Monday, October 04, 2021

Dina D9400, a Mexican rebadged International 9400

Just like other Latin American countries with an automotive industry which evolved from American and Canadian influences, Mexico had its fair share of rebadges due to brand strategies from the mainstream automakers and local joint-ventures. Diesel Nacional S.A., which is still among the biggest bus makers in Mexico, also manufactured trucks until 2001, and most of its truck range was based on International models corresponding to some American counterpart. That's the case of this Dina D-9400 Eagle, which is exactly the same as the International 9400, featuring even a Cummins N14 engine also license-made by Dina in Mexico.

Friday, October 01, 2021

Volkswagen Beetle and Opel Corsa B: two remarkable generations of "people's car" in contrast

It's undeniable the Volkswagen Type 1 Sedan had a significant role to define a "people's car" in so many countries where even the Ford Model T retained some sort of a "luxury" image, such as Brazil where the rear-engined rear-wheel drive configuration with all-around independent suspension rendered the Volkswagen a popular option among rural customers until mid-'80s. Locally refered in Brazil as Fusca, often portrayed in the '50s as somewhat revolutionary compared to the American full-size sedans which used to be the standard throughout Latin America, the cult status it achieved on a worldwide basis also reflects among Brazilian enthusiasts who may often not even really care about its utilitarian origins, to the extent of being ultimately more excited about the nostalgia aspect. Even the HoodRide/RatVolks derelict-looking style, mostly associated to the so-called "Cal-look" and often resorting to accessories which were not so usual in Brazil such as "Safari" windscreens and rear luggage racks, makes it easier to justify saving some otherwise underappreciated survivor Beetles from a scrapyard.

Another small car which had a noticeable role at the time of its release both in Brazil and Mexico, and a fierce competitor to the Beetle by the way, the Opel Corsa B was rebadged in Brazil as Chevrolet Corsa and in Mexico initially as Chevrolet Chevy. Even though its technique was quite austere in accordance to the European perspective in '93 when it arrived in Mexico initially imported from Spain and in '94 at the beginning of local production in Brazil, this model is noticeable for undeniably turning the "people's car" segment all-around, as the first real contender to the Mexican Beetle locally called "Vocho", and in Brazil its relevance as a world-class small car going as far as pioneering the electronic fuel injection for entry-level models. Eventually the Opel Corsa B may not reach a similar cult status as the Beetle, yet it had a comparable role in a time when the "people's car" concept in Brazil had already been highlighting the preferences of a more city-oriented customer base.

Monday, September 27, 2021

5 cars I would eventually consider to fit a souped-up reproduction of a Ford Model T engine

Widely praised as one of the first "people's cars" to reach a commercial success, with its production run extending from September 27, 1908 to May 26, 1927, the Ford Model T was originally powered by a 2.9L side-valve 4-cylinder engine with some features that rendered it quite noticeable. Among others, a 2-speed transmission with planetary gearsets and fully integrated to the engine assembly, just like it's now standard for the motorcycle industry, and the ignition relying on a flywheel-mounted magneto also resembling the setup fitted to modern motorcycles and better suited to rough environmental conditions than some other ignition systems which relied on a distributor. In spite of the modest performance with a power rating of only 20hp at 1600 RPM while the torque was 83lb.ft./112.5Nm at 900 RPM, there are some upgraded replacement parts still available through specialist suppliers, rendering it even possible to enable a Ford Model T engine reaching speeds more comfortable to some modern driving conditions than the most frequent claims of a 45 MPH/70 km/h top speed. It's also worth to remind the Ford Model T engine not only outlived the production run of the car it was originally intended to, soldiering on until August 4, 1941, outlasting 3 generations of "full-size Ford" replacements for the Model T, so maybe it's not so exaggerated to consider how an eventual reproduction of this engine fitted with improved performance parts can be suitable to other vehicles, of which I would actually consider at least 5 as eligible to this approach.

1 - Jeep CJ-5: possibly the closest to an austerity comparable to the Ford Model T around '83 in Brazil and the United States, the CJ-5 had many different engine options throughout its production run which took place in many countries, and at least in Argentina it featured a 2.5L Kaiser Continental L-151 side-valve engine until '78 with option for either a 6.86:1 low compression ratio or a 7.3:1 standard. As most of the high-compression cylinder heads meant to the Model T feature a 6:1 compression ratio, and some go even further into 8:1 which could even withstand to a CNG conversion better than stock Argentinian engines, this would already be a good starting point in favor of what could be seen at first as "outdated". Sure other improvements would be desirable, maybe a stroker crankshaft and a higher-lift camshaft, and as far as off-road performance goes it's worth to remind the dual-range transfer case featured on a 4WD Jeep, which on low-range may be comparable to the Ruckstell 2-speed axle which used to be offered as an aftermarket improvement to the cross-country abilities of the Ford Model T;

2 - Ford Maverick: the Brazilian 6-cylinder versions were fitted with the Willys Hurricane engine instead of the same Thriftpower Six of their American counterparts, because Ford was definitely out of pace when it comes to engine offerings in Brazil. Even though a Model T engine would be very unlikely to become an actual improvement, neither stock or with some old-school performance upgrades developed around the earlier days of hot-rodding, it would be quite tempting to do in jest for Ford and the management of its Brazilian branch;

3 - Lada Laika: this would be definitely odd, one of the engines which became more relevant to define what the so-called American Way of Life evolved into, fitted to a Fiat derivative originated in the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Well, considering the engine of the Ford Model T's direct replacement had been made under license in the early days of the Russian motor industry still under the Soviet Union, it may not be so hard to explain why such an engine swap which could spark a diplomatic incident would be interesting as a matter of curiosity;

4 - Gurgel Carajás: this Brazilian SUV from the '80s resorted to a Volkswagen powertrain, adjusted to allow the fitment of the engine at the front with a rear transaxle. Considering the Ford Model T used to be highlighted for its off-road performance even though it also only resorted to rear-wheel drive, maybe an upgraded copy of its engine would be interesting to see fitted to a Gurgel Carajás, even though it had a milder off-road capability compared to its smaller rear-engined predecessors;

5 - Simca Vedette/Chambord: actually based on Ford designs, even featuring versions of the Flathead V8, maybe this is among the least strange options to try fitting an upgraded Model T engine. As the V8 fitted to the Simca Vedette ranged from 2.2L to 2.4L displacement, and the bigger variant being the only one fitted during the extended production run of the Simca Chambord in Brazil, an attempt to replace it would be presumably met with fewer objections than a similar attempt considering the larger variants of the Ford Flathead V8 which were featured on full-size Ford until '53 (or '54 in Australia). Definitely it would be worth to increase the compression ratio and a higher-lift camshaft if a Model T engine could be swapped into a Simca Chambord, eventually reaching power ratings closer to the 2.2L Aquillon V8, yet at a much lower RPM.

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

How could an attempt to develop a "people's car" such as the Brazilian Gurgel Supermini remain relevant to this day?

Among the attempts of Brazilian engineer João Augusto Conrado do Amaral Gurgel to develop a car that would cater to both the urban and rural markets, the Gurgel Supermini is noticeable for being the last Gurgel-branded vehicle before some Chinese tricycles were badged as such by a local importer. It's worth to notice the Supermini, despite being quite crude, effectively had a reasonable balance between a size convenient for city traffic while retaining a reasonable performance on rougher terrain conditions still often found in the countryside, to which the rear-wheel drive and 50-50 weight bias (unloaded and with the stock flat-twin engine) were essential. And unlike some modern city-car proposals, which under false premises of "sustainability" end up bigger yet less capable of coping with some actual needs of customers looking for an entry-level car often supposed to serve as the only motor vehicle within the household, the Gurgel Supermini was still meant to be an all-around runabout instead of turning "urban mobility" into an excuse to charge more for a larger SUV in order to overcome more recent issues such as range-anxiety.

Before dirty political tricks pulled Gurgel out of the market in the '90s, there were ambitious plans to increase its marketing presence even to countries not only far from Brazil but also with more substantial differences such as Indonesia which had previously been a destination for exports from the Brazilian branch of Volkswagen. And unlike the former Soviet Union which relied on technology transfer from Fiat to enable a local manufacturing of affordable cars, or even China which holds a total disregard for any intellectual property from foreign companies and still practices a dishonest competition through the dumping of low-quality copies of mostly ancient Japanese vehicles, it would be totally unfair to forget that Amaral Gurgel had been looking forward to develop proprietary automotive technology while most "people's car" projects in other countries seen as poor relied mostly on foreign technical assistance from automakers based on a richer country ending up not always being so considerate about specific regional conditions and needs. Despite some amount of parts interchangeability with mainstream cars made in Brazil, it doesn't make much sense to belittle the work and legacy of João Augusto Conrado do Amaral Gurgel as it's often done by local sellouts who would be glad to become a slave for the dirty Chinese communists.

Thursday, September 02, 2021

Ford Model T and Volkswagen Beetle, the strongest contenders for "Car of the 20th Century" nomination

One of the most controversial topics among vintage car enthusiasts is what car really deserves being the "Car of the 20th Century", and the most reminded contenders are the Ford Model T and the Volkswagen Beetle. A lot of topics can be raised in order to sustain an opinion more favorable to each model, even entering a political argument sometimes. Both models had remarkable features of their own, and were technically subjected to fewer conceptual changes, leading to either earlier or later examples of each to remain quite easily recognisable.

Regarding the Ford Model T, one of its most noticeable cultural impacts was a lack of choice for colors once the assembly-line manufacturing method was incorporated into Ford's routine, with black paint set as the standard due to its quicker drying compared to other colors. This also favored the assembly from CKD sets in overseas assembly plants in a total of 12 countries other than the United States and Canada, as most of the parts requiring painting could be shipped already painted from either the Highland Park factory for most of the assembly lines abroad or Ford of Canada which provided duty-free access to the British Commonwealth. Made from 1908 to 1927, the Ford Model T clearly motorized the United States and became an icon of what would later be defined as the American middle-class, as it has effectively turned the car an achievable dream in that market, addressing simultaneously the needs of both urban and rural customers.
Having been designed in a time when fewer standards were consolidated regarding the driver's interface reflected in a rather unconventional layout, with handles at the steering collumn controlling the ignition timing and the throttle, a pedal-operated 2-speed transmission which nowadays could be mentioned as semi-automatic, pedal-operated service brake actuating on the transmission, and the parking brake lever to actuate the drums mounted at the rear wheels also providing an effect analogue to a clutch. When the Model T was ultimately phased out, there were customers so used to such configuration to the point of buying at least one of the latest examples in fear of not becoming familiar with other models featuring a cockpit layout more related to the present-day standards. Even though it's possible to point out how the semi-automatic transmission could lead to a smoothier transition for those who only drove a Model T as they tried other cars, even Henry Ford relutactly prefered to cease the production and to invest on the development of a replacement which moved away from this setup.
Among other features such as its large-diameter wheels, the narrow RPM range and ability of its engine to operate on lower-grade fuels which even included kerosene and corn-based "moonshine" ethanol that could be locally brewed by farmers, sometimes it becomes actually easier to relate the Ford Model T to an agricultural tractor than to a modern car or SUV. The lever-operated throttle is even more suitable to the operating conditions of farm machinery, which tend to go for extended periods at lower speeds and a continuous engine speed, to the point that for such applications and some tactical military vehicles it remains a common feature along the regular throttle pedal. While some could argue the hand throttle is capable of providing some relief for the driver on cruising speed, and the adaptative cruise control often found on modern vehicles ultimately being comparable to some extent, the substantially lower cruising speed of a Ford Model T compared to other generations of what became described as a "people's car" is another reason why the unconventional cockpit may be better related to a tractor or combine harvester.
Sure the front-engine layout provided a greater flexibility to the development of body variations to the Ford Model T, and even some modern pick-up trucks retain a conceptually similar chassis and driveline layout despite technical evolutions which are quite obvious. On the other hand, the Volkswagen Beetle with a rear-engine configuration could seem at a first glance much harder to provide the underpinnings for so many derivatives throughout a production extended from 1938 to 2003, even though production until 1945 at the Fallersleben (now Wolfsburg) plant was redirected to supply Nazi Germany as WWII was on course. The remarkable work of the British military interventor Major Ivan Hirst ultimately led Volkswagen to a rebirth from the wreckage of its first factory, and ultimately the Beetle got a foothold on international markets which resulted on its assembly with different percentages of local content in 15 countries other than Germany.
While the most remarkable overseas facilities where the Beetle was manufactured are located in Brazil, Mexico and South Africa and Volkswagen retains a solid output in these countries, even in Australia the model which had CKD assembly starting in 1954 reached almost 95% local content around 1965 until being phased out there in 1976. Competition from then-modern Japanese economy cars starting in the 1970s became a threat, yet the renowned ruggedness of the Beetle's underpinnings remained a valuable asset in Brazil and Mexico where a sustainable demand justified full-volume production to continue for a longer time. A conservative buying pattern also favored the inherently utilitarian design of the Beetle among Brazilian customers from rural areas, who praised the cross-country capabilities unmatched by most modern vehicles within a similar size and displacement bracket as long as they also don't feature an expensive 4-wheel drive system.
Naturally, as the Beetle is both valued as a cultural icon by some and praised as a reliable runabout by others, some features mismatching the actual year-model of examples still roaming around the traffic are quite usual to spot on the wild, including split-window conversions on later models in contrast to all the individual attempts to apply a more modern appearance to their earlier counterparts. Retaining the very same basic design which renders a Beetle easily recognisable as such regardless of the year-model makes it quite easy to mismatch body panels, either intentionally or just to use whatever replacements are available to keep a daily-driver up to regular operating conditions. Despite having faced competition from motorcycles to nearly every "people's car" design from mid-1940s to late-1970s, preserving most of the technical and stylistic features is a good reason why the Volkswagen Beetle may be justifiable as more deserving of a "Car of the 20th Century" nomination, just like the higher volume of local content on most countries where an assembly plant was implemented.
Also noteworthy is the production run of the Beetle in Brazil, where the CKD assembly started in 1953 evolved to local production still with 40% German parts in 1959 and reaching 99.93% of Brazilian parts in mid-1960s. With local production soldiering on until 1986, and CKD exports for assembly in Nigeria lasting until 1987, a reintroduction to the Brazilian market from late-1993 to mid-1996 with a special arrangement to make the Beetle eligible for "people's car" incentives despite retaining the air-cooled 1.6L engine while contenders with a more contemporary design and liquid-cooled engines were limited to a 1.0L maximum displacement. The so-called "Fusca Itamar", honoring the popular name given to the Beetle in Brazil and the former Brazilian president Itamar Franco who supported the reintroduction, already gives a clue on how a seemingly "outdated" model turned into a cultural icon to the extent of remaining relevant as the benchmark for an entire class of eventual attempts to provide a replacement.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Why is the Honda Pop still relevant in Brazil?

Released in late-2006 as a response to some Chinese dumping in the Brazilian entry-level motorcycles market, the Honda Pop became an unlikely success among buyers with a more conservative mindset who valued the perceived reliability of Honda over all the bells and whistles featured on Chinese copies of the Honda CG 125 which often retailed for less. Essentially meant to be an urban commuter with a total cost of ownership rendering it competitive to public transport in most cities, the Honda Pop would soon find acceptance among both urban and rural customers, even though the small fuel tank is not the best for long-distance routes and neither is the top speed so comfortable to cruise on the highway. But it's easy to understand why the Honda Pop retains its foothold in a market so complex as Brazil.
From the early carburettor-fed Pop 100 to the release of the fuel-injected Pop 110i which is soldiering on since 2015, the ease of maintenance is still a valuable asset, even though featuring mechanical drum brakes all-around and a kick-starter may render it too crude in the eyes of those who seem to live in a Netflix-ish bubble and don't actually need to go downstairs from their apartments and take a quick look at the motorcycle of the guy who rides one to deliver for Uber Eats, SpoonRocket or any other similar delivery services. Even though the target customer for the Honda Pop was never actually a professional who relies on the motorcycle as a workhorse, it's undeniable the same proposal of a low TCO appeals to them the same way it does for individuals looking for the least-expensive option to taking the bus, and with fewer parts to require an inspection during routine maintenance there is at least in theory fewer downtime until it's ready to be pressed into service once again. Brazil is still undergoing recovery from the economical damage caused by the Chinese SARS-Cov outbreak, and there is seemingly a chance for the Honda Pop to get better recognition among some people who didn't fully understand its concept.
As many people are now fearing public transport due to a perceived much-higher risk of infection with the Chinese virus, a private motor vehicle seems more desirable even when budget dictates no more than a small motorcycle. While it may lack comfort and safety features easier to find either in a car or sometimes even in a more traditional motorcycle, and its top speed is still not inviting to take highways, the compact size and low weight renders the Honda Pop 110i a reasonable option for urban commuting as maneuvering through tight spaces and ease to find a parking spot are taken into account. Even when it doesn't become the main vehicle in the household, a small motorcycle may prove its value when some other vehicle faces a traffic restriction.
When it comes to Brazil, one of the most noticeable situations is the no-drive days schedule enforced in São Paulo, to which motorcycles are exempted regardless of other waivers to which a car may qualify. From an environmental standpoint, even though motorcycles are subjected to a less-stringent emissions standard than cars, the electronic fuel injection with technology similar to what is applied to a modern car featured in the Pop 110i narrowed this gap compared to the previous carburettor-fed Pop 100. While the air-cooling may also be often pointed out as somewhat detrimental to both emissions control and fuel-efficiency, the increased accuracy of a fuel injection shortens the so-called "cold phase" which always happens right after the start of the engine, also favoring the efficiency of the catalytic converter which had been fitted since 2009 when the fuel system still resorted to a carburettor. So, besides an ease to ride in space-constrained city environments regardless of traffic restrictions, for some people it's not hard to justify a Honda Pop even if it would be meant to ride just one day in the week.
While the Honda Pop also had its appeal among urban riders even in places perceived as "richer" such as my hometown Porto Alegre, it's worth to remind its foothold is much stronger in the regions North and Northeast (or Nordeste as we say in Portuguese). Sure there are still some folks in the capital cities of the Northeast states who live in the very same Netflix-ish bubble someone else may live in São Paulo or Porto Alegre for instance, but in small towns where motorcycles were turned into a more effective replacement for the donkey within the last 20 years it's impossible to deny the Honda Pop increased such move. So, even though it may look too crude in the eyes of many people, the Honda Pop is still relevant in Brazil for its own merits.

Monday, August 02, 2021

5 reasons why Yamaha could relaunch the XTZ 125 in Brazil

Introduced to the Brazilian market in 2002 while Yamaha was still moving away from its previous focus on 2-stroke engines for utilitarian motorcycles, the XTZ 125 was a successful model until being phased out locally in 2014, even though it's still available in neighboring countries such as Uruguay, Chile and Argentina. With a traditional enduro-themed design almost unaltered in nearly 20 years, which may be arguably pointed out as "outdated", having taken it out of catalog in Brazil was not the greatest move at all, yet the Yamaha XTZ 125 is effectively suitable to address some recently-arisen circumstances in the local motorcycle market, and it's possible to list at least 5 reasons why this model could be relaunched:

1 - Yamaha dirt-bike tradition in Brazil: there were times when it was easier to spot a dual-purpose than any street-oriented Yamaha, so a seemingly austere design of the XTZ 125 bearing a reminiscence to the glorious days of the DT-series can be still considered a valuable asset among conservative buyers;

2 - suitability to city traffic: with the long-travel suspensions providing a relatively smooth ride on the less-than-optimal conditions of the streets in many cities and their outskirts, and a great maneuverability on tight spaces, it's clear the XTZ 125 is at home with the daily usage pattern of many riders to whom a small-displacement motorcycle becomes an affordable option to address the commuting requirements;

3 - aptitude to the rough countryside riding conditions: customers from rural areas could be better served by the ruggedness of the Yamaha XTZ 125, and lower operating costs than comparable models within a larger displacement range could definitely increase its appeal to some people who previously would most likely avoid riding motorcycles at all;

4 - the need for more affordable motorcycles amid the economic recovery: after the outbreak of the Chinese virus did so much harm to the economy of so many countries, Brazil included, the demand for small-displacement motorcycles increased partially in response to the needs of many businesses which resorted to home delivery as a way to keep operating, also going further than the perception of them as a reasonable commuter to become a valuable working tool for people who lost their jobs amid the restrictions enforced at municipal and state levels which pushed the whole country to the verge of an economic collapse;

5 - political circumstances and a historical precedent: President Jair Bolsonaro is an enthusiast of motorcycles, with his excitement about them giving rise to the motorcades known as motociatas which gather millions of people supporting him, so maybe Yamaha could benefit from the way motorcycles have been recently highlighted by the media and relaunch the XTZ 125 in a comparable way to what Volkswagen did in '93 with the Beetle during Itamar Franco's presidential term.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Brazilian 6-door '72 Kombi Lotação

Not sure if this one specifically had actually been a taxi in my hometown Porto Alegre, but there were some before the "lotação" (jitney) share-taxi system switched to larger coachbuilt minibuses. Its current owner told me he inherited the Kombi from his deceased grandfather who has bought it brand-new. The left-hand passenger doors mirroring their right-hand counterparts seem to have rendered it easier for the Brazilian branch of Volkswagen to develop its export-only RHD models with mirror-image left-hand rear doors (unlike its German counterparts which simply had the right-hand rear doors assembled with an inverted opening pattern) meant for CKD assembly in South Africa (where the Brazilian Kombi and its cargo derivatives received locally-made 1600 engines in contrast to the 1500 which was fitted to the Brazilian-assembled units by then) and Indonesia, yet no RHD export market got the 6-door bodystyle on a regular basis. This one is a '72 with the Luxo trim, noticeable by the two-tone paintjob.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Drum brakes: eventually still better suited than disc brakes under some circumstances

Now mostly restricted to heavy commercial vehicles, drum brakes all-around are still valued by some operators who see them as more reliable under harsh environmental conditions, such as in agribusiness and forestry management for timber. With fewer exposure of some critical components to the weather and contaminants which could lead to damage, also often pointed out as less prone to physical damage, drum brakes are favored in heavy-duty trucks for other reasons, which include the pneumatic actuation being less prone to fading instead of the hydraulics found on most light-duty vehicles and the fitment of exhaust-brakes to Diesel engines reducing the burden over the service brakes on some routes. While it could sound better at first to move away from drums to all-around disc brakes, with the main advantage being a quicker cooling even under the hardest braking, it's also worth to remind drum brakes usually have a larger friction surface proportionately to the diameter, which is desirable on heavy trucks.

Among light-duty vehicles, now it's easier to find all-around drum brakes on motorcycles, even though it's now less common even in markets such as Brazil where motorcycles below 300cc are not mandated to feature ABS brakes yet. Unlike discs for which hydraulic actuation became mainstream, motorcycle brake drums are still mechanically-actuated either by cable on the front wheel or rod on the rear wheel, so with disc brakes being regarded as inherently "more prestigious" than drum brakes and motorcycles usually not featuring a parking brake there is basically no chance to incorporate hydraulic actuation to drum brakes meant for motorcycles only to make them compatible with ABS for instance. Surprisingly, the dual-purpose Honda Bros 160 nowadays relies on disc brakes all-around and is not available with drum brakes anymore, even though this setup could be better suited to some needs and preferences of many rural customers, while the Honda CG still resorts to this type of brakes for the entry-level Start version even though all the other trims now feature a front disc brake retaining the drum only to the rear wheel.
The very same lack of prestige which has rendered it not worth to develop hydraulic drum brakes for a motorcycle would not be a problem for other types of vehicles, such as pick-up trucks which became a status symbol among urban drivers instead of retaining their austere and mostly utilitarian origins. Even older models such as the Willys Jeep Pick-Up, which in Brazil soldiered on until '82 after the Brazilian branches of Willys-Overland and Ford merged, hydraulic brake systems were already mainstream, and the Jeep Pick-Up rebadged as Ford F-75 during its extended Brazilian production never got front disc brakes as a factory option, despite other light-duty trucks which were also made by Ford in Brazil being fitted with vented disc brakes in the front wheels and retaining the drum brakes only to the rear wheels. As nothing actually prevented the fitment of disc brakes, which are now a common retrofit to this and other traditional 4WD rigs among recreational drivers, possibly the F-75 being the only Ford truck with 4WD availability in Brazil at the time of its phaseout reflected a more conservative approach from rural customers who used to actually drive on harsh environments quite often.
While drum brakes all-around were not a problem for older pick-up trucks in the countryside, nowadays not even the most austere versions of their modern counterparts would be accepted by urban customers if they weren't fitted with discs at least upfront as a standard feature. A good example of such situation is the current generation of the Ford Ranger, fitted with discs all-around in the US-spec versions, while in most Latin American countries where it's sourced from Argentina it now retains the drums only in the rear-end, even though this seemingly "outdated" setup still has room for integration with modern safety features such as electronic traction and stability controls. It's also worth to point out drum brakes lead to an easier integration of a mechanically-actuated (usually by cable) parking brake, unlike disc brakes to which it's not so easy to provide a connection for a cable at the calipers, leading to the popularity of the "drum-in-hat" setup which relies on an internal concave surface built into each rear service brake disc to also serve as a drum dedicated to the parking brake in vehicles fitted with all-around disc brakes.

A quite entertaining situation which may be considered as a parameter for comparison is the VW Beetle which only had disc brakes as a standard feature in Brazil from '84 on, being taken out of production in '86 and briefly reintroduced from late-'93 to mid-'96, while in Mexico the front disc brakes only became standard in '95 before all-around drum brakes were reintroduced in a lower-trim version which lasted until '99 with front discs being standard once again until the traditional Beetle was phased out in 2003. Even though the 1600 engine having been detuned and plagued by a very restrictive exhaust required in order to address smog control issues in the Valley of Mexico, which could render its performance closer to the 1300 engine which was fitted to the last versions of the Brazilian Beetle still resorteing to the all-around drum brakes, it's also worth to remind the inherently conservative profile of the buyers at its last iterations. While the popularity of the Beetle among urban customers in Mexico only started to become threatened in the early '90s, and its phaseout was mostly dictated by the taxi regulations in Mexico City enforcing a mandate of 4-door cars rendering the "Vocho" unfit for the service, what led to a continued demand for the "Fusca" were mostly rural buyers who praised the relatively lower cost pertaining to its cross-country ability under various load conditions despite featuring only rear-wheel drive compared to 4-wheel drive models which were out-of-budget for many Brazilians (and still actually are).
While the Beetle's rear-engine and rear-wheel drive layout is now gone from the mainstream car market in Brazil, it's not uncommon for front-wheel drive models such as the Renault Kwid to be advertised as a "compact SUV" in order to attract customers who are not so willing to pay a premium for a larger and less fuel-efficient 4-wheel drive. However, as the focus of mainstream automakers for smaller cars has been more toward the so-called "urban mobility", thus neglecting actual needs of rural customers who may eventually benefit more from all-around drum brakes as they tend to not be so critically affected by corrosion than discs while exposed to agricultural fertilizers and even to the composition of the soils at different regions, it's not so likely that a regular car would feature front drum brakes again. Despite this, it's hard to deny all-around drum brakes may eventually remain better suited than disc brakes under some circumstances.

Monday, July 05, 2021

5 reasons why the Opel Corsa B ended up being quite closer to a VW Beetle replacement than any actual Volkswagen product

The second generation of the Opel Corsa was the one assembled in more countries than any previous or subsequent of this model, and was the first of only two generations which had been available officially in Brazil and Mexico. A serious contender to Volkswagen's classic Beetle on both of the most important car markets of Latin America, the Opel Corsa B also had a remarkable foothold on a worldwide level in a time when competition from the already consolidated Japanese automotive industry and its emerging Korean counterpart were undeniably strong contenders at the economy-car segment. Even though in the recent years GM got its global presence crippled by the Chinese predatory joint-venture scheme and the lack of a CEO who actually holds all the due respect for the legacy of General Motors as a world-class automaker who used to set standards, the Opel Corsa B is still remarkable, and at least 5 reasons can be pointed out to see it as effectively closer to what a Volkswagen Beetle replacement could ever be:

1 - simple mechanics: even though not so absolutely dumbproof, the Opel Corsa B has a quite simple mechanical layout. Even though it was the first of its class to feature electronic fuel injection in Brazil for the 1.0L engine, in a time when most new car buyers were still more used to consider carburettors a more straightforward option for reliability and repairability;

2 - underpinnings tougher than they may appear: the wheels noticeably smaller than the Beetle's are effectively compromising when it comes to ground clearance, but the coil-sprung front McPherson and rear twist-beam suspensions are not weaker at all. The rack-and-pinion steering gear is reliable and has a more direct responsiveness than the worm-and-gear setup fitted to the Beetle. Overall, the design of the underpinnings is actually simpler on the Corsa than on the Beetle;

3 - low running costs: with its quite simple mechanical layout and reasonable fuel consumption for a car of its age and class, the Opel Corsa B effectively took over the role of the Volkswagen Beetle during the last years of its production run in Mexico, while also being a serious contender to its reintroduction in Brazil in '93 for the '94 through '96 model-years. Even though some lower-grade versions in Europe still featured a 4-speed manual transmission with the 1.2L engine, the only manual transmission option for Mexico and Brazil was the 5-speed while the only 4-speed featured was the automatic available at a premium cost and only with the 1.6L engine;

4 - extended production runs in Brazil, Argentina and Mexico: definitely the Opel Corsa B became a favorite of buyers with a conservative profile, even though other bodystyles such as the sedan ended up outlasting the hatchback, as in Brazil where the sedan soldiered on until 2016 and in Argentina with its local production run ending up only in 2017. Mexico retained the Opel Corsa B locally badged as Chevrolet Chevy until 2012 with some controversial facelifts, while Brazil still supplied CKD kits for the hatchback until 2009 for assembly in Venezuela and South Africa;

5 - a familiar face: the bubbly design does resemble the Volkswagen Beetle somehow, even though the Opel Corsa B doesn't feature prominent fenders or running boards. But it doesn't sound like a simple coincidence that it took rounded lines for the Opel Corsa B rebadged as Chevrolet Chevy in Mexico to take over a considerable share of the local economy-car market from the Beetle.

Even though the front-wheel drive effectively doesn't allow the same off-road capabilities of a Beetle under various load conditions which interfere with the weight bias, the Opel Corsa B has proven itself a dependable commuter, addressing the requirements of many families in Latin America, while also having been a valuable asset for GM to keep a strong foothold even in regions where it retreated in more recent years.