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FEI X3: A Brazilian sports car with a Dodge V8

by Rogério Ferraresi

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After the end of World War II, Jesuit priest and visionary Roberto Sabóia de Medeiros realized that Brazil would no longer be only an agricultural country. In 1945, he created the Foundation of Applied Sciences to aid in Brazil's industrialization; two years later, the Foundation created its School of Industrial Engineering (FEI) in São Paulo, Brazil.

Ten years later, spurred by Brazilian President Juscelino Kubitschek, Brazil's industrial revolution gained speed, especially in São Paulo, with investments by by International Harvester, Simca, Willys Overland, and General Motors. FEI opened a campus in Sao Bernardo do Campo, thanks to a land donation by Lavinia Gomes, Mayor Lauro Gomes' wife.

In 1963, one key professor was Rigoberto Soler, a former official of ENASA (Empresa Nacional de Autocamiones), which made trucks in the '50s and had built the Pegaso sports car, led by former Ferrari technical director Wilfredo Ricart.

Soler designed for Brasinca, which did stamping and bodywork for GM, Willys, FNM, Mercedes-Benz, and Ford (Budd in the U.S.); he designed the Brasinca 4200 GT, a sports car with a six-cylinder Chevrolet engine. Within FEI, Soler led the Department of Studies and Research Vehicles. Their first car, the FEI X1, was based on the mechanicals of the Renault Gordini; it was first shown in 1968.

In 1972, Soler instructed his students to work on a sports car, the X3 (also called "Lavinia" in honor of the FEI benefactor), which would be an evolution of the 4200 GT. He specified the use of a tubular steel frame and air brake, a rectangular flap embedded in the rear of the vehicle. The MecAut students were divided into two groups, one responsible for manufacturing the chassis and other bodywork.

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To get an idea of the car's dimensions, a Ford 292-cubic-inch V8 was used, but it was soon decided that most of the components would be from the Dodge Dart. The front suspension was a Torsion Aire, with torsion bars; though the Chrysler rear axle was supported by coil springs, more suitable for a sports car. Fourteen-inch magnesium wheels were used; the Gemmer steering box was the same as the Dart's but with its 24:1 reduction ratio changed to 15:1 to be more sensitive to high-speed maneuvers.

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The 318 V8 engine was the LA type cast in Brazil, the one used in Dart (198 bhp), and was later replaced by one from the Charger R/T (sports version of the Brazilian Dart) with a higher compression ratio and dual exhaust system for 215 horsepower. The original Dart transmission, with only three gears, was also replaced by the Brazilian Charger R/T's four speed. The transmission was modified due to the smaller wheelbase, and a new differential ratio was used as the X3 would be lighter and more aerodynamic than the Dart. The drum front brakes were also replaced with discs.

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The body construction was made using a hammer form, just like Italian car makers. The X3 was completely shaped by hand from aluminum, with a strong roll cage to protect the occupants, gull-wing doors, monolithic aluminum front end, two rear gas tanks (90-liter/24-gallon capacity), side exhausts, and external air brakes. The tail lights, as in current cars, stayed in the roof columns. The X3 had two spare tires and a good luggage space in the trunk. Interestingly, the windshield was from a Ford Galaxie.

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Inside the sports car had leather-covered reclining seats, air conditioning, instrument panel on the center console, three-spoke aluminum steering wheel, glove box, and a 007 briefcase. Students wanted to also mount an eight-millimeter camera in the car for filming tests, practice, or racing.

The X3 was 4.3 meters (169.3 inches) long, 1.8 meters (70.9 inches) wide, and 1.1 meters (43.3 inches) tall. It had a 0.18-meter (7.1-inch) ground clearance and weighed 1,100 kg (2,425 pounds), with a stunnigly low 0.32 drag coefficient.

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The X3 was originally painted yellow. It was built by the team of Ricardo Okubo, Ademir Fornasaro, Carlos Augusto Scarpelli, Flávio Vicenzetto, Gilberto Luz Pereira, A. Heymann, R. Milk, Joseph Pompeo Giannocoro, Barretti Roberto, Roberto Julio Asam, and Rudolph Herbert Meyer. The team members made shifts from 6 a.m. until 4 p.m. the next day, sleeping in their cars and sacrificing their vacations and weekends to finish the X3 in time for the 1972 São Paulo Auto Show.

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But the effort was not wasted - the car, now in green and gold metallic, became one of the stars of the event, winning the admiration of then-President of Brazil General Emilio Medici Garrastazu. Thanks to the prototype, the federal government began to better understand FEI's usefulness and financially supported the development of Talav, a high-speed train hovercraft.

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Currently the FEI X3 Lavinia, restored by the FEI, is still part of the college's collection and is displayed at various events on the history of Brazilian automobiles.

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