Latin Escorts

Necessity makes for some strange bedfellows.

1994 VW Pointer. Inage: autorealidade.com.br

In July 1987, Volkswagen and Ford’s Brazilian and Argentinian divisions created a joint-venture company, AutoLatina. The ownership was split 51% to 49% in Volkswagen’s favour. Volkswagen would manage AutoLatina’s passenger car operation while Ford looked after the commercial vehicles business. Autolatina was established in an attempt to defend both companies’ market share in what was a distressed and shrinking market.

Rather than compete with each other directly, the joint venture would produce complementary ranges using each other’s designs as the basis for badge engineered models, as well as some designs unique to the venture. These included the 1990 Ford Verona and VW Apollo, a two-door saloon based on the Ford Orion Mk2, the 1992 Ford Versailles, a restyled VW Santana, and the 1993 VW Logus and 1994 VW Pointer, rebodied versions of the Orion Mk3 and Escort Mk5 respectively.

Apart from badging and a different front grille, dashboard and trim, the Verona and Apollo were identical to each other. The Verona was launched in November 1989, with the Apollo following shortly afterwards. It was a curious hybrid, identical to the European Ford Orion Mk2 from the A-pillar forwards, but featuring the longer passenger doors from the Escort Mk4 three-door.

Behind the B-pillar, the bodywork was all-new and completely different to the Orion. One issue the designers faced was how to marry up the car’s low waistline to its high rear deck. This was resolved (or ignored) on the Orion with a heavily curved rear screen and a visual ‘step’ across the C-pillar, but that treatment might have looked rather odd on a two-door car. Consequently, the bottom edge of the rear side glass was instead curved up from the B-pillar rearwards to align with the base of a new, flatter rear screen.

1990 Ford Verona. Image: covimarco.com.br

The tail of the car featured slim horizontal light units reminiscent of (but not identical to) those on the 1987 Ford Sierra saloon(1). Another detail that aped the Sierra saloon was the deletion of the Orion’s conventional rain gutters in favour of inboard rails in the roof pressing.

The Verona was offered with the choice of Ford 1.6-litre or VW 1.8-litre engines, both offered in either petrol or ethanol variants. The Apollo was marketed as a more sporting and upmarket car than the Verona, with (only) the larger engine, stiffer suspension and revised gear ratios. It also had a different, higher quality VW-designed dashboard.

Both cars would remain on the market for just three years. The Verona was replaced by a version of the Ford Orion Mk3, also badged Verona. This time there were no changes to the Orion’s four-door saloon body, but the Verona Mk2 was powered by VW 1.8 and 2.0-litre engines.

The Ford Versailles was launched in 1992. It was a VW Santana with different front and rear ends and D-pillar treatment. The Santana’s vertical front grille and headlamps were replaced with a sloping, faired-in front end. At the rear, one improvement over the Santana was a boot lid opening that extended down to bumper level. In a rather misguided attempt to distinguish the Versailles further from the Santana, the B, C and D-pillars were painted black. Instead of the desired ‘floating roof’ look, this treatment merely served to highlight the awkward junction at the base of the D-pillar.

1993 Ford Versailles. Image: car.blog.br

The Versailles was available in two and four-door saloon variants. There was also an estate version that carried the suffix Royale, based on the (already superseded) VW Passat B2, but initially with only three doors rather than the Passat estate’s five. A five-door version was added in 1995. The Versailles and Royale were phased out in 1996.

The 1993 VW Logus was a two-door saloon/coupé, based on the Orion Mk3, but with a sleeker profile incorporating contemporary VW design motifs. It was designed by carrozzeria Ghia in Italy under the direction of Volkswagen do Brasil’s Luis Alberto Veiga. No external body panels were shared with the Ford original.

At first glance, the 1994 VW Pointer might appear to be an Escort Mk5 with its bustle-back rear end carelessly chopped off but, in reality, every external body panel was new(2). The Escort’s subtly flared front and rear wings were replaced by conventional round wheel arches. The fixed rear quarter windows now covered the C-pillars and were larger and more angular, with a noticeably upswept lower edge. The tailgate had a full-width rear window covering its frame and a neat integral rear spoiler.

1993 VW Logus. Image: motortudo.com

The Logus and Pointer featured a front end similar to the contemporary Volkswagen Santana, with slim rectangular headlights and outboard indicators flanking a shallow grille. Inside, there was a VW-style dashboard similar to that in the 1992 Golf Mk3. Both cars were fitted with Volkswagen 1.8 and 2.0-litre engines.

It is a moot point as to whether or not the Logus and Pointer were, in design terms, improvements over the cars on which they were based, but at least they avoided that mutant look that afflicted some other repurposed models sold in the so-called developing markets. The Pointer in particular is strangely appealing to these eyes, being rather more attractive than the dreary Escort on which it is based, while also vaguely resembling the original 1995 Renault Megane, for some reason!(3)

The Logus and Pointer remained in production until 1997, by which time the AutoLatina joint venture had been dissolved, having failed to arrest the decline in either partner’s market share. It was also made obsolete by a relaxation of restrictions on imported motor vehicles, allowing Ford and Volkswagen to compete directly.

(1) Which carried the suffix Sapphire in the UK and Ireland.

(2) Note the position of the door handles, below the indented groove along the flanks. On the Escort and Orion, they are positioned immediately above the groove.

(3) It is the shape of the tail lights, the bodyside groove and rather beetle-backed appearance in the rear three-quarter view that does it, I think.

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

19 thoughts on “Latin Escorts”

  1. Good morning, Daniel. What a weird set of cars you brought this morning. All new to me. Not sure what to make of them. Seems to me Fords and Vee Dubs don’t mix, but the sales figures might be a better judge than my personal taste, or lack thereof.

    The name Pointer seems rather odd to me as well. I expect an extreme wedge shape with a name like that. Here’s another shot of the Pointer, surely not its best angle.

    1. The Pointer has a “Corrado” flavour, which I find appealing.

    2. That picture reminds me of a mid-90s Corolla, although it might just be the camera angle. I can see the Mégane in it, too.

      The Pointer appears to have evolved in to something like the Volkswagen Gol which, in turn, looks a lot like a Polo. It’s all really confusing.

  2. Thank you Daniel for explaining exactly what all these are. These used to baffle me on trips to Brazil in the early 00s when I would see all of them fairly regularly.

  3. They had mostly died out by the time I was travelling to Brazil in the early 2010s. I suspect they were not much loved, although North Eastern Brazil is a hard environment on cars. There was a guy selling exhausted cars from the car park of my then girlfriend’s apartment block. I do recall his having a Verona in stock on one occasion. Public transport in Brazil is gruelling, but still looked a better option…

  4. I think the Versailles had worked better with a forward cantilevered roof instead of a floating roof, a la the Rover 800. Blacked out A,B, and C-pillars with a body-coloured D-pillar/sail panel following the roof to the trunk. Perhaps if the trunk was bisected by a crease following the bottom of the DLO going all the way back to the light cluster? What makes the design really fuzzy is the front and especially rear quarter lights. VW was really into quarter lights and only deleted them on the Golf beginning in 1990. Audi could make do without them on the B2 Audi 80 that was built on the same platform, therefore it isn’t out of the question to have them deleted on this one as well.

  5. Hi Daniel, lovely exposition on some decently turned out Frankencars. I know Br(rr)uno did an article on the car models with the longest “foreign” careers that featured the Santana, but surely it would also feature in an article about the most widespread car model, form South America to China, the Santana has seen many variants – there’s a Covid joke in there somewhere, but Covid isn’t really a laughing matter.

    To me, the DLO of the – indeed quite palatable – Pointer (sister?) has similarities to the Opel Vectra, although I’m not sure whether it’s the A or B generation (that would be the Vauxhall Cavalier MkIII or Vectra MkI, respectively, in the UK):


    These do have bustle-backs of course. With that in mind, you could squint and see an alternative-reality Opel/Vauxhall Astra in the Pointer. From the rear (Freerk’s picture), though, you can certainly see the similarity to the Mégane.

    And, a propos of nothing, here’s the Pointer Sisters:

  6. There’s definitely a bit of a BMW E30 look about the Verona / Apollo, which I suspect was deliberate, even if not many 3-Series were around in Brazil and Argentina at the time.

    The 1.6 litre Ford engine referred to has an interesting history, having started out as a 1289cc locally-made Renault Cléon for the Renault 12 derived Corcel, itself an enduring product of the Willys-Overland do Brasil era.

    Under Ford’s management, the engine was eventually bored and stroked to 1555cc and renamed CHT in 1983 to mark a major reworking of the cylinder head, although valves were still pushrod operated. Production continued until 1997, when it was replaced by more modern Ford and VW engines.

  7. Hello all and thanks for your comments. Sadly, I was unable to find any reliable information regarding the dynamic qualities of the Pointer and Logus compared with the Escort and Orion on which they were based. I wonder if they were any better ?

    Ingvar, the B2 Audi 80 did without quarter windows as you say but, as a consequence, the rear door glass would only wind down about half way. It was a perfectly reasonable compromise, but VW went the other way with the Passat and Santana.

    1. Hi, Daniel. Greetings from a brazilian reader. I couldn’t find much information, other than this 2019 article from our Quatro Rodas magazine, named like the italian Quattroruote, about their Logus reviews back in the 1990’s. I’m giving a loose translation, pardon for my english writing: “‘In the first test, the GLS 1.8 shines in comfort and sofistication, but lacks in performance’, wrote the first test of the model, on the march 1993 edition. Disposition was something for the AP-2000 engine, brought by the Pointer in the second semester. It did 0-100km/h in 13,96 seconds, against 12,28 from the Kadett SL/E previously tested. Running from 40-100km/h took 27,10 seconds (…). Logus impressed with its driving position, complete dashbord with well-positioned controls and easy shifts gearbox”. In the following lines, they wrote these test results: CL 1.6 petrol version marks 0-100km/h in 16,48 seconds, top speed of 156,9km/h ; CL 1.6 ethanol version marks 0-100km/h in 14,61 seconds, top speed of 162,4km/h; GLS 2.0 (carburated), 106hp gas or 113hp ethanol: 0-100km/h in 11,88 seconds, top speed of 186,4km/h; GLS 2.0 (later models, when they started using fuel injection): top speed of 194,2 km/h. Front brakes had a tendency to lock up, especially in the wet. A total of 125.332 units were made, and production ended in december 1996 due to the end of the Autolatina joint-venture. Final veredict from the journalists: “Leaning more to the Fords comfort then the Volkswagens disposition, the harmony sugested by the Logus name took a long time to be achieved, and only in the superior versions” (https://quatrorodas.abril.com.br/noticias/grandes-brasileiros-volkswagen-logus/). As I was a child back then, I’m afraid I can’t help much with personal input about these cars. However, I do get the impression that the “nail in the coffin” was the new currency implemented in Brazil in 1994 (Real), which was strong enough to make the far superior Golf, imported from Mexico and Germany (depending on the version), very close in price.

    2. Hello Bruno and welcome to DTW! Thank you for sharing that information regarding the Logus, which is very helpful. 🙂

      Judging by those numbers, its performance certainly was not impressive. The Escort and Orion were not good starting points for the Pointer and Logus, so it’s hardly surprising that they were just ok, but not brilliant. The whole Autolatina venture was not a success.

    1. That’s well observed, boarezina:

      How did I miss that resemblance? 😨

      The Astra F predated the Pointer by three years, so could well have been influential on its styling.

    2. There’s a bit of Kia Avella / Ford Aspire about it too:

  8. I stumble upon these strange South American cars from time to time in Croatia, where I live. I saw an estate version of a Corsa B once in Zagreb, I didn’t even know that existed. There was a Fiat Palio in my hometown in Kutina, as well as a Fiat Duna in my old neighourhood, that I got so much used to that I was surprised when I found out it wasn’t even a European model. I think I even once saw a Fiat 147 Panorama in my mothers hometown, close to the Hungarian border. Weird.

    1. You’re not imagining these, but they were all officially imported into Europe.

      The Corsa B wagon – sourced from Argentina – was sold in Italy. The Duna was sold there too, both as a Fiat and an Innocenti. The Palios were probably Turkish built, and were sold in Italy and a number of eastern European countries, mainly in the Weekend wagon form as there was no direct equivalent in the mainstream European Fiat range. The 147 Panorama was also exported to Europe from Brazil, usually with the FIASA diesel engine.

  9. Apropos of nothing in particular save unlikely Latin American imports, a Romanian colleague of mine once told me that the region’s wildly melodramatic telenovelas were very popular in her home country in the early nineties. They apparently provided wonderful (and much needed) escapism after the greyness of the Ceaucescu years.

  10. Regarding Freerk’s “Fords and Vee Dubs don’t mix”, I was reminded of the Galaxy / Sharan venture. At the time I thought that they deliberately choose a very nondescript and flabby shape in order to not remind anyone too much of Ford or VW. Thus, with the right badges and light graphics, it could be made into a halfway credible example for each marque.

  11. In the early nineties (’91 or 92) my dad bought brand new VW Apollo. Although it was a downgrade for our family (coming from a VW Quantum, a Mk2 Passat Variant in Europe, I guess), I loved the car thoroughly, as a young enthusiast, and was thrilled as how beautiful it was (remember, the Brazillian market by then was closed to imported cars) and by its sporting rear boot spoiler (a lip, actually) that differentiated it from its Ford brother, the Verona.

    Beyond the boot lip, the Apollo also had darkened and extended rear lights, a gray-ish contour to the bumpers and DLO, and had fog lights from the base version. That boot spoiler meant to me it was a sportscar, and that’s all that mattered.

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