Sunday, December 26, 2021

Brazilian vs. Chinese: what's the best approach to the small bakkie?

Small bakkies are a popular option for those who are looking out for a commercial vehicle with a lower total cost of ownership in countries such as Brazil, where traditional automakers with a strong foothold such as Fiat (now a Stellantis division) have a consolidated presence in this segment. Even though there has been a competition from Chinese automakers since 2007, when copies of the Suzuki Carry made by Changan were the first official imports of vehicles made in China to Brazil, the conservative profile of most Brazilian car buyers meant these ended up having a smaller appeal and strictly among commercial operators who were more concerned about the lower purchase price than anything else. The availability of replacement parts is often neglected by importers of those Chinese bakkies for instance, leading their owners into resorting to adaptations with components of some more mainstream model, yet a live-axle rear-wheel drive layout and body-on-frame design already lends itself better to some makeshift fixes.
In favour of the car-based designs more sought after in Brazil, which despite being mostly based upon a front-wheel drive unibody such as the Fiat Strada end up resembling an Australian coupé-utility, there is usually a better overall performance due to the fitment of engines better suited to deal with the GVWR, in contrast to the often underpowered copies of some random outdated Japanese engine and extremely low gearing often found on those Chinese copies of the Suzuki Carry. While the unibody doesn't render a Brazilian coupé-utility so easy to replace the stock rear tray for a task-specific bodywork compared to a body-on-frame, and the front-wheel drive is more affected by changes to the weight bias when loaded, the Fiat Strada often leads the commercial vehicle sales ranking in Brazil, not only among urban buyers who might prefer a smoothier ride but also for agribusiness-related duties. In the end, while commercial operators may become attracted to the cheap Chinese Suzuki copy at a first glance, the Brazilian coupé-utility is more cost-effective.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Spotted on the wild: dedicated-ethanol Brazilian Chevrolet Monza

Just like the American Chevrolet Cavalier, the Brazilian Chevrolet Monza was a regional variant of the J-body platform, even though its styling and much of its technical features bore a greater resemblance to the Opel Ascona C, most noticeably the belt-driven SOHC Opel-designed Family II engine available from 1.6L up to 2.0L according to the model-year. As the Brazilian market in the '80s favored ethanol as a motor fuel, naturally the Monza also featured engines capable to operate on it, even though they were not flexfuel, still resorting to a carburettor due to local content regulations which prevented electronic fuel injection from becoming mainstream. Even though it's quite uncertain if this '90 Chevrolet Monza SL/E with the 2.0L engine still runs on ethanol as the ÁLCOOL badge implies, since it became usual to convert older dedicated-ethanol cars to gasoline after the ethanol crisis between '89 and '90 when even methanol from the United States had been imported as a somewhat desperate attempt to keep much of the Brazilian fleet running, seeing a car of that period still featuring a sign that it had been originally ethanol-powered before the flexfuel systems became mainstream is quite interesting.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

5 cars other than air-cooled Volkswagens or Porsches that could be interesting to adapt an Australian Radial Motion engine

Even though the air-cooled flat-4 engine is highlighted as one of the most noticeable features of the VW Beetle, the recent development of a 3-cylinder airworthy radial engine by Bespoke Engineering catering to the light sports aviation market in Australia had also been noticeable for its perfect fit into Beetles or other Volkswagens with the Type 1 engine (which has the cooling fan mounted at a higher position than the one of a Type 3 "pancake" engine) and even into some Porsches. Available on either air-cooled or liquid-cooled versions, from 2.0L to 2.1L and the option for carburettors or electronic fuel injection, the Radial Motion engine can cover both classic cars and modern vehicles keeping up-to-date with current emission regulations in Australia and some other countries with similar emission standards for motor vehicles. Even though a radial engine may be as much of a challenge to fit into vehicles with transverse engine layout, leading it better suited to the ones with a longitudinal engine, at least 5 vehicles other than air-cooled Volkswagens or Porsches could be mentioned as temptint to try a Radial Motion engine swap had cost not been an issue, as these engines are far from dirt-cheap...

1 - Ford Ranger (Americas model until 2011): as some trims of the Radial Motion engine outperform the 2.3L Duratec 4-cyl which was the base-engine for this model, even though it has a slightly smaller displacement and a pushrod valvetrain, it already sounds interesting enough to justify. The lower weight is also interesting, considering the gasoline-powered versions had a lower payload than the turbodiesel versions made in Argentina, so the weight bias would be improved while unloaded without detrimental effects while loaded;

2 - Chevrolet Opala: the Brazilian equivalent to the Opel Rekord C/Commodore A, was fitted with the 2.5L Chevrolet 153 engine (later 151) on its 4-cylinder versions, while the 6-cylinder had either a 3.8L 230 or a 4.1L 250 engine according to the model-year. Even though it's smaller than any engine fitted to the Opala and the 6-cylinder Opel CIH engines fitted to the Commodore, there are some versions of the Radial Motion capable of outperforming them all in stock form. Liquid-cooling might sound as a quite obvious way to go, but I must confess it would also be quite tempting to try an air-cooled;

3 - early Suzuki Grand Vitara: even the 2.5L H25A V6 can be outperformed by some versions of the Radial Motion engine, let alone the much more usual 4-cylinder 2.0L J20. A lower-weight and shorter engine such as the Radial Motion may also actually benefit off-road performance;

4 - Lada Niva: engine swaps are quite common for this model in my country, with Volkswagen EA827 engines being the most common option. As the Radial Motion is offered with a Volkswagen bolt pattern it might be another straightforward adaptation too;

5 - Alfa Romeo Giulia GTV: an Italian beauty which stock engine is a piece of mechanical artwork, but it would still be tempting to go one step further. Well, considering the carburettor-fed versions of the Radial Motion might at first seem more complicated due to having one more carburettor, it's also worth to remind it won't require any timing chain replacement as the Alfa Romeo "Nord" Twin Cam engine would, the Alfa Romeo had dual-barrel carburettors which are far from dumbproof. It's also interesting to compare the electronic fuel injections of the Radial Motion to the SPICA mechanical fuel injection which used to be fitted to US-spec Alfa Romeo models.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Argentinian-made '02 Ford Ranger with factory crew-cab and artesanal wooden high-dropside flatbed

Flatbeds are a quite usual fitment to work trucks in Brazil, and it's still a common practice using wood to manufacture these bodies. Most often a regular-cab would be seen with it, but once in a while a crew-cab also shows up featuring a wooden flatbed. It's the case of this 2002 model-year Ford Ranger, made in Argentina and fitted with a regionally-sourced International 2.8L PowerStroke 4-cylinder turbodiesel engine.

Saturday, December 04, 2021

Why could the Ford Ka Mk.1 be considered suitable to the role of a VW Beetle replacement?

Meant to be basically a compact runabout more suitable to the city traffic, while retaining performance levels which enabled driving on the road too, the first generation of the Ford Ka is probably not among those models which could eventually qualify as some sort of contender for the role of a replacement to the Volkswagen Beetle. Certified as a 4-seater on the markets where it had been avaliable, in contrast to the Beetle which is mostly recognized as a 5-seater despite being slightly narrower, the early Ford Ka is not meant to address the same riding conditions of the '30s in rural Europe, yet it's often praised for its handling which tends to be compared to that of a go-kart on a more spirited driving. Conveniently sized for urban commuting, yet with a less-than-modest luggage capacity while all the 4 seats are in use, there are a few similarities to the proportions of its design which lead the Ford Ka Mk.1 to effectively remind a few styling cues of the Volkswagen Beetle to a minor extent.
Naturally some technical differences such as relying on a front-mounted transverse inline-4 engine and front-wheel drive, which became the standard for most economy-cars in the '90s along the McPherson suspension up front and a rear torsion beam, highlight much of the changes within the motor industry and the focus on "manufacturability" increasing the parts commonality with other mainstream models for better economics of scale. Unlike the Beetle which turned out to be quite unconventional according to the standards of small cars at its release, and became a category of its own, the Ka followed a quite conservative approach considering the market conditions during its development and production cycles. So, despite the obvious technical aspects and marketing circumstances which each model was subjected at their respective times, it's not totally out of question to consider the Ford Ka Mk.1 one of the possible answers to the search for an eventual Beetle replacement.

Friday, November 26, 2021

PQ24-based Fox, probably the most underappreciated Volkswagen ever

A model designed in Brazil, where it was released in late-2003 with the ambitious goal of replacing the Volkswagen Gol (no pun intended), the Fox soldiered on until the 2021 model-year, having only a few minor changes through its production run. Based on the same PQ24 platform of the Mk.4 Polo, it had a smart design somewhat resembling the minivans, with plenty of room for its relatively small size, yet it was not enough to effectively take over the role of the Gol which was still a nameplate strong enough that it prompted the Brazilian branch of Volkswagen to develop a PQ24-based Gol which was released in 2008. Its design could be seen as somewhat unconventional to a consevative Brazilian market which used to be much more oriented to traditional hatchbacks, even though the Fox had good sales figures in Brazil and Argentina, having even been exported to Europe from 2006 to 2011 when the Up took over its role as the entry-level Volkswagen for the European markets.

More capable of actually meeting the requirements for a small family car than the Up, maybe the Fox is even more up to the task (no pun intended again) of fulfilling the role of a Beetle replacement, despite its Euro-spec variants being only 4-seater in contrast to the 5-seater layout of the versions sold in Latin America. Its relatively long production run with fewer minor upgrades, and being based upon the same underpinnings of some mainstream European-designed model also prompts to a comparison between the Fox and the Beetle-derived Brasília, which were both Brazilian-specific designs with only a minor international availability. Relying on already-proven underpinnings, and being suitable to the fitment of up-to-date engines such as the 3-cyl flexfuel 1.0L fitted to the 2014 model-year BlueMotion version, the Fox was a smarter design than its presence more concentrated on a handful of so-called "emerging markets" in Latin America could suggest.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Brazilian Honda CG 160 modded similar to a Brat-Style

Predictably the Honda CG, which is still a best-seller in Brazil, would also inspire custom builds, such as this one which resembles the ones modified by the Bratstyle shops in Japan and United States, with its mix of elements from the bobber and cafe-racer styles. This one was customized in Curitiba, by the Dream Machines shop.

Friday, November 19, 2021

3 cars made in Brazil which actually surprised me for never having ever featured a pushrod engine

In a country like Brazil, often pointed out as a harsh environment for the most up-to-date car tech due to reckless car owners who don't really seem to care about preventive maintenance, one aspect which does often amaze me is how some so-called "people's cars" never really featured some much simpler engine designs. Sometimes there is a good reason to take benefit from the economics of scale manufacturing a very same engine which can cater both to a no-frills small car and to something else one class above, yet the higher degree of neglect entry-level models often face may justify a more austere powertrain, such as an OHV (overhead-valve) engine, a.k.a. cam-in-block or "pushrod" engine. Among so many econoboxes which had ever been available in Brazil at some point, at least 3 do surprise me enough to justify being listed as a car which could've eventually benefitted from a pushrod engine:

1 - Ford Fiesta Mk.5: this was the first generation of the Fiesta to feature only engines with either a single or double overhead cams, benefitting from the development of the Zetec-Rocam engine range which relied on a chain-driven single overhead cam and had only 2 valves per cylinder. Even though it would most likely be out of question to start manufacturing the Endura-E 1.0L and 1.3L engines locally, Ford had previously made under license from Renault some derivatives of the Cléon-Fonte engine, with the displacement ranging from 1.0L to 1.6L exactly like the Zetec-Rocam. Sure the higher performance and more rev-happy nature of the Zetec-Rocam were more in accordance to the expectations of the average Brazilian budget-conscious car buyer during the production run of the Fiesta Mk.5 and its local facelifted versions, yet its sealed timing chain can be quite bothersome to replace once the engine gets a full overhaul;

2 - Brazilian Fiat Uno: unlike its European counterpart which had featured 899cc and 903cc versions of the 100-series engine, the Brazilian model resorted to a belt-driven OHC derivative of the 124-series and later to the FIRE engine. The early Fiasa engine was often plagued by timing belt ruptures and, due to its interference design, serious damage can occur if a valve still open gets hit by a piston. As a chain-driven OHV engine would be less prone to this issue, which plagued so many Fiats in Brazil until the FIRE engine already developed from scratch with an OHC valvetrain had a properly-designed belt tensioner was released locally, quite lately compared to the European market by the way, and in some neighboring countries were also offered versions of the European Fiat Uno still featuring the 100-series 903cc engine alongside its Brazilian counterparts, seems like a pushrod engine would not be so out of question regarding regional operating conditions;

3 - Fiat Palio: meant as a replacement to the Uno in Latin America, parts of Africa and Eastern Europe, having also resorted to the 124-series OHC derivative and the 128-series, also featuring the FIRE which became prevalent after the first facelift, the same harsh environmental conditions and often a precarious maintenance would justify an OHV engine. Even though the FIRE engine has often been regarded as a quite dumbproof engine, a chain-driven OHV valvetrain is often still more suitable to harsher operating conditions.

Monday, November 08, 2021

'83 Honda CG 125 on the wild

Leading the small-displacement utilitarian motorcycle category in Brazil since its introduction in '76, no surprise it's still quite easy to spot some older models of the Honda CG on the wild, mostly because the OHV engine used until 2009 with its gear-driven valvetrain is long-lasting and easy to service. This one is from the 2nd generation, which had the 4-speed transmission of the previous replaced by the 5-speed which had been previously used in a short-lived dedicated-ethanol version. Even though once in a while it's quite common to spot a 2nd-generation with the color-matching plastic front mudguard and a square headlight, this one still featured the original rounded headlight and chromed mudguard, and only a few parts such as the turn indicators and the hand grips are totally mismatching the '83 model-year while the smoked tail light lens matches the size and format of the original red one.
Even though it's clearly not babied, with some amount of rust clearly visible to an extention that would make it fail a roadworthiness inspection had such matter been effectively taken seriously in Brazil, the period-accurate graphics in such an utilitarian motorcycle that may eventually been subjected to harsher operating conditions is noteworthy. Seemingly quite easy to restore to a fully period-correct appearance, this '83 Honda CG 125 has its nostalgia appeal in a moment when there is a growing appreciation for its historical value, yet remaining somewhat practical instead for daily riding instead of being turned into a trailer queen to be only displayed at antique car and motorcycle events. And truth be told, its austere appearance remains quite pleasurable to see.

Monday, November 01, 2021

Brazilian replica of a Ford F-650 "super pick-up"

Brazil is on many aspects not so easy to explain to first-timers, and it includes the local car scene. Many factors such as fuel costs, initial purchase price and concerns about maintenance result on vehicles often similar on the outside to actually have much more substantial differences to their overseas counterparts, including this locally-built replica of a Ford F-650 "SuperTruck". Relying on a much more austere 4-cyl Cummins ISB3.9 turbodiesel engine and a 5-speed manual transmission as fitted to a Class-5 version of the Ford Cargo, unlike the original American model which resorted to a 6-cyl Cummins ISB5.9 and had an automatic transmission, the leisure-oriented purpose ends up being pretty much the same. Noticeably larger than mostly any other private vehicle registered in Brazil, with a commercial driver license being required to drive this beast on public roads, it's a great mobile billboard for businesses, and a powertrain from a strictly commercial truck which used to be among the best-sellers of its class became suitable to this replica, also leading to a better availability of replacement parts locally.

As the Brazilian equivalent of the F-650 was phased out in 2005, according to a former Ford engineer because transitioning from a mechanically-governed engine to an electronically-controlled one could be deemed too costly by customers with a more conservative profile, the Cargo range took over the role as Ford's only medium-duty truck for South American markets until the company retreated totally from the truck market in the region due to the closure of the Taboão factory in São Bernardo do Campo in 2019. The coachbuilding was done by Tropical Cabines, a company specialized in crew-cab conversions for trucks when it was not a much common factory option even for the light-duty ones in Brazil, going out of business after Ford phased out local truck manufacturing. This one is a 2010 model-year, and in the meantime a few others were made, some resorting to a Class-7 Ford Cargo chassis and even featuring a 10-speed single-clutch automated-manual transmission.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Color-matching tail lights: a reminiscence from mid-'90s

Looking back at some photographs I took in 2014 in my hometown Porto Alegre, this 2nd-generation Volkswagen Gol reminded me the long-gone days when it was quite common to see aftermarket tail lenses to match the color of some cars. Odd enough, nearly all the cars with color-matching tail lights I used to see back in the day were exactly Volkswagen Gol, as it used to be a best-seller in Brazil. The 2nd generation was released in '94, and its early design soldiered on until 2004, even though the first major facelift had been released in '99 and unproperly highlighted as if that was an all-new generation, with a milder (barely noticeable) facelift around 2002 and the last major facelift from 2005 to 2013. But only the pre-facelift ones used to be quite easily seen with those color-matching tail lights, which by the way relied on red-dyed lamps for brake and lantern, amber-dyed lamps for turn signals, and clear lamps for reverse, remaining compliant to the standards for rear lights applied in Brazil.

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.