Willys Capeta

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This car was suggested by reader Bruno several weeks ago, and popped into my head just before sitting down to write this.

The scary thing? The more I learn about vehicles built in South America, the less I know. There were so many regional differences and vehicle variations—and it continues today. 

For those of you who are wondering when I'll run out of material…never? Not when I could spend the next year writing about just South American vehicles!

Seeking expansion after the Second World War, Willys—manufacturer of the Jeep—created an outpost in Brazil in 1953.

The range was made of the Willys Aero sedan, the Jeep, the Rural (a Jeep-based truck)—and because of its ties to Renault, the Dauphine. Until 1966 it was considered an independent, Brazilian-focused company.

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Its strange history means that Jeeps were sold alongside Renault sports cars (the A108), which were rebadged as the Willys Interlagos. The Interlagos is how many up-and-coming racers cut their teeth, including Emerson Fittipaldi. Wholly assembled in Brazil, it's considered the first Brazilian-made sports car.

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They were just assembling someone else's design, though. So in 1964 they showed the Capeta—which means "devil" in English.

Those of you who are familiar with the 1962 Ferrari 250 GT SWB by Bertone will instantly recognize the Capeta's snout—both cars have a treatment that echoes the "sharknose" Ferrari F1 cars.

Built from fiberglass, the Capeta was intended to be a big brother for the Interlagos.

What I haven't been able to figure out is why it was never built; was it pressure from the company's U.S. arm? Pressure from Renault? Lack of funds? Little interest?

Who knows? Drop me a line.

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Powered by a straight-six engine from the Willys Aero—and related to what Willys used to offer for power in the Jeepster—it made around 90 horsepower and 135 lb-ft of torque from 2.6-litres. Four-speed manual. 180 km/h (111 mph) top speed. Oh yes.

Roberto Lee with the Capeta

Roberto Lee with the Capeta

What happened to it? After a short time, the Capeta was whisked away and became part of the country's first national car museum, located in São Paulo, founded by Roberto Lee. Sadly, Lee was murdered, and the entire collection was neglected for decades.

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Ford—now owners of the Brazilian Willys operation—helped rescue the car a few years ago and it's now fully restored and cared for. And that's that.

I'm sure you're now wondering if Willys modified any of its Jeeps sold in Brazil, or if they produced any more sports cars. But that's a story for another day.

Sources / Recommended reading