Based on a Plymouth Bulletin article by William D. Brisbane, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, written in 1989, with additions and updates by Rogério Ferraresi, Mike Sealey, and the staff.
Chrysler produced a number of vehicles in Brazil over the years, all badged with the Dodge name, ending production with the sale of its facilities to Volkswagen when pressed for cash in 1980. Its production center was in the Sao Paulo area, along with most other automakers. It would briefly return in the 1990s with the Dodge Dakota, a venture ended by the Mercedes acquisition, and continued for some years to make engines there for BMW’s first-generation Mini.
Chrysler exported to Brazil from its early days; Ony Coutinho Junior noted that DeSotos, Chryslers, and Plymouths were sold there in postwar times (he currently owns the only DeSoto DeSoto Diplomat Special de Luxe in the nation — a 1948 — as well as a 1955 Plymouth Belvedere, 1954 Chrysler Imperial, and other DeSotos).
The most popular remaining vintage model appearing to be the 1950-52 Plymouth Cranbrook sedan. Later models are relatively rare, though at least one Barracuda and several Satellites are present; some of these entered as American diplomats brought them in for personal use and later sold them. Most of the embassy's fleet appears to have been Satellites and Furys for some years.
When Chrysler bought Simca in 1958, Chrysler’s first local act was to double the warranty of the small cars produced in Brazil; these cars had a reputation for very poor quality, partly due to untrained workers and the poor quality of local materials, including sheet metal. Simca used a modified version of Ford’s pre-war small-block V8, which produced around the same power as competing sixes. Later Brazilian versions (around 1966-67) were converted to an overhead valve configuration with hemispherical heads developed by Chrysler and SIMCA.
From 1967 to 1969, Chrysler restyled the front and rear of the old SIMCA Chambord and re-introduced them as the Chrysler Esplanada, Chrysler Regente, and Chrysler GTX.
By 1969, Chrysler had started making a new line of Dodge trucks at a new factory. The big D700s and D400s were followed by a Dodge pickup. These were similar to the commercial vehicles sold in the US, with diesels coming later, and alcohol-powered models in 1978. These trucks sold well, and may have been the most important reason for Volkswagen to acquire Chrysler’s Brazilian operations - they even kept the name until the end of 1984, when Volkswagen-engineered trucks replaced them.
In 1969, the 1966 Dodge Dart four-door sedan was introduced as a new car, soon replacing the troublesome and unpopular Esplanada. It had V8 power and a standard three-speed transmission, and was named car of the year by Auto Esporte in 1970. Sales topped nearly every model of Simca and Dodge production through that point (all but the 1964 Chamboard). A two door coupe came out the next year.
The Dart competed with the Ford Galaxy for the high end of car buyers, with many becoming chauffeur driven, while the coupe appealed to younger buyers. There were Charger and Charger R/T versions, mainly Dart hardtops with the roofline extended to the trunk and speed-related items such as dual exhausts, four-on-the-floor shifter, mag wheels, and bucket seats. It was at the high end of Brazilian production performance, consistent with the Dart's relatively high price overall.
A high end version was sold for a time as the Dodge Polara, built by Chrysler Fevre Argentina, was named Automobile of the Year by the Argentine Automobile Writers Association.
In 1972, more luxurious models were featured at the auto show, and Dart styling moved away from its American counterparts, though the basic engineering remained the same. Production continued with few changes until the 1979 lineup, when the Dart name gave way to LeBaron for luxury and Magnum for sport (replacing Charger). Magnum was a status car according to Status magazine, partly because of covers attached to the rear side windows that hid the rear seat from view. Few Magnums were made and today they are rare.
The Dart peaked in 1972 and 1973, before the oil crisis, which changed tastes to more economical vehicles. In 1980, only 403 Darts were made, and they were halted the next year. It had been popular with a spacious interior without excessive width (the Galaxy's problem), and maintenance and durability helped. The lack of a six cylinder no doubt hurt its survival after the fuel crisis.
In 1979-81, two new cars, Dodge LeBaron and Dodge Magnum, were launched; and Avallone built a CanAm car using the Chrysler 318 V8 in the Brazilian Dodge Dart.
Augmenting the Dart in popularity was the Dodge 1800, a two-door sedan produced in England and Argentina as well. Called “Dodginho” in Portugese, it was not a standout, partly because of poor quality on the first run of cars. To increase sales, its name was changed to Polara, which had a relatively good image, the power was boosted, and GLS and GL models were added in 1980. It was the first Brazilian production vehicle to have a standard automatic, and sales were steady for its last six years at about 13,000 per year, ending with Chrysler's other Brazilian operations in 1980. [Full Dodge 1800 / Polara story]
The Brazilian subsidiary of Willys was founded on August 26, 1952. A single year later, Kaiser purchased Willys-Overland’s automotive business, gaining Jeep in the process.
Still operating under the name “Willys Overland do Brasil,” the company began building its “Hurricane Six” 161-cubic inch (2.6 liter) engines in Taubaté, destined for cars made in a new São Bernardo do Campo (Sao Paulo) plant that opened in 1958. When the company launched the Willys Aero in late 1962, the engine was enhanced with dual carburetors and other improvements. They also started building a new Tornado overhead-cam 230 cid, 140-horsepower six cylinder, which soon replaced the older engines. A luxury version of the car, the Itamaraty, was released with a 3-liter version of this engine (bored out), equipped with an alternator and numerous reliability upgrades. The engine was upgraded in 1967 and made optional in the Rural (Jeep wagon); it became standard in other Jeeps in 1970.
When Ford bought Willys, its power dynamometers were “reassessed,” and the cars gained ten horsepower without any changes. The engine continued in production until mid-1975 for use in Jeeps (Willys cars were dropped in 1971) and the Ford Maverick.
Also see Simca Aquilon and Vedette • Chrysler in other parts of the world • Brazilian Jeeps • Photos at valiant.org!
Dodge 1800/Polara in Brazil • Operation Pineapple: Brazilian scouts crossing the Americas in a 1955 Jeep
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