A Brazilian beauty comes under the DTW microscope.
Controlled markets create their own phenomena, and the autarky imposed by the Brazilian government from early 1976, when all car imports were effectively forbidden, resulted in the emergence of a small scale luxury car industry whose high ambitions were often thwarted by economic and technical reality.
At the 10th Automobile Salon in late November 1976, local manufacturer Lafer presented the LL, an elegant and innovative grand tourer, immediately dubbed the Brazilian 450SLC.
Lafer SA Indústria e Comércio was established in 1927 to manufacture furniture, and still maintains a worldwide reputation for stylish, innovative products. Percival Lafer, one of the founding family, had, by 1974, diversified the business into automobile manufacturing, with the MP Lafer, a GRP-bodied MG TD replica based, rather improbably, on the VW Beetle platform.
The ‘MP’ of the name, circumscribed in its logo by an MG-style octagon, stands for “Mobiliário Patenteado” – patented furniture. This is ironic given that the Brazilian company not only copied the British car’s design, but also their still-extant logo. For the styling of their far more ambitious new car, Lafer turned to Rigoberto Soler, he of the Brasinca Uirapuru, to shape the GRP coachwork.
The Mercedes influence is clear enough, but there’s also a bit of Ro80 in the frontal treatment, and some interesting tail-light play which does not appear on all the cars pictured. The seating impresses, but the key point of interest is the digital instrumentation, set in a fixed boss around which the four spoke steering wheel rotated. Aston Martin showed digital instrumentation on their new Lagonda in October 1976, but Lafer were first into production. Neither manufacturer’s system worked well – the Lafer pictured has a full back-up set of analogue instruments mounted centrally.
It’s unlikely that the LL’s arrival caused much alarm at Stuttgart-Untertürkheim, particularly as its mechanical components came from the Chevrolet Opala, in essence a 1966 Opel Rekord C adapted to use even older US-market GM four and six cylinder engines. The Opala platform was close in size to the LL’s supposed Mercedes-Benz inspiration, although 145mm shorter of wheelbase. There was talk of tuning packages to boost the 4.1 litre pushrod six’s power beyond 200bhp, but the standard specification was a mild 147bhp.
At launch, Lafer spoke of producing twenty LLs per month by mid-1978, backed by a two year 30,000 mile warranty. The reality fell far short of this modest ambition. Either five or seven cars produced in total – accounts vary, and production ending after two and a half years.
Perhaps the Lafer LL was too innovative for its market at the time. It was also tremendously expensive. An Autocar article in March 1977 gives a Sterling equivalent price of £19,300. Though it’s unlikely to be a clean comparison, the UK price of a Mercedes-Benz 450SLC at that time was £13,959. Nevertheless, the LL should have done better than it actually did. The contemporary Santa Matilde and Puma GTB, also Opala-based were produced in decent numbers, for much longer than the Lafer, the last of which was produced in mid-1979.
Lafer continued production of their ersatz MGs until 1990, when Brazil opened its car market to imports. The furniture business continues to this day.