Gurgel SuperCross

I don't usually get upset about the winter—I live in Canada, it's not that bad (really!) and it's certainly not a country locked in a state of forever cold. But it's -10C right now—forecast to a high of -6C for the day—so naturally I'm thinking about the ideal way to get from A to B.

The Brazilian-made Gurgel SuperCross is probably not the winter beater I'd be looking for—to start, it's front engined and rear-drive. It was also made for the climate in Brazil, not the climate in Canada.

But, like, why not? Fibreglass doesn't rust!

I've been over Brazil's protectionist economy in general and its locked down automotive industry specifically, but to recap: if you wanted a new vehicle, Gurgel was one of the few choices you had. Heavily reliant on technology borrowed from Volkswagen, Gurgel combined innovative production methods and (usually) fibreglass bodywork to produce workhorses well-suited to Brazil.

For the countryside, you could pick up a vehicle I've already featured: the X-15. Sort of like a Volkswagen Beetle turned into a Hummer H2, it came with two oddly-shaped windshields and was basically a Tupperware bin on wheels.

For the city, Gurgel offered the BR-800. Designed with assistance from the government in the form of a plan called CENA (Carro Econômico NAcional; National Economical Car) that promised upwardly mobile Brazilians a locally-made choice of city car—a smaller Tupperware bin on wheels, if you will.

It was the first car wholly designed and built in Brazil.

By 1988, however, when the car was finally introduced, the local city car ended up being much more expensive than the competition. Brazil's car market was starting to open up, and the Chevrolet Chevette—yes, it was still sold in South America through 1998(!)—was less expensive, more powerful, and larger.

You can imagine how terrible a car would have to be to be passed over for a Chevette…

Actually, that's not entirely true. To help protect against a tsunami of imports and alternatives to its model range, Gurgel cooked up a, sadly, terrible scheme: customers could only buy a car if they also bought 750 shares in Gurgel. Only about 4,000 were made.

The company took the BR-800 and morphed it into the Supermini, without its predecessor's much-derided "Springshock" suspension made from fibreglass and other synthetic components. 

What they kept, though, was the platform and the car's much-praised engine: a halved, water-cooled Volkswagen flat 4-cylinder displacing a few ccs short of 800. The small "Enerton" 36-or-so-horsepower motor was comparable to the one fitted in the Citroën 2CV many years before: designed to be simple, easy to work on, and fuel-efficient.

Introduced in 1992, it still couldn't compete with the imports.

Gurgel had one final trick up their sleeve: make the Supermini a little bit larger and sell two distinct models: the Supermini BR-800 SLX, a sunroof-equipped upmarket version—kind of like an Eddie Bauer Edition Ford Festiva (if only such a car existed!)—and the Supercross, a beefed-up, take-no-prisoners riff on the off-roader market. 

Like I said above, it didn't have 4WD. It had rear drive. It didn't even have four cylinders…only two. A four-speed manual and weight at just 738kg (1627 lbs) means it wouldn't have been a complete dog. But it wasn't enough to be the world's first crossover microcar. So the Supercross, totally un-ironic roof vent and all, would be one of the very last vehicles Gurgel made before going bankrupt. Even worse, the Gurgel owners club websites I've found list the production number for the Supercross at a handful, maybe two.

If you're looking for a unicorn to sticker up and ride through the Dakar Rally Raid, the Supercross is it! Call me silly, but sometimes I can't help but think that the new Jeep Renegade is just a Gurgel Supercross, 23 years removed.

Sources

Gurgel Supercross: Wikipedia (Brazil), gurgel800.com.br, carsfotodb.com

Gurgel: Wikipedia