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 A collection of Dodge vehicles

​The guardian of Dodge in Brazil

Get to know the story of Alexandre Badolato, a collector with so many Dodge vehicles in his garage that he created a museum to house them

June 18, 2019 - Alexandre Badolato's love story (a Brazilian) with Dodge started early, at a time when Chrysler was making its cars on Brazilian soil. "I got interested in cars in the 1970s", says the businessman, now 49 years old and some 160 Dodges. You read it right: Badolato has more than three Dodges for each year of his life, a proportion that continues to grow. Since 2010, he's had in the vicinity of the city of Campinas (São Paulo) the Dodge Museum, which he built with his wife, an engineer, to house the collection.

In the early 1970s Chrysler had a peak in its production in Brazil. But it stumbled into the oil crisis. "The factory closed and the big Dodge lost their value in such a way that many were abandoned or destroyed", says Badolato, who not only collects the cars but also their souls: the stories. "About 6% of the production was left", he estimates. Much of it has been salvaged and it's now part of the Badolato collection, which restores the huge cars to their the original majesty, including, of course, the characteristic and hypnotic roaring of the V8 engines, which he makes a point of keeping them running.

"Glo-glo-glo-glo-glo", Badolato is perfect with the onomatopoeic sound in his head. Although more frenetic, the sound resembles that of a good gulp, which, let's face it, fits perfectly with these handsome muscle cars, right? But they only drink gas, of course. If you still did not understand it, that's why few survived the oil crisis ... "They had become unfeasible for the normal user. People began swapping the cars for a radios or a refrigerator. They were abandoned and scrapped", says Alexandre.

The young car-lover fell head over heels when he first saw and drove his grandfather's Dodge, a 1979 Dart sedan. There was something in that structure, in that design, in that roaring engine that finally won the heart of Alexander. "I wanted so much to have a car like that. Will there be any left once I get my driver's license?" he asked himself, worried about the effects of the crisis. At that moment, he decided he would have a Dodge as soon as he would turn 18 and got his license. It took him another year, but at age 19 he got it: "On January 6, 1990 I bought my first Dodge. The idea was to preserve it. But two years later there was a model I liked even more, much rarer. I bought the second one and was reluctant to sell the first one, so I ended up buying one after the other. Then I became a collector", he says. The first was a 1981 Le Baron, bought with his father's help. "I really wanted a Charger R/T, but it was good that I bought the Le Baron first because it wasn´t in good shape, so it taught me a lot about mechanics", he teases.

The second was, of course, the 1979 Charger R/T, with alloy wheels. It took another seven years to purchase another Charger R/T, a 1972, which he finally restored in 2002. Promoting the rebirth of that icon awakened in Badolato the desire to continue the noble enterprise. "I really liked the national V8 Dodges, like the Dart and the Charger", he says. "The 1971 Dart and the 1971 Charger look totally different, when in the end, they are the same car", he says. "And they really were very different from what was done in the Brazilian auto industry. Unlike competitors, Chrysler brought to Brazil exactly the same product it sold in the United States, including the mechanics. In October of 1969, Chrysler launched here the same car that had been launched in the USA only a year before", he recalls. It was the Dodge Dart, with its monstrous 318-cubic-inch V8 engine (about 5.2 L) and 198 or 215 horsepower, depending on the configuration. In cylinder capacity, it was the largest automobile engine ever manufactured in Brazil, producing 41.5 kgfm of torque. "It's a lot even by today's standards. And well above the average performance of current cars", says Badolato.

Picture of 10 years of Dodge Charger R/T produced in Brazil (1971-1980), in order.

After the closing of the production line, documents and photos accumulated in the factory were almost lost forever. "From what the former employees told me, the order they got from the new owners was to throw away everything that had to do with cars. They didn't have the guts to do it, so they took everything home and, 20 years later, passed it on to me. I took on the task of rewriting this story, to rummage around and get to the production of each model for every year. With that, I created a reputation and instead of having to look for cars, people started looking for me to talk about them", he says. The next step, then, was to create a Facebook page, called the Dodge Museum. "A whole generation that hadn't known these cars was interested. We have between 5 and 6 thousand surviving Dodge V8 vehicles. Prices have gone up a lot, especially for the Charger R/T", he says.

Even so, his collection only grows. It began in São Paulo, the capital. "It's hard to store things there. The costs are high. So, I bought a place in the interior and built the first shed", he says. Today, three sheds are exclusive to Chrysler models. It has some other brand vehicles as well, but Dodge is by far the preferred one. "In the central shed, the main one, there are only nationally made Dodges. It has all the Chrysler models made here. In the second shed, I also have some that were produced overseas, not just in the United States. There are even two from Australia", he says. They literally crossed half a world to get here. In the third shed, there are still other Chrysler cars.

In Brazil, the company only manufactured sedan and coupe models. Therefore, Badolato decided to bring others to complement the collection. "I brought a convertible, a two-door sedan, the sport, the notchback, then we brought some B-body because ours was an A-body, and a van which is a C-body, a full size of almost 6 meters. We also brought the F, which replaced the A, and even an E-body", he says, referring to the body sizes used by the company, in true big American style.

Badolato at the museum, with his Dodge Dart GT 1967 convertible from North America.

Badolato divides the approximately 160 Dodges from the collection into three thirds: the first third is called "survivors," which are cars that have been preserved and actually survived the moment of crisis; the second third is made up of restored cars, most of them by him; and the last third is from salvaged cars that are still waiting in line to be restored. Demanding with the original characteristics of the cars, Badolato developed his own way of restoring and training his team, which works exclusively for him. "I make it a point of having the original color, texture and finish. And I hate having a car on a jack stand. Here, they all work. We can go for a ride on anyone of them", he says.

Getting into the museum's national shed is, in fact, like taking a trip back in time, teleported into a dealership of the time, in the way the cars are lined up: on one side Darts and on the other Chargers for all the years. Here is the exact last vehicle produced before the plant closed: a 1981 Dart, found in poor condition and now completely restored. And of course, also the other models like Le Baron, Magnum ... "The Magnum has a cool story. The Brazilian Chrysler was kind of abandoned by its headquarters, which was also facing problems there in the US, so Celso Lamas [style chief] took the square Dodge Dart and made the Magnum. Since Chrysler did not have much money to invest, all the parts that differ from the Magnum are made of fiber. With little investment, a car was created that was a super novelty", says Badolato, who is the guardian of many other stories. In fact, he has already published two books: the first in 2009 (Dodge -The History of a Collection) and the second one, two years later (Dodge - More Stories of a Collection).

Dodge Dart Coupe 1981, chassis C093.008, last unit produced in Brazil. On the left, the rescue moment, after 16 years of searching. Right, fully restored.

Chrysler was born in 1925 in the United States, and three years later acquired Dodge (founded in 1914). In 1937, it created Mopar, which provided original parts and customizations. The first arrival in Brazil was in the 1950s, through a joint venture with Brasmotor. In 1966, in order to have its own production line in the country, it acquired the French automaker Simca and took control of the Brazilian factory. Initially it maintained the production of the models of the European brand, but improved, before launching its first own model in 1968. The company's car production in Brazil ended in 1981, when the plant was acquired by Volkswagen.

According to numbers recovered by Badolato and recounted in the first book, 92,500 Dodges were produced in the country. That same year in 1981, the first Ram truck was launched in the USA, still under the Dodge brand. In 1987, Chrysler acquired the American Motors group, which owned the Jeep brand. Dodge also made another trip through Brazil between 1998 and 2002, when it produced the Dakota pickup, during its partnership with the German Daimler (1998-2007). In 2009, Chrysler began its judicial reorganization and merger with Fiat, which would be completed in 2014, with the emergence of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA).

In 2015, the first factory, the result of the world's partnership, is inaugurated in Goiana (Pernambuco): the Jeep Automotive Plant. That same year, the launch of the Dodge Durango on Brazilian soil took place exactly at the Dodge Museum. Today, the Dodge Journey, the Ram 2500 pickup truck, and the various models of the Jeep and Fiat brands are sold in Brazil.

Launch of Dodge Durango at the museum in 2015. Photo: Ivan Carneiro.

"The world’s automotive industry scenario today is very competitive and leaves no room for independent groups" according to Badolato. "Fiat's merger with Chrysler was beneficial to both companies. And Fiat had the acumen of respecting Chrysler's DNA. After all, brands have inheritances of weight, a story to be preserved and redeemed with the models. Today, the group is complete, positioning the brands in niches", analyzes the guardian of Dodge in Brazil and the biggest 'dodger' in the country.

"As far as being the biggest 'dodger' I'm not sure, but the biggest collection is mine", he laughs. In addition to the museum and Facebook page, Badolato has a site, a YouTube channel and a profile on Instagram.

Words: Daniel Schneider

Pictures: Alexandre Badolato

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