The cars of Uruguay have been very interesting lately around the Jalopnik offices, and for good reason. Like many South American countries, Uruguay had a pretty closed automotive sector, which made for all sorts of interesting mutants. Like the Ultra SP.
The Ultra SP was born, like all good wonderfully crazy things, from a restrictive bit of government protectionist legislation. Essentially, it mandated that for Uruguay's automotive industry, any dollar amount of imported cars or parts must be matched with an equal value of exports. So, if the Uruguayans wanted to, say, import $5000 worth of VW of Brazil engines, they had to export $5000 of Uruguayan cars or parts in return.
That meant the Uruguayan car industry had to become pretty self-sufficient. This gave a man named Gilberto Lima an idea: design a Uruguayan sports car to export to Brazil.
Lima didn't have the capacity to build everything himself, so he took the basic chassis of a Willys Interlagos — essentially a Brazilian-built Renault Alpine A108 made by, of all companies, Willys. That car is worth talking about on its own, which we'll do soon. But, at this moment, all we care about is the chassis.
That almost-Alpine chassis then had a bunch of VW Brazil parts mounted to it: front suspension and the engine and transaxle. These all seem to have been Type I VW parts from the Brazilian Fusca (Beetle), which would make service and parts very accessible for the Ultra SP, especially in its intended market of Brazil. The rear suspension was Lima's own design.
The body was Lima's own design as well, and owes a lot of inspiration to cars of the era (the car was finished in 1970), like the Lamborghnini Miura, Ford GT40, and most directly the Pininfarina-designed Ferrari P6. The side intakes and louvered rear greenhouse of the P6 seem to have been translated to the Ultra SP directly.
While building the fiberglass body of the car, neighbors, alarmed at the noises of his power tools, called the military police, who raided his workshop expecting to find a hidden rebel cell (called a 'tatucera'), but instead found a dust-covered guy laboring over a sports car.
Eventually, the car was completed, and driven to VW Brazil's headquarters, where factory inspectors gave the car a thorough looking-over. They had some styling suggestions, but the car was found to be sound for production.
I'll admit, there's not a lot of information out there about this car, so I'm a little confused why they went to VW at all. Was VW Uruguay going to produce it? With a Willys/Alpine chassis? There's some holes in the story here I haven't figured out.
In the end, VW's endorsement didn't matter because economic issues and general political instabilities all conspired to keep any official approvals and other resources from happening. Lima shopped the car around for a while, but no luck.
It's a shame, really. The car would have had a decent power-to-weight ratio with a properly tuned VW engine (at least compared to other sporty cars available there at the time), the styling was dramatic, and it sat four, which was unique for that type of car. It's not unrealistic to think that a sporty VW-based car would have sold in Brazil — VW themselves did it a few times.
So, only one was ever made. Incredibly, Lima kept that first Ultra SP and eventually put over 1.2 million miles on it. In that time, he's swapped engines seven times, trying out a bunch of options: stock VW 1200, then 1500, then a dual-carb 1600, then a VW water cooled 1600cc motor, then an 1800cc from a Gol, then a Chevette motor, before settling back on a dual-carb VW 1600.
I like this Lima guy. If no one's going to build his car, at least he's going to drive the crap out of it.
(images courtesy of URUCARS)