This is a car that became a huge hit here in Brazil and now has now achieved the status of classic. The Corcel was produced between 1969 and 1985, and despite the Ford emblems and ‘Willys’ on the manufacturer’s plate, it’s DNA is from the French automaker Renault. A true multinational.
In the beginning of 1960s the Brazilian operations of Kaiser-owned Willys built several cars for the local market, all of them US based-designs (Aero, Jeep MB, and Jeep Rural truck) as well as a license-built version of the Renault Dauphine, a small car that was in no way prepared for the task. It is a four door sedan, but it is nearly impossible to squeeze four adults in the car; the suspension could not stand up to the roughness of the Brazilian roads of the times, and the little 900cc in line four was totally underpowered, especially when compared with its rival, the 1200cc VW Beetle.
By 1968, Willys was in negotiation with the French to replace the Dauphine for a modern economical car and the choice was the future Renault 12 (above). The idea was not to bring over and build the R12 as it was built in France, as Willys wanted something more personal, and with a design that was not so obviously French. Something both more brazilian and perhaps a touch of American too. For the first time, Brazilian designers would handle such a project.
But the reality behind all of this was Willys was in a bad financial shape, so in 1967 Brazilian Ford took the opportunity to acquire the company and increase its range of local cars. The only passenger car Ford had in 1968 was the very big and luxurious Galaxie, so the opportunity to have a good, small economical car was not passed up on.
Ford took over the new project with enthusiasm, even the name for the car had to be good and was based on the rich American cousin, the Mustang, Corcel is also a horse breed.
The car came to life in 1968 as a four door sedan, and looking rather like Ford’s own Cortina Mk2. Was there enough time for Ford to influence the styling? Or just coincidence?
The next year the handsome two-door coupe version arrived, and later a station wagon called “Belina”. The new car was everything that the Dauphine wasn’t: it had a roomy interior, a strong suspension ready to take the punishment of our bad roads, front wheel drive, and yet the car was a comfortable ride. The engine was a version of the Renault ‘810’ engine, and had a 1300cc. The new powertrain gave decent performance to the Corcel, making VW adopt a bigger displacement engine for all its cars; in 1970 even the Beetle had a 1500cc engine option.
The Corcel was an instant hit, although it would never beat the sales numbers of the cheap and popular VW Beetle, but it created a new class of car in the Brazilian market: the upper class compact sedan. The car was by itself in this class but the competition was eager to have a slice of this cake.
For 1973 Ford increased the engine by another 100cc in the Corcel, preparing the car for the heavy fire that was about to come. In 1974 all the brazilian automakers presented new models, Chrysler unveiled the Dodge 1800, based on the British Hilmann Avenger; GM came with Chevette, based on the Opel Kadett; and VW took the first step to replace all the models built on the Beetle plataform with a modern car, water cooled engine and front wheel drive, the Passat.
By 1978 Ford redesigned the car and called the new version Corcel II and Belina II, but the four door version was dropped, and in 1981 the engine reached its biggest displacement with 1600cc.
In 1982 Ford came with a luxurious version of the Corcel, named “Del Rey”. The “new” car offered some items that the Corcel never dreamed to have, such as fog lights, sun roof, A/C, power windows, alloy wheels, power mirrors, power steering, automatic transmission and so on. And a four door version was back. The Del Rey was a good breath of life for a car that was becoming obsolete.
By this time Ford had to replace the old horse with a new car and the choice was obvious: in 1984 the Escort debuted in the Brazilian market. Everything was new but the Corcel DNA was still there, to make the car affordable, it came with the old but reliable 1600cc Corcel engine.
1985 was the last year production for the Corcel, but Ford kept the Del Rey until 1991. Another interesting fact, in 1987 Ford and VW united forces and created a new giant automaker: Autolatina. The company became operational only in 1989 and under this new umbrella, the old rivals started to exchange powertrains and plataforms.
The Escort and Del Rey had the benefit of more powerful VW engine options like the 1800cc and 2000cc. But Autolatina had a very short life, ending in 1996.
The Red Corcel in the pictures is a 1969 2 doors coupe in a very rare“GT” trim.
To honor those badges this version has a double barrel carburetor, customized 13 inches steel wheels (not shown here) , a complete set of instruments with tachometer, oil pressure and voltmeter and vinyl top.
Since 1969 was a transitional year, the identification tag shows the name of both Ford and Willys.
The first generation of the Corcel (1969 – 1977) has became a classic, and nowadays the prices have skyrocketed.