Gurgel X-15 Off-Road Utility Vehicle: A Brazilian VW-Based Oddity

Check out this quirky little truck

The Gurgel X-15 was an unusual combination of off-road-ready components and air-cooled Volkswagen mechanicals.

João Augusto Conrado do Amaral Gurgel built a remarkable automotive business in Brazil, and the Gurgel X-15 was one of his standouts. Based on an air-cooled Volkswagen engine and transmission (like many of Gurgel’s vehicles) the X-15 utilized a square-tube-steel chassis and beefed up underpinnings. Gurgel did away with the typical VW pan, opting to repurpose many of the other VW components throughout the X-15.

The combination of beefy suspension and a strong foundation made it strong enough to use as a variety of different vehicles. There were van, pickup and convertible versions among the options. Even the Brazilian Army used a version as a small troop transport.

Interestingly, this isn’t the only unique Brazilian off-roader to speak of.

Innovations used in the Gurgel X-15 and beyond:

Many components came from air-cooled Beetles and vans. The drive-train came from a VW van. Gurgel added a factory built traction system that was pretty effective. Gurgel used the “Selectraction” system in many vehicles and it consisted of two levers that could brake the rear wheels individually. Working like a handbrake, this system could be used like a manual limited-slip differential. Simply pull the lever to the corresponding wheel that’s lost traction and power heads to the tire with traction.

Gurgel also built a unique “Plasteel” chassis. Components that were used mixed plastic and steel together to make lightweight, strong components. The “Monobloco” was one of thee components that stacked on top of the chassis. You could add a variety of cabs on top of the Monobloco. That addition could make the X-15 into a pickup, van, open-top and more.

There are still a few examples of the X-15 running around Brazil to this day. They make popular modified off-road rigs and some customized Gurgel X-15s still look retro-future chic.

Gurgel had a remarkable run. Starting off with kid’s cars in the 1960s, his ambitions went to real cars. He began an epic journey to build cars for the people of Brazil. In a few decades, Gurgel built a variety of early electric vehicles, trucks, off-road vehicles and tiny passenger cars. Their designs and philosophy for automating was unique.

Sadly, this unique automaker went bankrupt in 1994 – never to resurface as an car-builder again.

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Easily amused by anything with four wheels, Nathan Adlen reviews vehicles from the cheapest to the most prestigious. Wrecking yards, dealer lots, garages, racetracks, professional automotive testing and automotive journalism - Nathan has experienced a wide range of the automotive spectrum. Brought up in the California car culture and educated in theater, childhood education, film, journalism and history, Nathan now lives with his family in Denver, CO. His words, good humor and video are enjoyed worldwide.