Last revised: 26-1-2009

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Car of the Month - June 2004

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Willys Interlagos - coupe sport body - manufactured in 1963

This time a remarkable car from South America for a change, from Brazil to be exact. The Willys Interlagos is a unique synthesis of American heritage and French engineering successfully combined in Brazil as a result of an initiative by Jean Rédélé, the father of the French Alpine sports cars. On one hand there was Willys-Overland of Brazil, the refuge of the Kaiser-Willys concern after their demise in the United States. Willys of course was best known for their Jeeps and especially for introducing civilian versions of these famous military off-roaders, though the history of the marque goes way further back in time up to the first appearance of the Willys name on Overland cars in 1909. When Willys' fortunes were quickly waning in the States in the early 1950s the company transferred much of its production to its subsidiary in Brazil, which continued when the Willys outfit in the US collapsed in 1955. At that time its main products in Brazil were the Jeep (naturally) and the Aero, a relatively compact sedan for US standards. In Brazil however there was a demand for smaller, more affordable cars and so Willys of Brazil struck a deal with French manufacturer Renault and introduced a Brazilian version of the popular, rear-engined Renault Dauphine in 1959.
On the other hand there was the small sportscar manufacturer Alpine in France, which made a series of competitive lightweight 2-seaters named the Alpine A108. This car was based on Renault Dauphine components fitted onto a special central tube chassis and finished with a pretty glassfibre body. The A108 was the first model which was produced in series by Alpine, but its output was limited and so owner and founder Rédélé looked for ways to expand production. Naturally countries which already produced Dauphine components were the best places to look and since the A108 was both attractive and relatively easy to produce Rédélé was able to sell the plans of the car to companies in Spain (Fasa-Renault), Bulgaria (Bulgaralpine), Mexico (Dinalpin) and Brazil (Willys), which all produced their own versions of the Alpine using locally manufactured components.
Rédélé contacted Willys of Brazil with his proposition in 1961 and the management quickly agreed, knowing that they could do with an image builder in this temperamental country were nothing alike was on the market. Early in 1962 the Brazilian version of the A108, named the Willys Interlagos (after a famous Brazilian circuit), was presented to the public. It could be had as a berlinette (fastback-coupe style), a coupe (hardtop style like you see here) and as a convertible. The Brazilians loved this car and it became a trend setter to a whole industry of glassfibre bodied cars based on mass produced mechanics of which the Puma (a sportscar based on Volkswagen components) probably is the best known exponent. The Interlagos also dominated the Brazilian circuits for years as it was well-balanced and quite easy to tune with a lot of engine options. The famous Fittipaldi brothers for instance cut their teeth racing Willys Interlagos berlinettas.
The Willys Interlagos was manufactured from 1962 until 1967 (when Ford took over the company) and some 1500 were made, which made it the best selling Alpine A108 version worldwide (the original French Alpine A108 was produced from 1957 till 1964 and only saw 236 cars produced). As standard a 845 cc 4-cylinder engine was fitted which turned out about 53 hp @ 5600 rpm, good for a top speed of more than 145 kph (the car weighed only 540 kg). The car shown here has a tuned 998 cc engine producing 60 hp @ 6250 rpm.

It seems only few Willys Interlagos have survived to this day so it's all the more special to find one here in Europe. Only a few people outside of Brazil may have heard of this car and its value is probably limited to that of an exotic rarity but it holds an important interest as a car that brought sportscar manufacture to a whole new part of the world.

© André Ritzinger, Amsterdam, Holland

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