Wednesday, October 26, 2016

1975-1988 Gurgel X-12 TR

Pictured here: a conundrum, even for expert car buffs. Meet the Gurgel X-12 TR. The "hardtop" — that's what TR, "teto rígido", means in Portuguese — remains an odd looking box, even if alloy wheels, racy stickers and an useless rear spoiler try hard to add a hint of sportiness.

João Gurgel, a name that probably only rings a bell when you're from Brazil, was an instrumental player in the development of the country's local car industry. The entrepreneur had created his own car company back in 1964, and sold cars under the Gurgel nameplate since 1969. Out of twelve models that the company introduced during its existence, the X-12 was the one that enjoyed some international success. It was an all-terrain vehicle, built on a fiberglass monocoque with an embedded steel frame, a method that Gurgel had patented as "Plasteel". Gurgel X-12 were exported to the Middle East, served as taxis in Bolivia or carried tourists in the Caribbean. Cuba imported a bunch of X-12 in the 1980s, and because they are made from reinforced plastics, most of them are still driving around. Maintenance is easy: many parts, including the rear mounted engine, are taken from the ubiquitous VW "Beetle". And even in Cuba there is no shortage of VW spare parts.

But despite being from a 100% national brand, Gurgel cars never became popular in their homeland, not least for their peculiar design. "Odd looking" became kind of a trademark for the creations of the company that only could survive as long as it was heavily subsidized by the Brazilian government. After around 40,000 vehicles, produced within three decades, the company finally went bankrupt in 1995.

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