Today, DTW takes a stroll (or should that be Troll?) through the Pantanal.
DTW, thankfully, has no place for the pernicious curse known as ‘clickbait’, but the Troller Pantanal would richly deserve its place in “What the 20 most unsuccessful light commercial vehicles you never realised were gay look like now will make your jaw drop”, if ever such a gallery of shame were assembled. The subject of our tale of misadventure is Brazilian 4×4 vehicle manufacturer Troller Veículos Especiais S/A, founded in 1995 in Horizonte, Ceará Province.
Their first product was the T4, a Jeep Wrangler-like vehicle with GRP bodywork on a steel chassis. Production in serious numbers began in 1999, and the compact 4×4, built using well-regarded components such as MWM International diesel engines and Dana axles soon developed a strong following among hardcore off-road enthusiasts in Brazil and beyond.
Not long into the next decade, Troller were ready to broaden their product range. The business plan seemed sound, a T4-derived high-mobility pick-up to fill the gap on the market left by the discontinuation of the Toyota Bandierante in late 2001. The Bandierante was a Brazilian-built Land Cruiser J40, on sale since 1968, and powered by Mercedes-Benz engines until 1994. Troller’s pretender to its empty throne was a generously proportioned beast, 5.3 metres long, and close to two metres wide and high. The wheelbase was 3350mm, a 950mm stretch compared with the T4.
The GRP coachwork of the Pantanal (stop sniggering at the back there – it’s a huge wetland area in the southern Mato Grosso) presents a rugged countenance, with some “big-rig” menace in its frontal aspect, the rest a no-nonsense, rather upright, mid-size pick up with some neat styling touches hinting at an admiration of what Chrysler was doing at the turn of the century.
The Pantanal had a lengthy gestation period, first revealed in September 2003 at a media event, then displayed to the public at the São Paulo International Motor Show in October 2004, in civilian and military derivatives.
The engines were supplied by Navistar, the company formerly known as International Harvester. The pick-up was designed around the 2.8 litre MWM 2.8L engine already used in the T4, which had its origins are in an Iochpe-Maxion venture to produce the Land Rover 2.5 Tdi engine large quantities in Brazil.
By the time the Pantanal went into production, the larger, more advanced International NGD 3.0 had become the Troller standard fit. This was a 163bhp 2968cc (96mm x 102.5mm) direct injection four with four parallel valves per cylinder, operated through finger rockers by a single chain-driven overhead camshaft.
Production began in 2006 in 4×2 and 4×4 versions, with prices ranging from R$ 67,000 to R$ 73,500. It was to be a momentous period for Troller, but demand for the long awaited new pick-up was certainly not setting the pampas alight.
In January 2007 Ford do Brasil acquired Troller Veículos Especiais S/A for an undisclosed sum. Off road machinery was in fashion, and the T4 was Ford’s prize. They invested heavily in the Horizonte factory, increasing production capacity by 50%. The Pantanal had no place in the new plan. One authoritative account states that the last pick-up left the line in November 2006, others claim orders were still being fulfilled in 2007.
There is no dispute about the number produced: 77. Is it some sort of magic number? Pantanal production matched precisely the number of Brasinca Uirapurus built from 1964-66.
For the unhappy Pantanal, the humiliation was not yet over. In February 2008 Ford announced a recall of all Pantanals after quality tests identified the possibility of cracking in the chassis members, which could cause loss of stability and directional control in sudden manoeuvres. Within a few days, the terms were changed to a full buy-back, after Ford decided a repair strategy was not feasible. Compensation offered was close to the list price, but if owners valued exclusivity over life safety, they could retain their vehicles, provided they signed a liability agreement, acknowledging that they were aware of the risk of accidents.
Troller loyalists suspected that the recall and discontinuation of the Pantanal was contrived by Ford to clear the way for their mass-produced Ranger. Others might contend the manifestly utilitarian pick-up did not fit well with the aspirational, up-market image Ford envisaged for Troller.
Out in the big world, circumstances were soon to change. Only five months after Ford concluded the purchase of Troller, they announced the impending sale of an aspirational, upmarket manufacturer of off-road vehicles in the Old World, a decision they must now rue deeply.
Ten years on, Troller are still with Ford do Brasil. The new generation T4, now powered by a gutsy 3.2 litre Power Stroke five, has become a lot more fashion-conscious, but certainly not a fashion victim. Judge for yourself – I’d have one any day over an Evoque: