That One Time When Willys Made a Gorgeous Sports Car

[repost for the morning folk]

Hello, beautiful.

Hello, good people of Oppo! Everyone seemed to enjoy my first post about cool and forgotten brazilian cars (you can check it out here), so I’ve decided to make this into an actual semi recurring thing. Today I present to you the Willys Capeta.


But first, let’s talk about Willys place in the Brazilian car industry. Willys Overland came to Brazil in 1952, producing primarily the CJ5 Jeep which was sold over here as the Jipe Universal. In 1958 Willys introduced the Willys Rural, a Brazilian version of the Jeep Station Wagon and by 1959 they were also producing the Dauphine under license from Renault. The Dauphine endeed up being called the Gordini over here, but everyone knows it by its nicknames “Leite Gloria” and “Teimoso”, which deserves a post of it’s own. The Dauphine was one of the few cars that rivaled the Beetle in Brazil at the time, and it also introduced Willys to racing. Some of the top racing drivers to ever come out of Brazil got their start racing Gordinis, including Emerson Fittipaldi.

Both Emerson and Wilsinho Fittipaldi, Luiz Bueno and Christian “BIno” Heins raced Gordinis for the Willys Team.

As the 60's rolled on, Willys began production on the Aero Willys, powered here by the same engine from the Jipe Universal and another Renault licensed vehicle, the Willys Interlagos, known in the rest of the world as the Alpine A108. The Interlagos wasn’t exactly the same as the A108, but let’s leave it for another time. The important part is that it kept dominating the race tracks just like the Gordini did and made the case for sports cars in Brazil.

Scale models of the Capeta and the Interlagos II.

Since the Interlagos was proving itself on and off the track (it was the first sports car made here), Willys decided to explore the segment a little more and commissioned a number of concepts to the style department, including an Interlagos “Evo”, a Grand Tourer called the “Boulevard” and the Capeta, but the only one to ever be showed in public was the later.

The Capeta at the Willys Stand. Capeta is a popular nickname for the Devil in Brazil. Your move, Dodge.

The car was an absolute success at the fourth brazilian Auto Show and went on to tour the country for a bit, before Willys gave the only prototype to car collector and enthusiast Roberto Lee to keep in his museum. Roberto Lee was murdered years later and his family started a decades long fight for his cars, which meanwhile sat at the abandoned museum.

Thanks to the long hood design, the Capeta has a Front-Mid engine configuration, with a six cylinder motor putting out 160hp mated to a four speed manual transmission.

Willys never produced the car as the international arm of the company was bought by Kaiser and Brazil went through a Military Coup d’Etat that ruined the economy. Willys of Brazil was eventually bought by Ford in the midst of financial difficulties (caused in part by spending too much money on racing and sports cars, according to people familiar with the brand) and the prototype sat for so long that most people though it was lost or had been picked apart by trespassers, but in 2009 Ford gained the right to pick up the Capeta from the Museum and gave it a full restoration, bringing the car back to its former glory.

Sitting at the abandoned museum nº1.

Currently, the car is located at... An abandoned museum. The building is owned by the government, which wants to use it as a deposit for the extinct Federal Railroad Network arquives. The car appears to be well looked for at least, so let’s hope it finds a new home soon.

The Capeta post restoration.

Design wise, the Capeta is clearly inspired by the main italian design houses of the period, and both front and rear clips are similar to the Bertone styled Ferrari 250 GT SWB, with the front grille following the design used at the Rural Willys and the Brazilian market Aero Willys. That grille design is supposedly meant to look like the Palácio do Planalto, home of the brazilian president and a mark of brazilian architecture.

The car was equipped with an Aero Willys drivetrain, albeit modified by the racing division to produce 160hp, which was actually pretty respectable for such a light car at the time. It was then coupled with a four speed manual transmission also designed by the racing division. The body was made from fiberglass, as per usual in Brazil at the time.


I personally think it is an absolutely stunning vehicle, with near perfect proportion and an aggressive twist to the italian formula of the time. English speakers will also never fully appreciate the name Capeta, a funny/playful nickname for the Devil that I don’t think is translatable.

Well, that is it Oppo, let me know what you think of the car and the post, feel free to ask about it or other interesting brazilian cars or anything else you want. Criticism is welcomed and let me know about any grammar/spelling mistakes.


Thank you for reading :)

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