Interesting Classic Volkswagens As Seen in Brazil

Some of the VW Kombi vans lined up at the Classic Car Meeting in Teresópolis.

Some of the VW Kombi vans lined up at the Classic Car Meeting in Teresópolis.

Since we first arrived in Brazil, we have noticed that the old-style Volkswagen is very popular in this country. You just can’t help noticing them – every day! Wherever we drive we see one or two (or many more) each and every day; mostly the classic air-cooled Beetle, or ‘Fusca‘ as they lovingly call them in Brazil.

The Beetle is still used as reliable day-to-day transport by many Brazilians. But you also find variations built on the same frame: the VW ‘Brasilia’, countless shapes of beach buggies, and other cars which are hardly recognisable as Beetle-based – until you hear the typical Volkswagen engine sound.

This might have been the prettiest Volkswagen Beetle at the Classic Car Meeting in Teresópolis - complete with period accessories on the roof rack.

This might have been the prettiest Volkswagen Beetle at the Classic Car Meeting in Teresópolis – complete with period accessories on the roof rack.


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And then, of course, there is the classic Volkswagen van! The assembly of these was continued in Brazil long past their exodus from all other markets. The last T2c shaped Kombi van was built in Brazil in 2013. Since there aren’t many other similarly-sized vans available in Brazil, it remains a popular choice for businesses to this day.

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Volkswagen Collectors’ Vehicles

But what we had not realised was that old Volkswagens are also highly sought after collectors’ vehicles in Brazil. That was, until we came to the Classic Car Meeting in Teresópolis [this link opens our gallery with “other” classic cars from the same day]! More than half the cars on display were some sort of Volkswagen – one reason to dedicate a gallery post to VW.

Some people say it's difficult to find old Volkswagen Beetles to photograph - I counted 11 in this photo alone!

Some people say it’s difficult to find old Volkswagen Beetles to photograph – I counted 11 in this photo alone!

As mentioned above, there are also numerous typical Brazilian variations of Volkswagen, cars you won’t see anywhere else, and probably don’t know about (if you haven’t been to Brazil). I have tried to capture as many as possible to include in this gallery. The only ones I didn’t see at the Classic Car Meeting were the Volkswagen SP1 and SP2 , a Brazilian designed sports coupe on VW Type 3 Variant chassis.

I didn't see the rare Volkswagen SP2 at the Classic Car Meeting in Teresopolis. Much later I spotted this outstanding example waiting at a traffic light in Brasilia... Luck!

I didn’t see the rare Volkswagen SP2 at the Classic Car Meeting in Teresopolis. Much later I spotted this outstanding example waiting at a traffic light in Brasilia… Luck!

The history of Volkswagen in Brazil is certainly one of major success. The company opened its first assembly plant in 1953 near São Paulo. If you know about Volkswagens history in Germany you will realise that this was very early for the company to expand, because there wasn’t any real VW corporation until late 1948 (the year it was transferred from British allied control to the German government). I won’t go into all the detail; if you’re interested you can read up about Volkswagen’s history on Wikipedia or other websites.

Many participants were so Beetle obsessed that they carried model Beetles in the back of the their Beetle - usually in matching colours.

Many participants were so Beetle obsessed that they carried model Beetles in the back of the their Beetle – usually in matching colours.

Volkswagen do Brasil manufactures its unique models

Volkswagen in Brazil soon became a profitable business, helped along by government restrictions on importing vehicles from outside Brazil. By 1961 Volkswagen do Brasil had become the leading car manufacturer in this country. One of the early Brazilian VW CEOs, Rudolf Leiding , went on to successfully lead the worldwide corporation and was responsible for the introduction of the first VW Golf.

Somehow Volkswagen do Brasil gained some independence within the corporation very early, and developed its own line of vehicles. Earlier cars carried core components identical to the ones used in Germany, but its market strength in Brazil gave room for the design of uniquely Brazilian Volkswagen vehicles.

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From the early variations of the German styled cars, Volkswagen do Brasil moved on to develop its very own line-up of cars and utilities. They now export a number of the Brazilian models to many countries throughout America, including the USA. Only the styling elements of their design ‘language’ remain typically Volkswagen.

A real 'German Enthusiast' who coloured the entire engine compartment in Germany's colours: black-red-gold. This is a Brazilian Volkswagen Voyage, the sedan body of the VW Gol (similar to the VW Derby).

A real ‘German Enthusiast’ who coloured the entire engine compartment in Germany’s colours: black-red-gold. This is a Brazilian Volkswagen Voyage, the sedan body of the VW Gol (similar to the VW Derby).

Volkswagen based cars developed by independent companies

Surprisingly, the Brazilian market has been large enough to support the establishment of smaller local vehicle manufacturers for a long time. This may have been helped along by lower wages and other cost factors. In some fields, like buses [Marcopolo ], Brazilian names are now among the leading manufacturers worldwide.

To stay with the topic of Volkswagen: there are two Brazilian companies worth mentioning in this post, particularly since I can show you photos of their vehicles. Unfortunately both went out of business some time ago.

Gurgel was a company, which specialised in light-weight vehicles made with plastic-based materials. In the 70s and 80s they claimed a number of patents for innovative ideas like electric cars and Plasteel, a very flexible and rust-proof composite material. You still see many small GURGEL cars, particularly in beach side locations. The majority of them were built with Volkswagen Beetle parts.

A small Brazilian GURGEL, based on a Volkswagen Beetle. The same vehicle was at the Classic Car Meeting but I got a better shot of it later.

A small Brazilian GURGEL, based on a Volkswagen Beetle. The same vehicle was at the Classic Car Meeting but I got a better shot of it later.

Puma was founded by a sports car enthusiast. Most of the more popular PUMA models were also based on Beetle technology. This idea is not so far fetched as the early Porsche models also used a lot of Beetle parts – after all: Ferdinand Porsche designed the first VW Beetle.

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You might wonder why I dedicated such a long post to classic Volkswagen vehicles. Well first of all, I grew up in a household with air-cooled Volkswagens. The first vehicle I owned was a split-window T1 Kombi (which I sadly never got registered due to rust); the first car I really drove was a VW Beetle. For business reasons I later changed to other cars, but somehow my attachment to Volkswagen remains strong. And nowadays, for some reason, many young people seem to have a similarly strong emotional response to the classic Volkswagen.

A first generation Volkswagen Passat. This is the rare sporty TS version, probably in its original paint.

A first generation Volkswagen Passat. This is the rare sporty TS version, probably in its original paint.


Short glossary to understand some of the names used in photo descriptions:

Early Volkswagen models had very simple names, used mostly internally within the company. The Beetle was Type 1, the transporter/van was Type 2, the VW 1500/1600 series was Type 3, and in the 70s followed a larger model called Type 4 , sold as Volkswagen 411.

Thus for all models based on the Beetle the code began with the digit 1: for example, the first Karmann Ghia sports car was named Type 14 and, based on its wider wheel base, a small quirky panel van was the Volkswagen Type 147 .

To this day the main transporter/van range is still simply called T for transporter , the most current model being the T6. The last van with an air-cooled rear engine was the T3, although the final model years of the T3 had water-cooled engines in the back. The T4 was the first van with a water-cooled engine in the front. Therefore, you can have older vans which are either Type 2 T1 (first generation van with the split front window) or Type 2 T2 vans (second generation). The Type 2 T2c is a Brazilian variation of the T2 transporter known in Europe and the USA; its main difference is that the roof was raised by some 10 cm.

The history of Volkswagen do Brasil, which began in 1953, is a big success story. The Type 1, better known as 'Beetle' or 'Fusca', was Brazil's best selling vehicle for over 20 years. There are still thousands on the roads. Enthusiast keep most in well restored condition. Brazil also produced many unique Volkswagen models, which were only sold in Brazil. At the classic car meet we snapped a few of them - follow the link to see these!

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Did you expect that one can find so many classic Volkswagen vehicles in Brazil?
Did you know that Volkswagen do Brasil has produced so many uniquely Brazilian Volkswagen models?

Juergen

webmaster, main photographer & driver, second cook and only husband at dare2go.com. Freelance web designer with 20 years of experience at webbeetle.com.au

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2 Responses

  1. Boo says:

    The Gol (Portuguese for goal) isn’t related to the Derby or Polo. It’s Brazil’s own design, based on a shortened Mk1 Passat platform (lengthways engine not transverse) The first ones in the late 1970s used a flat four air cooled engine in the front.. Later ones changed to water cooled inline jobs.

    • Juergen says:

      I knew that the ‘GOL’ was uniquely Brazilian, but the rest of these technical details I wasn’t aware of. Thank you!

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