Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Volkswagen-based Polauto coupé-utility with the rare regular cab

A vehicle which used to be quite common in my hometown Porto Alegre, exactly where it was also made by the way, the Polauto had a fiberglass body assembled over Volkswagen rear-engined Typ1 or Typ3 frames, mostly sourced from second-hand vehicles such as Beetles, Brasílias or Variants, more often the Beetle or the Brasília also reflecting the need for a higher loading deck in order to clear the cooling fan housing. The coupé-utility had its appreciation not only because such segment was consolidated in Brazil between the late-'70s and early-'80s, but also due to a lack of competition within the local market as imports were nearly impossible from '76 to '90, and the José Sarney presidential term from '85 to '90 was plagued by controversial economic plans which failed, including an extra tax paid yearly which only commercial vehicles such as pick-up trucks were granted an exemption.
Access to the engine bay was provided only through a hatch on the loading bay floor, not exactly the most convenient one, and having only the rear wheel wells for air intake and cooling was also quite a matter of concern, no wonder it's so unusual to find a Polauto without any additional air inlet or outlet for the engine bay. Another unusual feature of this Polauto is the regular cab, actually the first one with this bodystyle that I have ever seen, even though the crew-cab model used to be quite popular and some were roaming around until a few years ago in Porto Alegre.
As it used to be made in a rather low volume and more oriented toward final customers who would use it as a private/familiar car, a much larger amount had the crew-cab, still with only 2 doors because it's Brazil and in the '80s the stereotypes about 4-door cars would drop their resale value. Trying to understand the Brazilian car market and its dynamics is frankly a challenge, and models such as the Polauto are there to remind how it used to be eventually harder to explain to a foreigner why some folks would rather get a fiberglass kit car instead of refurbishing a rusty Beetle, not to mention an older beaten frame donor car would appreciate in resale value after being converted back in the day.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Would an Opel Corsa B still be a good runabout?

A car which used to be praised for how modern it was when it was introduced to the Brazilian market, yet with an austerity level unmatched by any modern contender to the "people's car" segment in Brazil, the Opel Corsa B might be on its way to become an icon, to some extent even comparable to the good old Volkswagen Beetle, even though some folks might assume I'm a sinner for saying so. But anyway, would it still be a reasonable option for a runabout?

Don't expect so many airbags and crumple zones as in most modern cars, just look at it as "better than soaking under the rain on a motorcycle" if you want so. Not even ABS brakes were a popular option back in the day, even though those could technically be retrofitted, but most people looking for an Opel Corsa B simply as an affordable commuter won't even care about it, especially in a country such as my homeland Brazil.

Some replacement parts at least matching the quality of the original ones might not be so easy to find anymore, but it's still not so much demanding when it comes to maintenance. And when taken proper care of, its engines are going to last long.

Another aspect worth mentioning is the Opel Corsa B was still small, in contrast to newer generations of "small" cars which are bigger than some cars that used to be seen as large 30 years ago. For someone willing to use one as an urban commuter, the compact size and ease of maneuvering on tight spaces is a good motivation to at least lurk about how good an Opel Corsa B might still be.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Mercedes-Benz AGL/Bulldog/Bubble-nose truck with a roof-mounted air conditioner

It might look quite difficult to retrofit some comfort features into older vehicles, such as air conditioning into a nearly 50 years-old truck, but this '77 Brazilian Mercedes-Benz L-1513 with an updated front fascia got a roof-mounted air conditioner. At a first glance it could look just like those swamp-coolers which are still quite common among Brazilian truckers, but the increased height rendered it quite noticeable, just like the air intakes for the condenser and the "ar condicionado" decal. 

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Peugeot Partner Rapid, another rebadge of the Brazilian 3rd-generation Fiat Fiorino

It's well known that some brands within the Stellantis holding have a better positioning outside Brazil than Fiat, so the Brazilian Fiat Fiorino had already been exported as part of the Ram range for regional markets, both as Ram Promaster Rapid or Ram V700 Rapid to Central America and even parts of South America where the brands formerly tied to Chrysler prior to the merge with Fiat used to have a stronger foothold. And even though Fiat seems to be good enough for Brazil, another rebadge had to be done for the local market, so the Fiorino had another rebadge in order to satisfy Peugeot dealers due to the earlier generation of the Peugeot Partner previously imported from Argentina being phased out as the emission regulations became stricter in Brazil in 2022. Economics of scale ended up dictating another rebadge of the Fiorino being easier than improving the first-generation Peugeot Partner, and so that was an obvious choice, just like other vans with heavier GVWRs and higher passenger capacity are offered as Peugeot, Citroën and Fiat simultaneously.

Powertrain remains much the same good old Fiat Fire Evo 1.4L engine, in the flexfuel trim required by most customers in Brazil even though some never even use the pure ethanol available in the country, so it may eventually sound pointless at a first glance as Peugeot dealers would eventually have to also get parts for a Fiat engine in stock, and the EC5 engine still fitted to the Argentinian Partner is also used in some Peugeot and Citroën cars and SUVs in Brazil. On the other hand the Fire engine is often reported as quite dumbproof, so naturally it's a favorite among Brazilian commercial operators, no wonder it was much welcomed by some who were already served by Peugeot dealers. Just like the Ram rebadges for other Latin American countries, maybe another market opportunity for the Peugeot Partner Rapid could be there in French-speaking African countries, as it's technically simpler than the European models and Peugeot tends to have a better reputation in Africa than Fiat in general.

Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Humvee with externally-mounted air conditioner condenser

Seeing a Humvee in my hometown is not exactly so common, but recently I have seen it more often than I could ever guess. I have already seen a green one and this tan, both with the naturally-aspirated 6.2L Detroit Diesel V8 engine, and the same soft-top crew-cab pick-up truck bodystyle too. But only the tan one had a modification that caught my attention at a first glance, as it was adapted with an air conditioner, with the condenser placed in a position that may seem unexpected to say the least. Placed right behind the cab, on the cargo deck, it's easily noticeable. The location and power provision for the compressor are unknown to me, just like the evaporator box type and its location inside the cab. I'm also not so sure if the canvas top and doors are insulated and airtight enough for a regular vapour-cycle air conditioner to be so efficient at all, in contrast to other devices such as an air-cycling machine like the ones fitted to jet-engined aircraft or even a swamp-cooler which is still quite usual on commercial trucks in Brazil.

Friday, December 02, 2022

Brazilian Honda CG 150 of the 7th and 8th generations converted from EFI to carburettor

Even though electronic fuel injection became favored in Brazil even on motorcycles, with the Honda CG featuring it since 2009 on some versions, and flexfuel ability since 2010 for the CG 150, it's still quite common to find people who are diehard carburettor endorsers, and go as far as getting rid of the EFI and revert to a carburettor even in a motorcycle factory-fitted with EFI. The 7th generation was the very first to feature EFI for the 150cc versions, while the 125 retained the carburettor, so it was quite surprising for me to see the one above which was originally a 150 fitted with the carburettor-fed 125 engine, notable not only for the carburettor but also for the position of the catalytic converter.

The short-lived 8th generation which ran from 2014 to 2016 retained the carburettor only for the 125 while the 150 always featured EFI at least in Brazil, before the 150 was phased out and a 160 engine was introduced for the 9th generation. As the 6th generation still had a carburettor with the 150 engine, it was quite a straightforward makeshift for those who would rather get rid of the EFI in a newer one such as the one above which is of the 8th generation. As if converting to a carburettor was not enough, this one also had the battery removed.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Another Brazilian Bricknose Ford with a local aftermarket cabin

There were times when a crew-cab, or even an extended-cab, were not available for the Brazilian trucks as a factory option, so it was quite common to outsource from some cottage-industry that flourished from the '70s to the '90s, and started to decline well after the Japanese changed the landscape of the local truck market with crew-cabs. A good example of such trend is this Bricknose Ford F-1000, which is some sort of F-250 with the short bed of the F-150. Restrictions against the registration of cars with a Diesel engine have also increased the demand for such conversions, as an option when full-size luxury cars were also not so easily available around the '70s and '80s due to import restrictions in order to keep local Dollar reserves to pay for the import of other items which would be deemed more essential than a random landyacht. Even though these conversions started to fall out of favor in the '90s, because of the availability of imported crew-cab Japanese trucks and the SUV trend which started to emerge within the same timeframe, in certain regions with a more conservative car buying pattern a considerable demand was retained. A reasonable amount of models from the '90s, such as this Bricknose Ford, can still be seen roaming around my hometown.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Prerunner-inspired Jeep Cherokee XJ?

The reinforced front bumper, the wider track (yet not so extreme), reminded me somehow a prerunner when I spotted this '97-'98 Jeep Cherokee. Retaining the 4-wheel drive and a solid front axle on the other hand, are features which tend to be unusual for prerunners in general, and so are the snorkel and the winch as far as I know.
Suspension travel also doesn't seem to be so extreme as in most prerunners, but that front bumper... It's hard to not think of a prerunner while looking at it, seemingly providing an outstanding approach angle.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Would the Volkswagen T2 "bus" still have a sustainable market-share in Brazil if it had received ABS brakes?

Needless to say the Volkswagen Type 2 van became an icon, not only among the most versatile vehicles but also culturally due to its influence, and in Brazil it soldiered on until late-2013 when updated safety regulations dictated that every new car or commercial vehicle should have ABS brakes, and dual airbag for new cars and some utilitarian vehicles according to their rated payload or passenger capacities if not fitted with dual-range 4-wheel drive. With its last iteration actually having some versions eligible for an exemption from the airbag rule, such as the panel van based on payload while a 15-seater school shuttle (escolar) and a 12-seater share-taxi (lotação) are registered as a bus in Brazil, the fitment of ABS brakes could render it still legal for Volkswagen to extend the production of the Kombi even further, even if the 9-seater Standard trim (which was the only passenger version that holders of a regular car driver license in Brazil can legally drive) would have to be phased out. Sure a panel van would be enough for many of the private buyers who get a T2 to convert into a campervan, while for most commercial operators who still opted for a Kombi the versions with a higher seating capacity made more sense.

Commercial vehicle buyers in Brazil tend to have a much conservative profile, so the Kombi had its fair share of suitability to the preferences of many operators, while its size was still more convenient on city traffic than some newer vans and trucks and a rear weight bias favored its cross-country ability without the expense of 4-wheel drive, which is an unusual feature for vans in Brazil anyway. Sure stricter safety and emission regulations would render it harder to keep the T2 up-to-date, such as the recently-enforced evaporative emission rules implemented this year, following the American standard instead of European and dictating the end of the supplemental gasoline tank which served as a cold-starting aid for flexfuel cars in Brazil, which the Kombi retained since the first dedicated-ethanol versions. Seemingly outdated, yet still beloved by operators who keep their Kombis operating instead of switching to newer vans with more safety and comfort features, the Kombi still had a quite sustainable demand in Brazil and little to no investment on advertising since the late-'90s, so most likely it would retain its market share if it had received ABS brakes once they became mandatory.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Coachbuilt full-size Brazilian Chevrolet square-body truck from the late-'80s

Brazilian car market has its fair share of makeshift models, with region-specific features sometimes not finding anything similar elsewhere, and it used to be that way for a quite long time since motor industry became consolidated at a first time in São Paulo state in the '50s, even though some companies such as GM had CKD assembly plants prior to that. General Motors for instance, started officially its Brazilian operation in 1925, having started to increase local content of its commercial vehicles range in 1934 and making the first Brazilian Chevrolet truck with a Brazilian-made engine in 1957 when the operations at the São José dos Campos plant started. That plant still makes trucks as of 2022, even though Brazilian production of full-size pick-up trucks and medium-duty commercial trucks came to an end in late-2001, yet old models such as the D20 which is basically a Perkins Diesel-powered Brazilian equivalent to the American square-body C20 are still a common sight, sometimes with extensive modifications including double-cab conversions meant to address both the lack of this option for professional operators and the restrictions against imported cars from 1976 to 1990 prompting wealthy Brazilians to consider choosing a full-size truck which could be upfitted in a way quite similar to the American "conversion vans".
It's worth to notice the Brazilian truck range used to have a much slower evolution than its counterparts from the United States, or even from neighboring countries which in fact relied on a considerably larger amount of imported parts often including most of the body panels, and a more work-oriented profile of most truck buyers prompted not only GM to offer a much more austere range having fewer options as a factory-fit, which in turn provided opportunities for all sort of aftermarket suppliers. Even though there was the local Suburban equivalent named Veraneio, better known for its large market share both among police forces and other law-enforcemend agencies and as ambulance, it remained stylistically related to the 5th-generation Suburban and 1st-generation C/K from 1964 to 1989, while the trucks switched from the 1st-generation C-series to the 3rd-generation in 1985, so converting a D20 of the 1988 model-year into some sort of van like this one coachbuilt by Auto Renovadora Boff (ARB) in São Marcos city, Rio Grande do Sul state, made sense at all. On a sidenote, during José Sarney's presidential term there were fiscal advantages for trucks, and even the ones with a payload below one metric ton could be converted to run on Diesel fuel while such modification was forbidden (and much harder to circumvent) for cars.