Theme : Sudamerica – Variants on a Theme

Driven to Write examines a missing link from Brazil.

The earlier years of South America’s motor industry were influenced both by its relative geographical closeness to North America and its cultural closeness to Europe. But this influence might have gone both ways. When I first saw the 1962 Studebaker Avanti, in my trusty edition of The Observer’s Book of Automobiles, I was greatly struck. A really novel shape. When I first saw the Jensen Interceptor, in The Autocar in its 1966 Motor Show run-up, I was greatly impressed. A really novel shape. It was only after a while that I realised that the earlier, Loewy Studio designed car might have influenced the Touring styled one from West Bromwich. But, unknown to me at the time, there was a third car, the missing link, the 1964 Brazilian built Brasinca 4200 GT Uirapuru.

Brasinca was a manufacturer of truck and bus bodies who took up the design of the Spanish born Rigoberto Soler. In the desire to use local components, in the first versions drum brakes were fitted as standard instead of discs and the, albeit torquey, Chevrolet 4.2 litre six was fitted with just a three speed manual (a Corvette four speed was also offered). Front suspension was independent, and the rear a well-located live axle. Performance was adequate and reviews were positive but, with a steel body, it was expensive to build and only 78 were made in 2 years, including convertibles and a prototype police pursuit car.

South America has produced a fair share of successful racing drivers, so it’s unsurprising that the Uirapuru was just one of many sporty cars built over the years in South America. Most of these were fanciful vanity projects that withered quickly, but there was another of superficially similar specification to the Brasinca, but that was more practical and actually took root. When the Uirapuru was launched, in Argentina, IKA were working on what might be seen as South America’s most successful distinctively own-market product, the 1966 Torino. Although badged a Renault later in its life, it owed far more to the Ramblers that contributed to its engineering, albeit with structures beefed up for South America’s roads. With a Pininfarina designed body, first in 2 door form, then joined by a 4 door, it retains an hugely enthusiastic following.

Like the Uirapuru, the Torino stayed away from big V8s. It had a range of inline sixes, between 3 and 4 litres, but these were not just pushrod sixes borrowed from Rambler. They were, in fact, derived from the Jeep Tornado engine which, surprisingly for its time, was a single overhead camshaft unit. Although this engine had a short life in the USA, and doesn’t attract much positive response in Jeep circles, in IKA’s hands it was developed impressively, even producing 350 hp in racing form.

The Tornado OHC Six. Note the single lobe operating both inlet and exhaust valves.
The Tornado OHC Six. Note the single lobe operating both inlet and exhaust valves.

Certainly the Torino has a deservedly strong and loyal following and a lot have been tuned and modified so, in this, was it the South American Mustang or Capri? To my eyes no. It was classier than that, despite its prosaic beginnings. I’d label it more the South American BMW. Despite a multitude of local variants of vehicles that originated elsewhere, unlike traditional Italian, Stateside or French cars, it’s maybe hard to identify many cars that are uniquely South American in their style. But, in their stylish and resourceful blend of the North American and European, possibly the Uirapuru and Torino fit the bill.

7 thoughts on “Theme : Sudamerica – Variants on a Theme”

  1. The Torino is arguably the Argentinian Mustang. In Brazil, the all-time American muscle throne is disputed by the Ford Maverick and the Dodge offers in the 1970s. Curiously, the Maverick started its life in Brazil with the same pushrod-6 taken from the Jeep – dad had one and said, “it had the fuel economy of a V8 and the performance of a 4-pot”. After the six, dad got a Maverick with the 2.3L Pinto 4-cylinder, the car he had when I was born.

  2. The Torino does have a certain allure(pity about the fly window), but I have to agree with Chris about the Uirapuru.
    Sean, I had one of those observer’s books as a kid. Mine was ” The observer’s book of classic cars”. It was a bit like top trumps- you got to see cars that were never spotted on the road, at least not in Dublin anyway. It was one of my treasured possessions. The car that always fascinated me was a Monteverdi 375. The book still falls open on that page.

    1. I’m on the pro-Uirapuru side. It’s a mature, resolved design that’s a match for anything done in Europe (mainly meaning Italy) at the time. The Lafer LL, Puma GTB, Besson Gobbi Miura, and Santa Mathilda all have a kitcar-like awkwardness. The Uirapuru hasn’t.

      Of course if I ever see one in real life, I might experience an Alfa SZ moment.

      Mention of The Observer’s Book of Automobiles reminds me that the 1965 or possibly ’66 edition carried a photograph of a ‘Jensen Interceptor’ which clearly wasn’t. I don’t have a copy of the book, but I think the picture was of the one-off Vignale Jensen Nova shown in 1965, a ‘chopped wedge’ lower-slung car than the production Interceptor. I think that Jensen chose wisely – I can’t imagine Eric Morecambe driving a Nova.

    2. Robertas. I’m glad I’m not the only one who sees worth in the Brasinca. But what exactly is wrong with the SZ?

      My (1963) Edition was, at the time, a bible to me. I believed everything I read there without question. So you’ll understand that I find your comments about the Jensen photo challenge the very foundation of my automotive knowledge. Might it be that the 1963 Pontiac Catalina didn’t have seven headlamps and a rotor blade?

  3. Sean – have you ever seen an SZ in an ordinary street situation? I was ready to suppress my instincts until I saw my first in a side street in Dorridge, Warwickshire.

    I’ve dug out my diary entry, from 24 July 2004:

    “There are two Dorridge discoveries:

    One was a Zagato Alfa SZ, looking like a badly put together kit car designed on the hoof. It bears out my theory about wedge-shaped cars never looking quite right because their designers fail to match the drama of their profile by topping and tailing them effectively. Think Princess/ Ambassador, TR7, most modern Mercedes-Benzes.

    The other is that there are poems and sayings etched on the windows of the railway station waiting room, an eclectic collection from American bumper stickers to Matsuo Basho.”

    I was so much older then…

    I’ve mellowed on the TR7 and Princess, but the SZ I cannot find it in my heart to forgive. Unless you mean the exquisite 2600SZ. The roster of truly beautiful coachbuilt Alfa coupes which preceded the 1989 plastic monstrosity make it inexcusable. If Robert Opron really had anything to do with it, he should count it as his Allegro.

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