h

Maverick : 180.0 km/h

Charger: 179.5 km/h

 

The Beginning of The End

The dreadful Willys inline 6 was gradually replaced by the far more efficient 2.3 OHC. By 1976 even the CJ “Jeep” and the F-75 got the this new engine.

For the 1977 model, the Maverick received its first (and only) cosmetic changes: a new grille;

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And the tail lights were redesigned with a 3 segment style, just like the Mustang.

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The GT got the 4 cylinder option, new stripes and a really cool pair of fake scoops on the hood.

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In 1978 Ford completely redesigned the successful Corcel, giving it the “square headlights” style that soon every car maker in Brazil would follow. The car was bigger, roomier and had a comfortable ride. The new Corcel put one foot into the midsize car market, hurting even more the already shameful Maverick sales.

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1979 was the Maverick’s final year. Exactly 106,108 units were produced in Brazil.

The country was just about to enter a decade of hardship. The transition from military government to the civil one, financial crisis, hyperinflation, gas prices going up on a weekly basis. The era of big engines was over, the A-Body Mopar would die in 1981, the Galaxie did in 1983 and only the huge popularity of the Opala kept it alive until 1992.

Could things have been better if Ford never had produced the “Willys-Maverick”? Definitely!

Would the Taunus have been a better seller than the Maverick ? Certainly!

Would the hot rodders love the Taunus more than the Maverick 40 years later? I don’t think so!

But then again… I could be totally wrong.

 

Competition 

It would be a shame not to talk a little about the racing career of the Brazilian Maverick.  If the car had failed to beat the Opala on market, at least it did for a while on the tracks.

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By the early 70s the most prestigious race in Brazil was the “Division 3” for the domestic touring cars in a very unrestricted rules environment.

Until 1973, Chevy Opala was the king of the class, always followed by a “sea” of VW Beetles.

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Ford was really wiling to make the Maverick a champion, following the motto “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday “. They gave to teams financial and technical support as well as supplied performance parts for the small block.

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With all that help, the best race teams decided to flip over to Ford, leaving the Opala for those die hard Chevy lovers.

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The Mavericks dominated the Division 3 for a few years, but in 1976 Ford decided to cut the money flow to the class. It was too expensive and was failing to attract more cars for the grid.

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Instead they would give better support to the “Formula Ford”, small Formula cars equipped with the Corcel engine.

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Without the Ford support, the teams went back to the more affordable Opala. Chevy noticed a good opportunity there and jumped into Ford’s place. GM did a good job because they turned the dying Division 3 into the successful Brazilian “Stock Car”

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If there is a car that symbolizes the peak of the Maverick era in Division 3, it is the Hollywood-Berta Maverick. Hollywood was the most popular cigarette brand in Brazil in the 70s and 80s and it had a very strong appeal among the youngsters.

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Hollywood had a very active race team with many cars in different classes. In 1973 it was one of the teams that replaced the Opala with a brand new Maverick GT.

For the next year they decided to build the ultimate racing machine, taking full advantage of the lack of restrictions the class offered.

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The team took the car to Orestes “The Wizard “ Berta, an internationally recognized race car builder in Argentina. What Berta created resembles a Maverick but little of it was kept at the end

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The awkward front suspension was replaced by a double aluminum “A” arms, and at the rear the leaf springs were replaced by a coil set up. For a better weight distribution, engine and transmission were relocated lower on the body and 30 cm towards the back, well into the cabin.

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The small block received a pair of Gurney Eagle aluminum heads topped with 4 Weber 48 IDA carbs. All the aerodynamic stuff around the car was said to be effective. To complete the combo, massive wheels and tires were installed

On its first race, the Berta-Holywood Maverick set a new record at the Cascavel race track but it was on the second race that the car really showed its potential.  It was a very traditional endurance race: The 500 Kilometers of Sao Paulo.

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It happened on the external track of Interlagos, avoiding most of the internal turns, so the cars could get a much higher average speed, saving the equipment like brakes, clutch, transmission and tires. The performance of the car was flawless , it was so superior that at the end, when the Hollywood-Berta Maverick completed the 500 Kilometers, the second place, a Chevy Opala, was 8 laps behind.

The first 10 cars to finish the race can give a good picture of the Division 3

  • Berta Maverick
  • Chevy Opala
  • Chevy Opala
  • VW Brasilia
  • Ford Maverick
  • VW Beetle
  • Ford Maverick
  • VW Beetle
  • Dodge Charger
  • Alfa Romeo

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I know how much you guys love the A-Body, so, here it is, the 9th place finisher.

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After Hollywood ended it’s racing team in 1976,  the Maverick was sold to some private drivers until it was retired and kept in a storage for decades until it was found by a classic car collector and restored to its original glory.