In the 1960s, the Brazilian automotive industry was taking its first steps, with foreign brands dominating the market. In this scenario, a young businessman, Nelson Fernandes, dreamed of launching the Democrat, the first Brazilian car designed and manufactured on a large scale. However, this dream turned into a nightmare in a short period of time, resulting in only two remaining copies of the Democrat.
The Democrat: From Dreams to Disillusionment
Nelson Fernandes founded Ibap (Indústria Brasileira de Automóveis Presidente) in 1963, with great ambitions of building a factory capable of producing 350 cars per day, a volume comparable to that of Volkswagen at that time. The plan included the release of three models, with the Democrat leading the line until 1968. However, in 1968, the company ceased operations after a series of problems and controversies.
Fernandes' strategy to finance Ibap was to sell shares in the company, providing buyers with the privilege of acquiring the Democrat at a price slightly above cost. This strategy had previously worked in the construction of a hospital and a country club, but was not as successful in the automobile project.
Before the era of the internet and social networks, Fernandes traveled across Brazil in a trailer, transporting a red Democrat prototype, in order to attract investors. He managed to sell tens of thousands of shares, offering buyers a medal with the Ibap symbol, which represented the silhouette of Brazil inside a stylized gear.
The Melancholic End and the Controversies
Investors who bought Ibap shares ended up losing their money, as the Democrat's project turned out to be unsuitable for mass production. The vehicle faced problems such as engine overheating, unsatisfactory steering and suspension, considering its sporty proposal.
The first prototypes used chassis and mechanics borrowed from the Chevrolet Corvair, which also served as inspiration for the fiberglass body. However, the final version of the Democrat featured an exclusive chassis and an engine produced in Italy, with an aluminum block and a power of 120 hp, coupled to a four-speed manual transmission. The vehicle had rear-wheel drive, four-wheel independent suspension and drum brakes.
After manufacturing the prototypes and with funds raised from investors, Ibap built a factory in São Bernardo do Campo (SP), which employed up to 120 employees. However, the company's viability was questioned, including in the press.
Furthermore, under the shadow of the military dictatorship, Fernandes and the Democrat faced resistance. The company was the target of a CPI due to suspicions of a scam against investors, and a batch of 500 engines imported from Italy were seized by the Federal Revenue Service, under accusations of smuggling.
The final blow came from the Central Bank, which inspected the factory and declared that Ibap did not have qualified employees to produce cars on a large scale nor had it hired the necessary suppliers for manufacturing. The company closed its doors, leaving fiberglass bodies, chassis and other components locked in a factory warehouse in São Bernardo for around 20 years.
From Oblivion to Salvation by Collector Brothers
In the late 1980s, brothers José Carlos and José Luiz Finardi acquired the bodies and other components of the Democrat and managed to assemble the two remaining examples of the vehicle. One of them, in green, went to the collection of the Automobile Museum in Brasília, while the other, in red, is part of the collection of the Automobile Museum in Canela, in Rio Grande do Sul.
The red example is the same one that toured Brazil in the trailer and is the only one equipped with the original Italian engine. Although it has significant historical value as the first Brazilian car, vintage car enthusiasts note that the Ford Galaxie is, in fact, a more pleasant car to drive.
The Democrat's history is marked by controversy and dilemmas, with divided opinions about Nelson Fernandes, who some consider an unfair visionary, while others believe he underestimated the complexity of car manufacturing. Either way, the Democrat remains a reminder of the ambitions and challenges faced by the Brazilian automotive industry in its early years of development.