Mavericks in Brazil
By Ernesto Franzen
Ford of Brazil was in a tight spot in 1970. It was making one of the most popular cars then, the Ford Corcel, a modified Renault 12. It also built the most prestigious and luxurious Brazilian car, the Ford Galaxie, made as a 4-door only. Along with the Dodge Dart, they were then the only cars in Brazil that could be had from the factory with air conditioning, power steering and auto trannies. But its mid-range sedan was the ancient Ford Aero, in fact a modified version of the Aero-Eagle that Kaiser-Willys had started building in the USA way back in 1954 (believe me, I wouldn´t make this up)!
Meanwhile Chevrolet of Brazil was making since 1968 the Opala, an Opel Rekord that could be had with either the 151 CID four or the 250 CID six and was proving to be very popular in both 2- and 4-door models. So Ford needed an answer to it. And they did a consumer survey: selected Ford costumers were invited to a big room where there were four cars, all painted in white and with all badges removed: an American Ford Maverick, a German Ford Taunus and the locally made Chevrolet Opala and Ford Corcel. They were given a form with a lot of questions and after results were tabulated the winner was… the Ford Taunus. Brazilians have long favored compact, economical cars because of gas prices being historically twice the American price, so the Taunus was chosen by the majority of the costumers surveyed. That was bad news for Ford: the early seventies were the “economic miracle” years for Brazil and all automakers were preparing new models for the upcoming 1973 São Paulo Auto Show and Ford couldn´t be left behind. The Taunus meant many problems for Ford. Production of the 2.3 OHC four was slated for 1975; until then there was no Ford engine made in Brazil that could fit in it. Besides that, its independent rear suspension with coil springs would demand high tooling investment. But the Maverick… it could take the ancient Aero Willlys 3.0 liter six and its live rear axle with leaf springs was already available. So the top brass at Ford of Brazil decided to go ahead with the Maverick anyway. So much for expensive consumer surveys! Anyway, I´m grateful for them, cause otherwise I´d probably never know the thrill of driving a V-8 car.
Adapting the old six however wasn´t that easy; the engine demanded urgent updating. It still had only the intake valve on its head, the exhaust valve being in the block like the old “Hurricane” Jeep engine of WWII fame. Cramped engine bay space forced a redesign of the header, which in turn caused the head gasket to burn around the sixth cylinder consistently. A “Mickey Mouse” external extra water passage on the block (in the form of a rubber hose) improved cooling and solved this. Only 60% of the oil flowing passed through the filter, the 40% destined to lube the main bearings being unfiltered. Ford had a full-filtering oil system designed and left valve train as it was. The first prototype engine seized at once, because the oil pump had been designed inverted and was actually sucking oil from the main bearings and into the carter.
After some last minute modifications the Maverick was launched at the 1973 São Paulo Auto Show on May as a 1974 model. It looked pretty like the 1970 American model with the small bumpers wich weren´t changed for the whole production run since Brazil never passed bumper laws. Mavericks were available in three models: the base Maverick Super had the 3.0 six, a four speed manual with column shifter and a bench seat. The Super Luxo was basically the same, but with more chrome, separated bucket seats, pile carpeting and an AM radio. But the one to remember and revere was the Maverick GT. It came with the 302 V-8 engine, four-on-the-floor manual, stiffened suspension, bigger wheels with D70 Wide Ovals and recirculating ball steering (the others had the old Aero steering which took 6.5 turns lock-to-lock). Only options available on the GT were metallic paint and power assisted steering. Outwardly it was distinguished by black stripes on its sides, the “302 V-8” inscripted in them, rectangular driving lights in front of the grille and matte black paint on the top of the hood bulge.
The V-8 engine was also optional on the Super Luxo, and with it a host of other options were available, like the recirculating ball steering, a choice of either the four-on-the-floor or three-speed column shifter manuals and the GT suspension. Also available on the Super Luxo V-8 were power steering and a three-speed auto.
The V-8 engine came from the factory with the Motorcraft bijet carb, a low 7.5:1 compression ratio (Brazilian gas was awful back then), a single exhaust and a tall 3.08 rear end. Even so, the most respected car magazine here tested a GT and clocked it at 11.5 seconds in 0-to-60 acceleration and a 111 mph top speed. In ´73 and ´74 the GT would reign as the fastest production car in Brazil.
The Maverick sold well on its first two years; it was bigger than the average Brazilian car and Ford directed its marketing to the 30-to-40 year old male who wanted confortable and prestigious personal transportation, much like the Thunderbird or the Monte Carlo in the USA. This and Brazilian distaste for 4-door cars are the reason for the low sales of the 4-door Maverick available a few months after the 2-door. Most units sold were 2-door Super Luxos.
There were a few curious differences between the American and the Brazilian versions. In Brazil bull horns ain´t a symbol of virility as in the USA; instead, a “man with horns” here is a man who´s been betrayed by his wife, the same going for women. Obviously, Ford removed the horns from all badges. Another difference was the closed glovebox; the simple tray on the American version didn´t fit the Brazilian´s prestige image.
Body strength was another Maverick characteristic. Most Brazilian car were (and still are) quite nimble for fuel economy reasons. Many crashes resulted in a dented Maverick and a seriously damaged Chevette, VW Beetle, Corcel or whatever. For this reason, Mavericks were the favorite runaway cars of bank robbers in the ´70s.
Ford problems with the Maverick started with the engine; owners loved its sporty styling, front seat room and the large trunk, but hated the engine. The six-banger had plenty of low-end torque and that was all. It took 20.8 seconds in the 0-to-60 and reached (after a looong time) a top speed of 93 mph. Worse yet, its fuel consumption was marginally better than the V-8 – actually worse if you drove faster than 50 mph! For the man willing to pay a steeper price (about 25% more), the V-8 in either Super Luxo or GT wrappings was the way to go. Trouble was, the V-8 wasn´t built in Brazil. It was imported from the US, the Brazilian government at the time had strict importation quotas and this engine also powered the luxury Galaxie which was also selling well. Soon there was a backlog on V-8 engined Mavericks; in late ´73 you had to wait for 12 months to get one. The only problems the V-8 faced were a radiator too small for the scorching Brazilian summer and rear drum brakes that locked the rear wheels too easily, demanding care when braking hard.
My deceased father-in-law had a well-cared for Maverick six. While battling the cancer that eventually killed him, he frequently asked me to drive it, and boy, was it bad. Besides the slow engine, the column mounted shifter felt like attached to nothing, so many times getting the desired gear was a matter of trial and error. And the steering…
Well, it was lousy. I was used to the much better recirculating ball steering on my V-8 and I almost hit the opposite curb on my first turn in it. Anyway, he loved that car, and his son still drives it.
In the meantime, Chevrolet had its Opala well-established in the market. Let´s face it, the 151 CID four-engined Opala was faster and more economical than the Maverick six, and its 250 CID six was broadly available because it was built in Brazil, being only slower than the V-8 until 1975 (as we will see later). Besides that, many of those 30-to-40 guys already had families, and the 2-door Opala had more rear seat room than the 2-door Maverick (I´m telling you, Brazilian drivers at that time almost hated 4-door cars). The Opala also had its woes, however, the most serious being a very bad rear suspension; to drive an Opala at speed on a wet or dirt road was a dangerous adventure, for it could swap ends without much warning.
Demand for the V-8 was quickly reduced, however, when the oil crisis hit by the end of ´74. The six banger being also a gas guzzler, things looked bleak for the Maverick. Fortunately, Ford´s new engine factory at Taubaté got ready and production of the 2.3 OHC four started in Brazil. It was quickly dropped in the Maverick, along with improved brakes, front suspension, a four-on-the-floor new gearbox and the recirculating ball steering which became standard for all models. The GT was kept unchanged, and the V-8 was still optional on the Super Luxo, though less popular now.
At last, the Maverick was a good car for the brazilian market. With the 2.3 engine it had improved performance (0-60 in 15.3 sec., 96 mph top speed), faster then its direct competitor, the Opala four. It had got less fuelish (up to 25% better), and revised brakes, suspension and steering had made it a much better overall car. The only advantage the Opala had over it was rear seat room, and car mags gave it very favorable press. Unfortunately, the bad impression generated by the six-cylinder had left its mark and to add insult to injury, 1975 was a bad year for the Ford quality control department. Something went wrong with the steel Ford bought, making most ´75 Fords rust-prone.
While 76 models were carryover, 1977 brought many changes with the Fase II models. Gone were the Super and Super Luxo designations; there were only the Maverick 4 (that´s how the factory named it, with the numeral) and the GT. There was a new grille, revised chrome trim and bigger taillights. The suspension was recalibrated for radial tires, which came standard. The GT got a new hood with fake air intakes and, saddest of all changes, could be had with the 2.3 four engine, starting the age of “badge performance” for the Maverick. The V-8 version lost some pep due to a taller diff (2.87:1), slightly compensated by an increase in compression ratio to 7.8:1. I haven´t got the figures on V-8 GT production of the Fase II models, but I guess they were very few, for I have only seen three of them. Also, very few non-GT V-8´s were made.
Also new for 77 were optional factory air conditioning for both the V-8 and 2.3 four, as well as a three-speed auto and power steering for the four banger. A friend of mine once drove a 2.3 four loaded with it all: air, power steering and auto trans. He told me it was outrun by a VW beetle and I believe it. Anyway, if you didn´t overload it with power-robbing options, the Maverick 4 was a good car for daily use, being comfortable, reliable, fairly economical and quite safe with the Fase II suspension, brakes and radial tires. Being almost neutral at the limit, it behaved much better on a twisty road than the Opala, which still had the dangerous rear suspension.
Only change for ´78 was the LDO (luxury decour option) model. Bad news were the revamped Ford Corcel II. Ford completely reskinned its front-wheel drive best-seller, improved its engine mating it to a 5-speed trans (which was then very unusual in Brazil) and completely redesigned its suspension. The car got very good; it was almost as fast as the Maverick 4, had more interior room and its fuel economy was outstanding for the time. It lured loyal Ford buyers away from the Maverick (dad included) and was one of the final blows. Besides that, by that time more than 50% of new car buyers were women, and they didn´t like the macho appeal, the weigth and the limited rear visibility the Maverick offered. It was difficult to parallel-park on the crowded streets of Brazil, which is most lady drivers´ comparison test. With the recession of ´80-81 on the horizon, Ford of Brazil quietly discontinued the Maverick in 1979, leaving us all Ford performance fans orphans.
The brightest page in the history of Brazilian Mavericks is racing. I´m glad to say that Mavericks dominated the racing scene in Brazil from 1973 to 1977. I´m not talking about drag racing, which has never been a popular sport in Brazil, I´m talking about road circuit racing! Racers got the V-8´s just as soon as they reached the dealers. In 1973 Mavericks won the three endurance races held in Brazil: the Interlagos 25 Hours, the Interlagos 500 Kilometers and the prestigious Interlagos 1000 Miles. They did not just win – in all those races four Mavericks finished on the first five places! Just as on the street, its competition came from the six-cylinder Opalas. In spite of the smaller engines, the Opalas were lighter than the Mavericks, what should square things off weren´t for their infamous rear suspension.
In 1974 Mavericks were entered in the brazilian equivalent of the NASCAR series, winning all of the races! The General wouldn´t stand this humiliation for very long, so in 1975 Chevrolet unleashed the 250-S, a hopped up version of the honored six which made things equal for a while. Ford reacted announcing the so-called Maverick Quadrijet (they spelled it with an “i” probably to avoid trademark problems with Holley), which would be a V-8 fed by a Holley four-barrel carburetor, with an Iskinderian solid cam and 8.5:1 compression, demanding then hard-to-find premium gas. It was only a message – Ford of Brazil never built anything with a four-barrel carb – and racers got it. Performance parts brought from the USA soon found their way into race cars, and things returned to normal, that is, Mavericks winning all the races. Unfortunately, the 250-S engine was 100% Brazilian made and Opalas 250-S were widely sold through dealers to anyone who wanted them, racer or not, while the “Quadrijet” was just a note on car mags. Currency exchange between US Dollars and Brazilian Cruzeiros was very unfavorable for us, and strict importation laws made for very few hopped-up V-8´s on the streets. This gave the Maverick a “loser” image on the streets, for street racing was a popular “night sport” at the time and a stock 250-S was faster than a stock V-8.
On the track, however, things were going from bad to worse for Chevrolet. Everybody knows that there is no substitute for cubic inches, and there is a much larger selection of performance parts for the Ford V-8 than for the Chevy six. The most remarkable racing Maverick was a car sponsored by the best-selling cigarette brand in Brazil. It was sent to famous Argentinian race car builder Oreste Berta who not only modified extensively its engine (with four Webers and Gurney heads) as well as the suspension and the body, with large air dams, a wild rear wing and flared wheel wells covering enormous tires. Driven by experienced driver Luís Pereira Bueno (a kind of Brazilian Richard Petty), this car could run circles around the Opalas. It´s problem was reliability, the super engine breaking more often than the “Quadrijets”, which were very reliable. Even so it won every race it finished, including one that it started in the last place of the grid because of mechanical problems during qualification.
Even the four cylinder Mavericks were raced for a while; in 1975 Ford sponsored a championship series open to stock Maverick fours only in order to publicize the new engine. It was won by Formula 1 driver José Carlos Pace – some of you might remember him driving a UOP-Shadow in the Can-Am series that year.
This situation held on until 1977, when new rules banned the use of imported performance parts. Ford wasn´t interested on racing the Maverick anymore, or any other car for that matter.
This would seem the end of the Maverick racing career, but wasn´t – in 1981, six independent racers met in Interlagos with their private cars (one still had a tape deck and power steering) and started a new racing division called Tourism 5000. It accepted any car that had an engine displacement up to 5.2 liters (in order to accept also the 318 CID Dodge Darts). By and by more cars were fielded; one race started with 40 cars. Most racers drove Mavericks, but there were also many Dodge Darts and even two Ford Galaxies were entered! Again, Mavericks won all races as far as I can remember – besides the weight, Dodges had a lubrication problem with the 318, which lost oil pressure on fast turns. An Opala could be entered, but it never happened – maybe because Chevrolet had created its own racing division in which only Opalas could race, maybe because Chevy wouldn´t like to see “old”, discontinued Fords win over their brand-new Opalas which were still in production.
By 1987, good cars and parts became difficult to find, and Tourism 5000 slowly came to an end. But old Fords never die, they just run faster. The most prestigious brazilian race is the Mil Milhas Brasileiras, a run-what-you-brung 1000 mile race. Nowadays imported Porsches usually take the trophy, but among the domestic cars there´s always at least one Maverick. In the 1992 edition, a Maverick stayed on the heels of the winning BMW M3 but had to quit after about 500 miles. What a lucky Bimmer driver!
Brazilian Maverick Production Figures
The following table shows Maverick production figures:
Year 2-door 4-door GT Total
1973 16,287 602 2,081 18,970
1974 23,859 6,734 4,177 34,770
1975 17,864 2,297 998 21,159
1976 18,040 1,443 499 19,982
1977 5,278 513 1,643 7,434
1978 3,526 233 998 4,757
1979 800 57 177 1,034
Total 85,654 11,879 10,573 108,106
Although there´s no data on total V-8 production, all GT´s made from 73 to 76 had this engine, so at least 7,755 of them were made. The sudden increase in GT production in 1977 is due to the debut of the 4-cilinder GT; very few V-8 GT’s were made from then on.
Besides the 2- and 4-door body styles, there were 100 station wagons made in 1975. It was basically a 4-door with its top extended back to the rear and a third side window and rear hatch door added. I have seen only one of them, which used to be parked three blocks away from home. It soon started to rust badly, however, and in about two years it disappeared. In spite of all my curiosity about it, I never got to meet its owner. I know of only one surviving station wagon, which by the way has a V-8 engine.
More intelligent people than me have said that the Brazilian people has no memory. Fact is, Brazilians are crazy about anything new, and tend to disregard anything old. That´s why car collectors are a rare breed here. And that´s why it´s so difficult to find 20- or 15-year-old cars in good condition. Six- and four-cylinder Mavericks are no exception, being such slow cars very few people still love them. They´re considered “old men´s cars” because, ahn, because they´re mostly driven by “chronologically advanced citizens”. But the V-8… Well there will always be a mystique around V-8 engines. Only three modern OHV V-8 car models were ever built in Brazil: the Maverick and the Galaxie with the 302 and the Dodge Dart with the 318. The Maverick was discontinued in 1979, the Dart in 1981 and the Landau (a revamped Galaxie made to look like a Lincoln Town Car) in 1983. The Maverick was the cheapest, had the sportiest looks and had the greatest performance potential, as its racing career proved.
All cars made in Brazil nowadays have four cylinder engines in the 1.0 to 2.0 liter range; the only exception is the luxury Chevrolet Omega that can optionally have (guess what) the 250 CID six. Compared to those teenie weenie four bangers the 302 V-8 looms as a behemoth engine! This is the reason why the V-8 Mavericks are considered as true Brazilian muscle cars. Drive a good V-8 around and people will look at it with awe. They´re bigger than most cars built here nowadays, and no 4- or 6-cylinder has the sexy, strong note of a V-8 exhaust. The V-8´s are amongst the most desirable collectible cars around here. Since there are fewer good V-8 owners willing to sell than prospective buyers, some of them have bought good Mavericks 4 and swapped their engines for V-8´s taken from wrecked Galaxies, an operation easier said than done.
Restoring and maintaining a Maverick here nowadays is not easy. Although engine parts can be found with ease, some body and trim parts are almost impossible to find. Even so, some maverick owners (pun intended) still do their best to keep their cars in top notch condition. Most V-8 owners dream about the touted “Quadrijets” and their racing history – and interesting things started to happen. Importation laws have become much more permissive since 1989, and currency exchange became favorable for us. Now you can order a Holley carburetor for the V-8 for less than the price of a usual domestic car carburetor. The same goes for most other engine parts. Brazilian gas quality has improved a lot with new and widely available premium formulations, allowing compression ratios up to 9.0:1. This made many V-8 owners (like me) to upgrade their cars, and “Quadrijet” Mavericks are actually becoming more common on the streets than back in the ´70s.
Let´s check some numbers. Back in 1975, a car mag tested a “Quadrijet” made to Ford´s original recipe: Holley carb, an Iskinderian 270 degree cam, solid lifters and 8.5:1 compression. This car was clocked at 7.8 seconds in the 0-60, with a top speed of 200,00 km/h (124.3 mph), a number round enough to be suspicious. I once saw a hopped-up street V-8 clocked at 230 km/h (143 mph) on the local race course, but this was a real wild one, with an engine built almost to Boss 302 specs. Anyway, the 7.8 secs in the 0-60 can be easily replicated with the right parts. Now check the costs: if you look hard enough, you can find a very good V-8 for US$ 7,000, or a regular one for US$ 4,000. Expect to spend about US$ 1,500 for a carb, intake, cam, larger radiator, assorted pieces and labor (wich is much cheaper here). For about US$ 8,500 you can have that 0-60 in 7.8 seconds car. Compare that to the fastest Brazilian car built now, the Fiat Tempra Turbo 2.0; it takes 8.4 seconds in the 0-60, half a second slower. Sure, improved aerodynamics allows it to top at 132 mph, it´s not a gas guzzler (if you don´t step on it) and has amenities never dreamed of in the Maverick, like leather seats, power windows, locks, mirrors and a 10-CD magazine player… but you won´t find one for less than US$ 35,000, going up to US$ 45,000 for a fully optioned one (yes, cars are much more expensive in Brazil due to absurd taxes and relatively low volume production).
My guess is that in 5 years most surviving Mavericks in Brazil will be “Quadrijets” pampered and venerated by their owners much the way Americans worship muscle cars like the Shelby Mustang GT-350. What an irony, the last Mavericks will be the ones Ford never built!
Yours truly presents his pride and joy
My Maverick is the car my father bought new on February 1974. I was 13 back then, and I eagerly asked dad to buy a red GT but he didn´t want a boy racer, so he ordered a regatta blue Super Luxo with the 302 V-8 engine, four-on-the-floor and recirculating ball steering. Strangely, dad skipped the GT suspension; the car came with the softly sprung Super Luxo suspension and 6.95 skinny tires. Soon dad found himself burning rubber in every gear and locking wheels all too easily, the soft suspension making things even worse. It didn´t take him long to change those lousy tires for E70 Wide Ovals even bigger than the ones standard on the GT, and all springs and shocks were swapped for GT parts making the car safe at last. I learned to drive in her, and when I got old enough to drive legally (18 here) she was my birthday gift. Being a physician, dad always insisted we should walk as much as possible in order to stay fit, so he had only put 26,000 miles on her!
Needless to say, I had been in love with her since day one. I cared for her as well as I could and soon I decided to keep her as a collectible, for it was clear that sporty-looking cars with big engines would never more be made in Brazil. As soon as I could I bought another car to take the blunt of daily commuting, trips to the beach, rainy days, etc. and spared my Maverick, driving her usually on sunny week ends.
By and by I improved her, and now she´s quite representative of the “Quadrijet” breed now on the streets: 600 cfm Holley, Edelbrock Performer manifold, a Crane HMV-272 cam, high-intensity lifters, true rolling cam chain, reworked heads with 9.0:1 compression, dual exhaust and a Galaxie radiator. An Accel ignition has replaced the ancient points one. Tires now are 205/70R14 Pirellis. Driving her is a delight, for the head job and the hi-intensity lifters have more than compensated the low end power loss caused by the hot cam; she feels actually stronger in the low end than when stock, and she´ll happily rev through the 5500 rpm red line. Planned for the future are headers and minor body repairs to eliminate a few little dents and scratches.
I never had the opportunity to measure her acceleration accurately, but by the way she out accelerates the so-called “performance” cars built here nowadays I think it´s close to that 7.8 seconds number. Being a Super Luxo V-8 means being a sleeper; a casual look from other drivers identifies an “old man´s car”. It´s great fun to outrun a brand new sport car and watch the surprised looks on the faces of younger drivers who can´t tell a V-8 by its rumble.
Being an agpilot by profession, I stay long periods away from home, and thus I can´t drive her very often, so far she´s got only 39,000 miles. But as the saying goes, drink a glass of wine a day and you´re a connoisseur; drink a bottle and you´re an alcoholic.