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The building of the first car factory in Brazil is 101 years old, but the future is uncertain

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – It is the first construction in the country to be built as a car factory. It is located at Rua Solon 145, in the Bom Retiro neighborhood of São Paulo, and despite its advanced age of more than a century, it still stands firm and strong.

Until the mid-1910s, most of the vehicles imported into Brazil and South America were from Europe. This scenario changed with the beginning of World War I, which practically interrupted automobile imports from that continent to us.

In 1913, there was already a Ford branch in Argentina (the first in South America) with a workshop and a salesroom. At that time, Model T Ford vehicles were imported to Brazil by William T. Wright.

In 1914, the small Ford agency in the neighboring country became an industrial branch, paving the way for the construction of the Brazilian branch in São Paulo a few years later.

In 1919, the Argentine branch transferred US$25,000 to Brazil to create the Brazilian Ford Motor Company, which took its first steps in our country in a small two-story building on Florêncio de Abreu Street in São Paulo, where it began assembling Model T cars and Model TT trucks. This made the company the first automobile manufacturer to set up shop in Brazil.

INAUGURATED IN 1921 WITH MONEY TRANSFERRED FROM ARGENTINA

The building in São Paulo was inaugurated by Ford in 1921. Wonderful T-models rolled out of it, their parts arriving directly from the United States at the port of Santos (SP) and shipped by the São Paulo Railway. The tracks ran directly behind the factory.

Perhaps someone remembers that Ford came here in 1919, and that’s true. But it was first installed in a house in the center of São Paulo and then moved to an old skating rink on Praça da República.

Of course, these locations were not very suitable for the operation, so the company decided to build a factory specifically for this purpose – the first in Brazil.

The project was designed by Albert Kahn, a kind of Henry Ford of industrial architecture. He pioneered the use of reinforced concrete, exposed steel structures, and natural lighting and ventilation through large panes of glass – all to meet the requirements of an automobile manufacturer.

The construction of the building was not easy: the cement came from Canada, the wood for the assembly of the concrete formwork from New Orleans (USA), and the structural steel from Europe.

Ford stayed there for 32 years, until 1953, when the company moved to another, even larger and more modern plant in the Ipiranga district of São Paulo.

The building was then sold and for the last 69 years served as a shed, parking lot, warehouse, distribution center, and even the office of a skatewear brand. Now the Superlounge works there, a space where events, parties, and filming take place.

The most incredible thing is that even after so long, virtually all of the factory’s original features remain, such as the glass panels (although many are broken or painted), the perfectly aligned hexagonal columns, and the small bricks of the facade.

They beg to be restored, but they are there. Even the freight elevator motors, which originated in the United States, still work.

Incredible as it may sound, a hundred years later there is still a trace of Ford there: in a small room that strategically has no windows and where the treasury of the automaker worked, there is a majestic safe.

The door has been removed, but the structure is so heavy and solid that no one has ever had the courage to touch it. On it is a plaque with the Ford logo and the inscription S.P. Office Equipment 4108.

Another peculiarity is that of all the historic Ford plants in Brazil, only this one is resilient: the Ipiranga plant, which was sold and demolished, has given way to a shopping center; the São Bernardo plant, which was preserved with the purchase of Willys in 1968 and is now making way for a logistics complex, had a similar fate.

At present, however, the future of the Solon Street building is uncertain. It is up for sale and could suffer the same fate as the others. Hardly anyone who passes by the building knows that it was the site of Brazil’s first car factory.

The building would have deserved a fate linked to the history of our industry and thus telling of its own origins. Is there a multi-millionaire there somewhere?

The MIAU, Museu da Imprensa Automotiva, has already offered to occupy a space in this historic building. Who knows?

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