A typical modified Brazilian car has three things: cut springs, giant wheels and a plastic front lip. While this car is one fiberglass wing away from a no-taste special, the lack of originality is not due some missing creativity.
What makes a Brazilian car a Brazilian car is the government. The government tariffs on all imported parts means that even buying a front lip is an absurdly arduous and expensive task. As a result people are forced towards the cheapest modifications – knock off wheels, cut springs and front lips.
And for a long time I thought that was the end of the story in Brazil. However, I totally missed the Volkswagen scene.
While the hallmarks of Volks culture (as the Brazilians call it) closely mimics the restrained German style of modification, its dominance in car culture makes it unique. They are so popular that at this event, Volkswagens outnumbered all other carmakers by close to 2:1.
And with good reason. As one of the most prolific car makers in Brazil, Volkswagen parts are cheap and easy to find. In addition, the 1.6L 4 cylinder motor common to many VW cars can produce significantly more power with minimal modification.
If you’re a 20 something looking for the most horsepower with the least money, you can’t go wrong with that setup.
But like the rest of Brazilian Car culture, the real reason Volks culture became so dominant is due to Government regulations and protectionist principles.
See back in the 1970s, the Brazilian government decreed that all cars sold in Brazil had to be manufactured in Brazil. This was in an attempt to protect Brazilian manufacturing, but only 4 automakers really made the jump – Volkswagen, Ford, GM and Pugeot.
Of those four, Volkswagens already had a leg up in the market. The VW Beetle and Kombi Van were both prolific, so VW parts were historically abundant and cheap. Furthermore, the flat 4 in the Beetle was easily swapped out for its more powerful Porsche cousin, or even a version used in Pumas, a Brazilian sports car maker that sourced VW motors. This made Beetle Drag Racers a rather common sight.
As a result a domestic produced aftermarket parts market developed. Since these performance parts were produced in Brazil, they weren’t subject to the taxes that made imported parts so expensive. The aforementioned 1.6L turbo motor only reinforced that aftermarket, thus cementing Volkswagen front and center in Brazilian car culture.
But like everything else cars in Brazil, this wouldn’t have developed without the Government. The perfect storm of protectionist laws and import taxes helped poise Volkswagen at the forefront of Brazilian car culture.
Even today, despite the lack of new game changing motor, the Brazilian Volks cuture continues to grow in unexpected ways.