COAL: Archeology of a Brazilian Car Nut

1985 VW Santana CD


I’m a strong believer that history and culture plays a huge part on the dynamic of people’s life’s and countries (under)development process. An overlapping zone between this and my life time interest for cars is that is that I’m a steady reader and admirer of CC. Recently I finally finished a lengthy academic project so I thought about doing something new: why not give it a try and do my COAL series, a kind of a motor history of myself?

1964 Ford F100


The starting stage on that path must be the first road motor vehicle owned by somebody in my family. It was nothing less than a 1964 Ford F100, red and white, with the 272 (4.5 l) V8, bought brand new by my grandfather on mother’s side. It was meant to be a working tool at his farm. As an italian immigrant, my grandpa was really thrifty and never owned a passenger car.  The F100 probably helps to explain why I have a thing for trucks, light or heavy.

You may think I used the wrong picture, but this is because I’m from Brazil and that F100 was locally assembled, so it looks like an older model year sold in the USA market. Following the lineage started by that Ford truck, today’s COAL is about everything that forged my passion for four-wheeled (sometimes 18 wheeled) things, which means vehicles I have ridden or admired until driving age. That’s a long list I will try to make more concise.

It may be useful to advance a short overview on the Brazilian automotive landscape in 80´s in which I grew up: a market closed to imports with a restricted variety of domestic built models offered by only four passenger cars companies (GM, i.e. Chevrolet, FIAT, Ford and VW). It should come as no surprise that new cars were very expensive even for the majority of middle class households. Unfortunately, gasoline was expensive too, making older, less fuel efficient cars not particularly cheap to run.

Like many kids back then (maybe not anymore?) I used to dream a lot about cars and loved to be inside them. Any opportunity to ride was taken, especially on models I have had never been. With around 5 years old I was already able to point any relative’s car maker and model. At that age, I had two real old steering wheels that I used to play: one was white with two spokes, in which I connected a broomstick that I sticked upright to a big box full of phone books. Then I would seat over the table: that made for an upright driving position like driving a truck. The other steering wheel was black with three spokes: I used to bend the same box on the floor so the broomstick would be almost parallel to the ground and the driving wheel just like on a sports car.

Scania LK 141 – similar but different cab from the Swedish built model


When I was around 12 years old, a friend inherited a large collection of Car and Driver magazines from a cousin that lived in USA. Our crew spent many Friday afternoons reading it and listening to Beatles albums. That turned my head upside down because there were so many new models and even brands to know about. Until then my access to foreign cars was mainly by movies and TV shows. For sure I watched a lot of CHip’s, The Fall Guy, Dukes of Hazzard and any other with nice cars. Special mention to “Carga Pesada” (heavy load), about two guys trucking the though Brazilian roads on a 1979 Scania LK 141.

I regularly sought used books stores to buy a handful of car magazines for the price of a new one. When I was around 10 years old my father started to take me to old car shows. We also used to visit the Sao Paulo (new) car show where I would not only see and enter on many cars but also pile up dozens of brochures. I still have some of it.

1982 VW Brasilia LS


Of course I was deeply influenced by my father’s rides (my mom never really drove). The first one I remember very well was a beige with black interior 1982 VW Brasilia LS (CC here). It was developed by the Brazilian subsidiary (I can´t really tell how much was done here or in Germany). With 4,01 meters (158 in) and 900kg (1984 pounds), it had a trademark VW rear air cooled 4 cylinder boxer (1.6l) engine, with 60 hp and a 4 speed manual. This was certainly tiny and underpowered for USA standards but kind of an average car in Brazil.

1982 VW Brasilia LS


A car unique to the Brazilian market, it was ethanol (not gasoline) powered. The whole ethanol story would take an entire article, but it´s enough to know that due to petrol (dollars) shortages in the 70´s the Brazilian government in partnership with the automobile companies started a program to engineer engines fueled by sugar cane (plentiful in Brazil) ethanol, so in the 80’s most new passenger cars were ethanol propelled. That was the case of all the later cars my father owned and of my first car too.

The Brasilia was a rugged and economical car, but not really roomy nor comfortable and of course not fast. The rear engine puts a lot of noise, heat and vibration in the cabin and allows for so little trunk space it’s probably only seconded by a Beetle. Anyway it served our family for several years with very little trouble. Sometimes we had extended family aboard: five adults on the seats, so I had to ride in the trunk, i.e. over the engine compartment.


1980 Dodge Magnum


I didn’t care as long as I could see some nice cars trough the windows: I’ve always been an admirer of the Dodges (Darts, Charger and Magnum). Chrysler assembled cars in Brazil from 1967 to 1981, so around mid 80’s they were still daily seen on the streets.


1985 Chevrolet Chevette SL – beautiful original steel wheels


When I was 8 years old my father sold the VW and bought a 1985 Chevrolet Chevette SL. The engine was a 4 cylinder 1.6l, 81 HP (DIN), with a 5 speed manual, but still light (930 kg or 2050 pounds) and compact (4,19 m or 165 in). Gray with light gray upholstery, it was much more comfortable than the Brasilia due to a softer suspension and less NHV provided by the more powerful and modern engine. That was due time because we used to travel very often.


1985 Chevrolet Chevette SL


As one can see, the Brazilian Chevette was similar but not identical to the one made in USA.


Late seventies Scania L111S – S stands for turbo. Until 1981 all Brazilian Scanias were orange. These brutes are still working hard


Those trips were the perfect time to spot not only different cars but also big rigs. Here Scanias have been for a very long time the top dogs of the roads: the older L76, L110 and L111 nicknamed “Jacaré” (crocodile), then the LK140/141, and later the 2 and 3 series. Most of these had a 11 liter 6 in line engines. The LK and some 2 and 3 series had the famous 14 liter V8.

Early 1980’s Scania 2 Series


Generally we headed to the country side: grandpa farm some 400 km (250 miles) from Sao Paulo where we lived. There I could not only enjoy a more relaxed and simple life eating only homemade food and a lot of barbecue but also see (and ride) tractors and pickup trucks.


1982 Chevrolet D10. Very different body from the USA built C/K it was based.


1984 Ford F1000


In the 80´s it meant either a Ford F1000 (1 ton capacity, diesel powered, based on the 1968 North American F series) or Chevrolet´s D10 and the newer D20 (also 1 ton capacity, diesel powered, based on the North American C/K series). Riding those trucks was a huge fun. I´ll further discuss this subject on a later COAL.


Ciferal Dinossauro (unknown year model) operated by Viação Cometa in the 80’s and 90’s. Classic trademark design. Original Scania’s iron (not aluminum) wheels.


The other way to get to my grandparents farm was by bus, and my parents allowed me to go there alone when I was 12. The best part was to ride the Viação Cometa’s buses, true Brazilian classics. Even in the 80’s I already knew they were like true time warps, totally distinct from the regular European styled buses: red leather seats on white interior and non painted aluminum body.

CMA Flexa Azul operated by Viação Cometa in the 90’s. The older Dinossauros had similar red seats.

All had Scania’s chassis and in line 6 engines: 11 liters with around 360 hp and 12 liters with over 400 hp, very good when pushing a light aluminum bodied bus. In any case, it was enough to outrun any other buses and many cars: Cometa’s drivers were recognized as fast as their buses. The Cometa’s were clearly inspired by the famous GMC PD4104 the same company operated in the 50’s and 60’s.

1988 Chevrolet Chevette Marajó SE (ours was dark blue)


1988 Chevrolet Chevette Marajó SE (black trim in the trunk is original)


1988 Chevrolet Chevette Marajó SE interior (ours had gray upholstery and black dash)


Right after the Chevette sedan my father bought a 1988 SW version of it, called Chevette Marajó. It was dark blue with grey interior. Mechanically it was identical to the 1985 sedan, with only cosmetic differences like new all plastic bumpers, plastic wheel covers, and a different kind of seat upholstery. Both the Chevette and the Marajó were very nice to ride. I’d love to have one nowadays. It was still small but the trunk was a huge improvement at 469 liters (17 cubic feet). Once we carried a small freezer with the back seat folded down and I went stretched in the rear! Yes, people were very careless with security at the time. It took years to enforce widespread adoption of seatbelts.


1985 VW Santana CD – my father’s had the original more elegant alloy wheels (see brochure picture below)


1985 VW Santana CD


The next car was a 1985 VW Santana CD (CC here, on the SW version sold in USA ). It was four doors, black with medium gray upholstery, top of the line version with power-assisted steering, power doors and locks all around, air conditioning, alloy wheels and fog lights. That model year Santanas came only with the 1.8 l (94 hp). VW offered an automatic but that one was a 5 speed manual. It was a big car by Brazilian standards (4,54 m or 179 in). My dad bought it used but still smelled like new. I remember the day we went to see it on a sunday afternoon at the seller home. I couldn’t believe that my dad bought it because one or two years earlier I have ridden in one exactly the same model and went crazy about it. We made many nice trips on it.


The golden car is a 1980 Ford Corcel II LDO – my father’s was an 1982 model L. The green one is a SW version of it.


Some time later my dad sold the Santana and bought a 1982 Ford Corcel II L (CC here and here), so it was a considerable throwback. The Corcel had an 1.6l engine, 71 hp, 1000 kg (2200 pounds) and 4,50 m (177 in) long. It was comfortable and smooth but heavy for such an engine, so it was slow. These Corcels wore known to be economic and mechanically durable. I rode on many Corcels owned by relatives and family friends, sometimes the SW version.

Definitely it was an old men’s car and turned out to be my father’s last one as he passed away when I was a teenager. My mom didn’t drive so very soon she sold the car. In the next years my interest in cars didn’t vanish. On the contrary, at 8th grade I decided to make Secondary Technical School on industrial mechanics, not only to fulfill my wish to learn about machines but also have better job opportunities in the  medium term and also because I had envisioned to apply to mechanical engineering at college.

Although years later I did chose to take other direction in my academic and professional career, I certainly didn’t regret choosing Secondary Technical School. That’s to be continued in the next COAL in which I’ll deal with my first car.