FNM Onça

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There was a car show in my town today, and as I browsed the rows of gleaming vehicles tried to find something interesting.

Mustangs…Camaros…Impalas…Chevelles…Corvettes… Hot rods and customs were also out in force. There were two Zimmer Golden Spirits, but no Quicksilver.

It got me thinking: If I wanted to make a splash, what would I take to the show?

A Lamborghini Countach would certainly turn heads. So would a Quasar Unipower, or a gigantic Duesenberg. For double takes, though, something like the FNM Onça would be ideal.

"What's…that?" 

It looks both American and European. It's small. It's fiberglass. It has Alfa Romeo mechanicals, and it was built in Brazil. And would have been a competitor for yesterday's Car of the Day, had the Willys Capeta been produced.

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I guess this is how the story goes.

Two military men in Brazil opened up a factory, Fábrica Nacional de Motores, in Rio de Janeiro. It was a factory—bicycles, ammunition, refrigerators, you name it. What Brazil needed, though, were trucks—and so in 1949 they inked a deal to produce Italian Isotta-Fraschini trucks.

FNM was officially in the vehicle business.

The Alfa Romeo 2000-based FNM JK 2000

The Alfa Romeo 2000-based FNM JK 2000

Alfa Romeo was on a roll, too, and saw huge opportunities overseas. After the Second World War, hey quickly established assembly plants in Malaysia, Thailand, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. (That reminds me that there have been no Car of the Day features on anything from Africa…) Brazil was next on its list, and Alfa Romeo trucks quickly replaced Isotta-Fraschini designs in the FNM plant. 

Why not cars? It took until 1960, but the Brazilian operation was able to begin production of the FNM JK 2000—a slightly remodelled Alfa Romeo 2000 Berlina. (JK stood for Brazil's then-current President Juscelino Kubitscheck. Cars aren't usually named after political figures…)

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Now with access to modern European mechanicals, FNM asked themselves, "Why don't we make a sports car?"

They hired well-known custom—kit car—modeller Genaro Malzoni and instructed him to use the mechanicals of the JK 2000 to make a stylish coupe.

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Onça is the name of the largest Brazilian cat, the Jaguar. And while the resulting car resembled the Ford Mustang more than the British sports cars that shared its name, it does look quite attractive from certain angles.

After favourable press for the concept, the company retained Malzoni as a coachbuilder of sorts: he'd create the fiberglass bodies, which were installed over uprated and shortened JK 2000 mechanicals. The car was painted and shipped back to FNM for final assembly.

This was no Mustang, however: with only a mildly tuned 2-litre 4-cylinder engine and about 115 net horsepower, it was more tabby than Jaguar. Experts say that there were serious defects with the body—certain speeds, roads, and Gs would make the doors fling open…

That said, it was also the first production fully Brazilian-designed and built sports car, which definitely counts for something. It also had an incredibly attractive instrument panel…if you're in to that sort of thing.

I've been able to find little on production numbers, so to be safe I'll say that if you'd like to impress enthusiasts at your local cruise night, you should tell them between five and 10 were made. Since it wasn't an officially blessed Alfa Romeo project, the Italian automaker shut down production once it acquired FNM.

That said, it wasn't FNM's last sports car. Or the last time Alfa Romeo lent its might to a model for South America. But that's a story for another day.

Sources / Recommended reading