Emme 420

At one point, my dad drove a Volvo S80 T6 as a company car. I remember it well: a striking design with gigantic-at-the-time 17-inch "snowflake" wheels. With broad shoulders, droopy snout, and pert tail, the car seemed to be exactly the future we'd all be driving.

A future that had been pretty much set back in 1992 with the ECC concept: a functional hybrid-electric car powered by a gas turbine (!) engine and built on the 850 platform.

The S80s sleek lines were all present in that concept, but of course with the title of the article it's obvious I'm not going to talk about the Volvo.

I'm going to talk about the Emme 420: a Brazilian-made copy of the Volvo ECC concept—engineered, apparently, with the help of Lotus.

First, before you get excited about tracking down a pretty attractive super sedan with a reported top speed of 273 km/h (170 mph), don't get your hopes up. Only 12 were made, if you have a pretty liberal interpretation of the word "made".

See, Emme was a scam. Built in three series, the 420, 420T, and 422T, the car featured two engines apparently by Megastar, Emme's parent company and, at the top end, one from Lotus: a turbocharged 4-cylinder from the Lotus Esprit that gave world-beating performance. All were topped by a garish, body-coloured engine cover.

I assume the car was rear-drive, as all 420s made had a Tremec T5 manual transmission.

A high-strength plastic composite body (that could be made in as little as 12 minutes) was a sore point for the car. Although corrosion-resistant, lightweight, and extremely durable, the moulds used didn't take into account tolerances—so spare parts were incredibly difficult to make fit.

Its interior featured leather-trimmed seats,  wood dash, and a million small buttons all down the centre console; apart from a few ergonomic quirks it's a pretty conventional cabin. Since the company had bought switchgear from a number of other companies, this shouldn't bee too surprising.

You must understand that at the time, the Brazilian car market was still pretty locked up, and the prospect of a home-grown sedan capable of hanging with the very best from Europe must have been an exciting prospect for the country. Local land deals were made. Government subsidies were given. A promotional trip to Monte Carlo was made…but, of course, because the 420 didn't feature airbags or ABS brakes it would never be allowed for sale in Europe.

Despite newspaper coverage, there was no press launch. No writers were offered test drives in the car. And, despite a few finished vehicles making it out of the low-key factory, information on the car was practically non-existent.

An Emme 420 owner started to make calls.

The turbocharged Lotus engine in his car, it turns out, was a cast-off from the marque as they were gearing up to fit a V8 into the Esprit, and some of the engines sent to Brazil had serious problems…because they were never really intended for re-sale.

There was a small dealership, but when the owner tried to find the head office in São Paulo—and, later, the factory—he started running into dead ends. People started realizing that when the Brazilian government made a subsidy payment, a car was coughed out into the street from—yes—an actual factory that was much smaller than the reported millions in cash "invested" in the project.

More investigation saw the truth finally emerge: backed by shady investors reportedly from Switzerland, the company invested the bare minimum in car production and instead shipped most of the subsidy cash overseas.

To where, or whom…nobody but the perpetrators know for sure.

All that remains are a few—fewer than 10—corrosion-resistant super sedans.


Sources

Emme 420: bestcars.uol.com.br (1, 2, 3), flatout.com.br, quatrorodas.abril.com.brautopasion18.com, wierus.wordpress.com