Romi Made Brazil’s First Car. Now It Exports to Over 60 Countries

The history of Indústrias Romi S.A. is intertwined with the history of the machinery sector. Through the company’s history it is also possible to bring up the last 76 years of the Brazilian history.

The company’s founder, Américo Emí­lio Romi, son of Italian immigrants, was one of the visionaries who saw into the distance. Romi was born from a small car repair garage, in 1930, in the city of Santa Bárbara D’Oeste, in the interior of the state of São Paulo.

But Emí­lio’s adventure stated a little before that, in Italy, to where he moved with his parents as an adolescent. In Milan, while he studied Electronics, he was drafted to fight in the First World War.

Already married, he decided to try his luck in his land of birth. He returned to Brazil and installed himself in São Paulo, where he gave his first signs of daring and opened the first 24-hour mechanic shop on Paulista Avenue.

This was in 1924. And it was due to the 1924 revolution that he lost his shop. His site was strategic and soldiers started using it as a base. After one more attempt, this time in the Ipiranga neighborhood, where he was ripped off by his partner, he decided to move to the interior.

After a series of jobs and business attempts, he finally set roots in the city of Santa Bárbara. As there was an American colony in the region, made up of people escaping the American Civil War, he noticed that there was demand for agricultural machinery and started producing ploughs and other products. He changed his company’s name to "Máquinas Agrí­colas Romi Ltda" (Romi Agricultural Machinery).

Many years before the Brazilian alcohol program (Proálcool), Emí­lio Romi joined forces with an engineer who had been experimenting with petrol and alcohol mixtures. This was in 1932. The Constitutional Revolution made petrol, which was imported, hard to find.

That is where the idea of creating new fuel arose. Together, they created a fuel called "autolina", and started trading the new product in five and ten liter bottles. The problem was that production was limited and lack of trust great. For this reason, as soon as the war finished, autolina stopped being produced.

The company made its final radical change in the 1940s. Once again due to a war. With the Second World War, Romi almost went broke. Steel was lacking on the market and fuel started being controlled by the government.

The share of steel to which Emí­lio was entitled only guaranteed operation of his foundry for two days. It was then that one of his sons suggested the change in area of operation: production of lathes.

To make the idea possible, they disassembled one of the lathes used at the factory, made some modifications and improvements and developed the first Romi lathe, baptized Imor (Romi backwards).

This was in 1941. In 1944, they were already exporting to Argentina. From then on, the business boomed and the company from Santa Bárbara consolidated itself as a large producer of tooling machinery.

Ostrich Eggs

The company was consolidated. But Emí­lio Romi continued brainstorming. In 1956, Romi launched nothing less than the first Brazilian car, the Romi-Isetta, which became very popular in the country.

The car was developed in partnership with a carmaker from Milan. Here, the Italian car was produced by Romi, with 70% of its parts made in the country. The car, which was tiny, was very successful.

It was given many nicknames, like bola de futebol de fenemê (truck’s soccer ball), "ostrich egg", "ball frog" and also "open up cause I want to see" (the car door was on the front). Romi-Isetta was shown on popular television program Alô Doçura and in a Brazilian movie.

It was a very simple car. Made out of just 6,000 parts, it weighed 330 kilograms, was 1.35 meter tall and 2.25 meters long. The car had two front wheels and one back wheel, and the distance between them was just 50 centimeters.

The vehicle was petrol powered and the petrol tank had a capacity for 13 liters. The car had five gears, four forwards and one reverse, and it could reach 85 kilometers per hour. In all, 3,000 vehicles were sold to the market.

However, just three years after it entered production, in 1959, the Romi-Isetta stopped being produced. It was no longer worth it. It no longer fit in a series of benefits that the government gave to the auto industry, but only to larger vehicles, four-seaters.

In the Romi-Isetta, you could fit a maximum of three people, tightly. In 2006 the car had its 50th anniversary. In September, the company celebrated the date in Santa Bárbara with exhibitions and talks about its famous creation. Many of the "little eggs", run by collectors, even drove around the city.

The year of 1959 was also marked by Emí­lio’s death. The company started being run by his sons, the second generation. In 1962, the organization’s name was changed to Indústrias Romi S.A. Ten years later, in 1972, it became an open capital organization.

In the following year, Romi released the first Brazilian NC (Numeric Control) Lathe. Finally, in the 1980s, they opened a sales branch in the United States, eyeing the growth of exports.

Nowadays, run by the third generation of Romis, the company has 2,500 employees and exports to over 60 countries. In 2005, revenues totaled R$ 507 million (US$ 236 million). Not bad for a company that grew from a mechanic’s garage in the 1930s.

Anba – www.anba.com.br

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