I don’t want to alarm anyone, but Brazil was going through some very difficult economic times during the period of 1962-1968. While I’m sure things were deeply crappy for Brazilians at that time, the economic situation did cause the development of some really fascinating cars, including what might be the most stripped-down, bare-bones Beetle ever built.
Thanks in part to a military coup and “problems associated with import substitution industrialization,” the Brazilian economy from 1962 to 1968 was in whatever you call a shitter in Portuguese. The native auto manufacturing industry in Brazil wasn’t even a decade old at the time, so in order to keep things going, the government launched a program to stimulate the sales of new cars.
That program included a program of highly accessible loans with subsidized interest, but it also required something from Brazil’s biggest car manufacturers: really, really cheap cars.
We’re talking cars significantly cheaper than anyone was selling in Brazil at the time, and keep in mind, it’s not like Brazil was flooded with luxury cars. The cars being sold in Brazil, like Volkswagen’s Beetle (which they called the Fusca) were already pretty damn cheap, and now they had to somehow come up with something even more basic and inexpensive.
No carmaker was going to spend the research and development money to try and design an all-new highly affordable car; it just wasn’t worth it. Instead, they took another approach, which was to take their existing entry-level cars and then strip them down to the absolute bone.
These were known as “bare” cars or “naked” cars (at least based on Google translate) and four companies in Brazil managed to produce them: DKW-Vemag, Simca, Willys, and Volkswagen.
All of these cars had some common elements: everything unnecessary is gone, with some manufacturers having more liberal definitions of “necessary” than others (for example, the VW and the Willys both dispense with turn indicators), anything that was once chrome is now painted, and pretty much anything that’s lined or carpeted or refined in any way is out the window.
I’m not going to lie: there’s something I absolutely love about these sorts of severe, spartan cars. Maybe it’s the distilled-down-to-the-essence quality, or the inherent utility of them or maybe my own perverse desire for self-denial, but there it is. Let’s take a quick look at each of them, with a little extra attention focused on the VW, because that’s the one that really fascinates me. Shock, right?
First, we have the DKW-Vemag Pracinha. The Pracinha was the stripper-version of the DKW-Vemag Vemaguet, which itself was a version of the German DKW F-91 Universal, the wagon version of the DKW 3=6.
DKWs were always two-stroke, three-cylinder, front-wheel drive cars. The Pracinha eliminated all the chrome and most of the trim of the original car, and, as a good-sized wagon, was targeted at bigger families, merchants, and small businesses.
The Pracinha was only made for one year, 1965, before DKW threw in the towel.
This next car has the best name, and the most delightfully confusing manufacturing lineage. It’s the Willys-Gordini Teimoso, which translates to Willys-Gordini Stubborn. ‘Stubborn’ is a fantastic name for a really cheap car, I think. It’s bold and defiant!
The car is basically a Renault Dauphine, the rear-engined little sedan that succeeded the Renault 4CV and was, for a while, the only imported car in America to even sell enough to be considered a real competitor to the VW Beetle.
And, yes, the Willys is the same Willys of Jeep fame. They were building Jeeps in Brazil when they decided they needed a small car, so they partnered with Renault to build Dauphines, which they named after Renault’s tuning arm, Gordini. Okay?
Anyway, to meet the super-cheap car requirements, Willys went content-delete crazy on the Dauphine and yanked everything they could: gas gauge, soundproofing, carpet, they de-chromed everything, glove box door, they made simpler, lawn-chair-style seats, nixed the indicators, and even made do with a single wiper and a solitary combined license plate light/brake light/tail light.
The Stubborn was stripped to the bone, but it still had the Dauphine’s pretty lines. Just naked, as they say. The result was that the Stubborn cost about 40% less than the normal model, which is pretty amazing.
The fanciest of these poverty-spec cars was the Simca Profissional, which was a stripped-down version of the Simca Alvorada, which in turn was a stripper version of the French home-market Simca Chambord.
While the Simca was stripped down in very similar ways as the rest (cardboard door cards, no carpet, no chrome), it was still the biggest, and had a very exuberant American-inspired design with tailfins and everything.
It was 30 percent cheaper than the Alvorada, and was targeted primarily at the taxi market. Production numbers aren’t known because, tellingly, Simca never bothered to keep track of how many they made during the one year they cranked them out.
Now we get to the one that surprised me the most, because I always assume I’ve heard of every VW Beetle variation, and I’m always wrong. Volkswagen has certainly sold very basic Beetles before, at least in Europe, where they always offered a spartan entry-level model, but none have ever been as entry-level as this. This is by far the most dramatically de-contented Beetle I’ve ever seen.
These Fuscas were known as Pé de Boi, which translates to something like a ‘bull’s foot,’ which means a ‘tireless worker.’
Of course all the chrome is gone, with the chrome parts painted flat white, even down to the headlight rings. The bumpers are single blades, there’s only one exhaust pipe (the other cutout in the rear apron is just left there, vestigially), there’s no soundproofing or headliner or padding or carpet of any kind, anywhere.
There’s no turn indicators, no sun visors, no heater, no fuel gauge (though it looks like a wooden stick was helpfully included to check the fuel level!) and no carpet or even rubber pads on the pedals.
The dash is especially impressive: the normal punch-outs for the radio and in-dash speaker are left in place, making just those inset little areas where they would have gone, and even the ashtray is replaced with a little blanking panel.
You can get a good sense of the minimalism in this video:
The Pé de Boi Fuscas were a good 25 percent cheaper than the regular base Fusca, which was not an expensive car to begin with. VW Brasil made these from 1965 to 1968, essentially the whole duration of the recession, and once Brazil’s economy pulled out of the slowdown, there wasn’t really any reason to keep making these extremely basic cars.
Many Pé de Boi Fuscas ended up getting enhanced with such opulent luxuries as side mirrors and glove box doors and carpet and all that other stuff from mainstream Fuscas as time went on, so finding an original, spartan one is tricky now.
Some do survive, and it was one that’s being offered for sale that first shoved me down this rabbit hole of Brazil depression-era cars.
Shockingly basic cars like this simply don’t exist anymore, and I think that’s a shame. There’s something so pure and honest and, I don’t know, refreshing about a car taken down to its barest essentials.
I’ve imagined what a modern version of such a car could be like before, but these are precisely the sorts of low-profit things carmakers would be happy to never touch again.
That’s why these aggressively humble examples of basic, basic, basic transportation are so valuable, and I hope they get preserved, as spare and naked as possible.