Get Shorty: Gurgel XEF Might Present Choking Hazard

“There is nothing wrong with your monitor. Do not attempt to adjust the picture.” Let me tell you what the Gurgel XEF is not: It’s not a Shriner car from behind the Iron Curtain. It’s not a custom shortie. It’s not an optical illusion. It’s not an Argentine-market Ford Falcon after being rear-ended by Large Marge. And it most certainly wasn’t a massive sales success. So what the hell was it then? The oddly proportioned XEF was just one in a long line of Gurgel’s obscure Brazilian-built cars, and its demise (and that of the company itself) was brought about by competition from none other than the … Lada Niva. (Honestly, could it get any stranger?) João Gurgel was the enterprising mind behind the line of Gurgel cars and light SUVs, deciding in 1969 that Brazil needed its own automotive industry. Foreign companies, particularly VW, were building their own designs in Brazil, and Gurgel would have none of it. That being said, when he started building fiberglass bodies for his cheap offroad cars, he used VW Type 1 mechanicals, and can you really blame him? Building your own engine is tough, especially in pre-boomtime Brazil. They weren’t particularly well-built, and despite Gurgel’s ability to secure ridiculous concessions from the government the cars were never really profitable. (List of all Gurgel cars can be found on this site.) OK, that’s all well and good, you’re thinking, but what sort of indigenous Brazilian crack was Gurgel on to come up with the ludicrously proportioned XEF? Well, it was the misbegotten dream of many independent manufacturers (Nash comes to mind), to build a cheap car for the masses to beat the big manufacturers: Gurgel wanted to build the cheapest 4-seat car sold in Brazil. The result was the XEF city car, with seating for three across the front (and only) bench and styling to sober even the most drunken cachaça-swilling Brazilian. It sold about as well as it was attractive, and so Gurgel tried again later with an even crazier-looking dustbuster analogue, an electric car, and finally something that looked a bit like a golf cart converted into a popemobile (scroll down past the XEF for images). Gurgel folded in 1992 after somewhat miraculously surviving that long, and while only a handful of XEFs were ever sold, it should be recognized for what it is – one of the most bizarre-looking cars ever to make it into production at all. And, in defense of Gurgel’s legacy, it was also a noble attempt to localize the auto industry and produce an inexpensive car for the masses – you can’t fault him for trying. But just look at it! Autosavant, Gurgel800.com.br, copanema.com.br

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