WHAT do you do if the government bans cars from being imported?
Humberto Fonseca pondered that for a while in the early 1970s, when Arab members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) imposed an embargo against the United States in retaliation for the US supplying the Israeli military — and to gain leverage in post-war peace negotiations.
It was to have global implications.
The embargo resulted in an upward spiral in oil prices with the price per barrel first doubling, then quadrupling and imposing skyrocketing costs on consumers and structural challenges to the stability of whole national economies.
In Brazil, the government banned the import of cars and many industrial companies, among them, Companhia Industrial Santa Matilde, ran out of work.
So owner Humberto figured it might be a good time to put his idle plant to use and invested in the production of a car to brighten the days of the motoring public.
His daughter, Ana Lídia Pimentel Fonseca, designed a neat coupe and with the help of former pilot and racing car mechanic Renato Peixoto, they started the project.
The first sketches appeared in 1976, the prototypes were completed and the cars were launched in 1977.
But the first cars had lots of problems so Humberto fired Peixoto and built a much better product under the supervision of Fernando Monnerat.
With everything fixed, the quite classy and well-finished 2+2 coupe was re-launched — and lived on for the next 20 years.
The sleek Santa Matilde had a polyester-reinforced fiberglass body reinforced with polyester.
In 1982, two Chevrolet-derived engines were available: a 4.1 straight six cylinder with 157kW, or a 2.5-litre four cylinder turbo which produced 104kW.
The instrument panel is said to have resembled Porsches of the period and instrumentation included water temperature, oil pressure, speed, odometer, rev counter, fuel level and a clock.
Central locking, power windows, and air conditioning were standard equipment and transmission was a four or five-speed manual.
An unusual feature was retractable bumpers made of a rubber compound with steel frames.
Unlike most cars on sale in Brazil at the time, the Santa Matilde had disc brakes all-round.
It was a well respected car, but was never made in volume.
Limited resources restricted production to fewer than 900 in the Santa Matilde’s life.