The Volkswagen Brasilia: the VW Polo of Latin America

The Volkswagen Brasilia is a classic car that left an indelible mark on Brazil’s automotive history. Produced between 1973 and 1982 by Volkswagen do Brasil, the Brasilia was a revolutionary vehicle that combined the ruggedness of the iconic Volkswagen Sedan with the comfort and interior space of a modern car. In this article, we explore the design, features and legacy of the Volkswagen Brasilia, a true icon of the Brazilian automotive industry.

Fotos: Wikipedia Commons

Design and Features of the Volkswagen Brasilia

The Volkswagen Brasilia featured a unique and distinctive design that set it apart from other models of the time. Despite its mini-wagon appearance, the Brasilia was based on the Volkswagen Sedan and featured a rear-mounted 1.6-litre engine. This air-cooled engine, with four opposed cylinders in boxer configuration, gave the Brasilia exceptional power and reliability.

The Brasilia was notable for its hatchback body, which offered great versatility and comfort. Although it was initially classified as a “mini-wagon” in Brazil to benefit from lower tax burdens, it was actually a hatchback similar to the Gol or Golf. Despite its initial classification, the Brasilia soon became a popular car with young people and small families thanks to its spacious interior and functional design.

The sales success of the Volkswagen Brasilia was evident from its launch. Total production of the Brasilia exceeded one million vehicles, and 126,000 units were produced in 1975. However, interior noise was one of the challenges facing the Brasilia, as was the Volkswagen Sedan. Although more luxurious trim versions were introduced to reduce noise, this problem was never completely solved.

In 1977, the Brasilia received major improvements in terms of safety with the addition of a dual-circuit braking system and a collapsible steering column. In addition, new rear lights with notched tail lights were introduced to improve visibility, and an optional rear defogger was offered. In 1980, the Brasilia LS was launched, a new, better equipped version with a revised dashboard and anatomically designed seats. A 1.3-litre alcohol-fuelled engine was also introduced, offering a more fuel-efficient option.

An International Legacy: The Volkswagen Brasilia in Other Countries

The legacy of the Volkswagen Brasilia was not limited to Brazil. This iconic car was also exported to several countries, including Colombia, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, the Philippines, Paraguay, Bolivia, Honduras, Portugal, Spain and Venezuela. 

In some of these countries, such as Nigeria, the Brasilia was given different names. In this African country, it was assembled from CKD kits and called “Igala”. Despite the differences in naming, the Brasilia retained its essence and became a popular vehicle in different parts of the world.

Brasilia in Mexico

Mexico was the only country other than Brazil where the Volkswagen Brasilia was produced. Although the models manufactured in Mexico had many parts of Brazilian origin, such as engines, transmissions, suspensions, brakes, rims and tyres, among others, parts were also supplied locally. In 1974, Volkswagen de México introduced the Brasilia in the Mexican market. It was available only as a 3-door version from 1974 to 1982. The Brasilia was marketed with relative success, as it represented a different and more expensive option compared to the popular Vocho.

The Mexican Brasilia was mechanically unchanged from the Volkswagen Sedan. It was equipped with a 4-cylinder, 1.6-litre, air-cooled engine with an output of 44 hp (SAE). Its engine was powered by a single carburettor and was coupled to a 4-speed manual transmission. In addition, it retained the torsion bar suspension, albeit with a higher capacity at the rear. As for the braking system, it had larger drums on the rear wheels and disc brakes on the front wheels, which offered advantages in terms of braking and mechanical maintenance. However, in the long term, corrosion problems manifested themselves in the bodywork, making it difficult to find examples in good condition today. 

The Brasilia in Bolivia

In late 1974, the Brasilia was introduced to the Bolivian market and was widely accepted. Its versatility and characteristics made it well suited to the geographically rugged roads of the Bolivian territory. Differences in elevation between cities and temperature variations were not an impediment to its proper performance.

According to data from the Bolivian National Customs between 1975 and 1985, around 176,551 Brasilia units entered the country. Today, it is estimated that approximately 12,500 units continue to circulate in Bolivia. The Brasilia has become an emblematic vehicle on Bolivian streets and has won the admiration of many enthusiasts who are dedicated to its restoration and preservation.

The Brasilia in Colombia

During the 1970s and 1980s, the Brasilia was commonly used as a patrol car in Colombia due to its robustness and durability. It was obtained as a crime fighting donation. Although the Brasilia is less common as a private vehicle in Colombia, it is considered a comfortable car.

The Brasilia in El Salvador

In El Salvador, the Volkswagen Brasilia was marketed in 2-door and 4-door versions. It was introduced in the Salvadoran market in the mid-1970s and became a popular car in the country. As elsewhere, the Brasilia was appreciated for its compact design, fuel efficiency and reliability.

The Brasilia stood out in El Salvador as an affordable and versatile vehicle, suitable for the country’s road conditions. Its compact size and good manoeuvrability made it popular in urban areas, while its toughness and ability to cope with difficult terrain also made it a popular choice in rural areas. 

In terms of mechanical specifications, the Brasilia sold in El Salvador retained the basic configuration of the original model. It was equipped with a 4-cylinder, 1.6-litre, air-cooled engine, which offered a power output of around 44 hp (SAE). The transmission was a 4-speed manual transmission and had torsion beam suspension, which contributed to a good balance between comfort and stability on different types of terrain.

Over the years, the Brasilia in El Salvador has gained a following of enthusiasts who appreciate its retro styling and its connection to the country’s automotive history. Some owners are dedicated to restoring and customising these vehicles, keeping the legacy of the Brasilia alive on Salvadoran streets.

It is important to mention that, as elsewhere, the availability of Brasilia in good condition today may be limited due to the passage of time and the effects of corrosion. However, despite the challenges, those who still have a Brasilia in El Salvador find great sentimental value and enjoy the experience of owning and driving this iconic automobile.