The Volkswagen Brasília

Photograph of a blue VW Brasilia with a man behind the car watching at it.

Perhaps you didn’t have any idea of the existence of this model until this moment. It’s OK. The Volkswagen Brasília was an unremarkable car, like many of the cars the brand manufactures today.

I guess, the lack of enthusiasm on designing this type of cars is because it’s only fueled by the response to market demands, and old car companies just develop vehicles that fit the basic needs.

Having said that, the VW Brasília wasn’t the best car but it was the car of my childhood.

My dad bought this car because it was cheap, and was a second hand car that supposedly had not ben over used (which turned out to be false). This car was made with the air-cooled VW Beetle engine and the design was inspired by the fusion of the chasis and style of the VW Karmann Ghia and the Volkswagen 412 (or at least that is what the Wikipedia page says).

I was around 8 or 9 years old when my relationship with the car started. It was the car I could help to fix. I learned to disassemble the carburator and to clean it. I learned to “listen” to the motor when it was not working “on time”. I learned to change the spark plugs, to change the tyres, and many other things.

This was the car that my dad used to teach me those things that he learned through his friends with mechanic skills. This was an important car for me, it ignited my love for vehicles, those Sunday mornings when I helped my dad to do the engine maintenance were moments of full presence and attention, at that little age I understood what it means to be mindful.

All my childhood roadtrips with my family where made with this car.  Usually we started the trip by the mornings, I remember my dad driving, my mom telling him a story and I was at the rear seat humming the music of my favorite films, like Jurassic Park. When we returned, the roads were completely obscure, the front lights of the car barely lightened 10 meters ahead, still, my dad was confident, and we never ever had any kind of incident. The benefits of the 90’s night sky was that the stars were bright, and the moon always took care of the journey back home.

Nevertheless, the car had many design flaws, and at that age I wondered why.

Unlike the VW Beetle (or “vocho” as we call it in Mexico), the Brasília had the engine inside the car, inside the car! This meant that when the engine wasn’t working properly all the air became toxic.

Sketch of the 'engine area' of a Volkswagen Brasilia
The engine area of the VW Brasilia

I think the engine was a little bit behind the rear axis, but never had a big problem of oversteer, perhaps because the car dynamics was designed to make a little of understeer. I remember that turning with that car wasn’t exactly easy, even more because it had a mechanical steering system which made the job harder. The engine was easy and cheap to fix. Overheating wasn’t a problem but one had to be careful with the spark plugs. It didn’t have disc brakes, and the front trunk (frunk?) was only for the spare wheel.

I know the car was made for the brazilian market (obviously) and it had a real success there, that’s why  the company tried to reply it in Mexico, but here the Beetle (o “el vocho”) was the king and the Brasília never found a real place in the market. The Brasília was a squared version of the Beetle, and that was the problem: the design. It didn’t appeal to many markets because it wasn’t impressive.

Photograph of the last ever produced VW Beetle
The last VW Beetle produced in the World.

Now that I know how cars are manufactured today, I can see how this model was succesful for the brand, it was really cheap! The interiors needed little effort to make and install. Security wasn’t a feature, and the use of the air-cooled engine of the Beetle simplified the production. In fact, you could fix many of the problems of the car using Beetle components, which means that there wasn’t a real need for engineer new components.

While making this article I found a blog post from some brazilian designer. He conceptualized a 2012 version of the vehicle. It looks just like the style of the 2018 Golf, and I kind of like it. 

Image of a concept Brasilia with a lake and a mountain behind.
A reimagination of a modern VW Brasilia

Having a new version of the Brasília is unnecesary. Volkswagen already has the Golf, and mistakenly also sells the Gol in Mexico (someone didn’t think very well the naming of the cars), both fill the need for a vehicle of this type.

Today, for a family of 4, I don’t think a hatchback is the car to buy. For a single person with 2 pets, perhaps a 3-door car is the ideal, but for a family, a SUV-ish car like the Model Y is the choice. Yes! the price is not affordable for many families, but the maintenence on an electric vehicle is nothing compared to an engine car.

In any case, electric is better, not just because for the environment, but because of the practicality of the car.

Photograph of the rear of a parked Tesla Model Y gray color.
The Model Y

If I had the responsibility to reimagine the car for a weird and unnecessary market need, I’ll go fully Tesla style with the platform:

  1. A skateboard for the powertrain
  2. A simplified aluminum alloy cast for the chasis
  3. A model Y style packaging
  4. And yep, the big touchscreen for the infotainment

Basically a Model Y, that’s why I don’t see the need for reimagine old concepts. 

I know cars like the Brasília are so unremarkable that never get to become a classic or well remembered vehicle, but, for me it was the car that shaped my passion for vehicles when I was a kid, and working on it with my dad defined my current profession and my day job, and I’m thaknful for that.

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