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.
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.