The UMM Alter II Turbodiesel 4×4

It’s a UMM Alter II, it’s a Portuguese-made, French-designed four-wheel drive that’s probably best known for two things – it’s said to have completed 100% of the Paris-Dakar rallies it entered, and it was chosen as the Popemobile during Pope John Paul II’s visit to Portugal.

The original appearance of the Alter II has attracted a lot of attention over the years, it was designed as a purely utility vehicle with the best off-road capability with the lowest possible cost, and it has proven popular with various military and police forces.

Fast Facts – The UMM Alter II 4×4

  • The UMM Alter II is a somewhat uniquely styled 4×4 with a short, steeply angled nose for optimum visibility of the front terrain. It was designed in France by the automotive firm Cournil and built in Portugal between 1986 and 1994 with around 10,000 units completed.
  • The Alter II has a steel ladder frame chassis, live front and rear axles, a front-mounted engine powering all four wheels via a 4- or 5-speed transmission and a transfer case.
  • A variety of engines have been offered over the years, eight in total, ranging from naturally aspirated 2.5-litre diesel with 75 bhp to 3.0 V6 petrol engine with 150 bhp.
  • Many examples of the UMM Alter II remain in service today and spare parts are still available from Europeças. The vast majority of Alter Its are found in Europe, but there are a number in Africa and South America.

Bernard Cournil

To tell the story of the UMM Alter II, you really have to go back to the beginning of the 20th century, when an automobile company named Cournil was founded in France by Bernard Cournil.

Video above: This footage from the 1993 Paris-Dakar rally, if you fast forward to 8:19, you’ll see the UMM Alter II driven by Francisco Sande of Portugal.

The company was initially an automobile workshop, but during World War II when oil ran out or was rationed, it specialized in converting cars to run on a wood-based fuel named Gasogene.

After the war, Bernard saw an opportunity to put all of the remaining American Jeeps to good use, and so he began converting them for farming and farming purposes. Eventually he signed a license agreement to assemble the Willys Jeeps locally in France.

Over time, the Jeeps assembled by Cournil were modified, until the point where Bernard and his team decided to develop their own 4×4 vehicle, using as many pre-existing parts as possible.

Description of the imageThe interior of the later Alter II models was well designed to the standards of the time, certainly on par with similar offerings from Land Rover and Jeep.

In 1960, the company launched the Cournil Tracteur JA1, a robust 4×4 vehicle with a chassis developed and built by Cournil. The body was also designed and built in-house, but many other major parts such as engines, transmissions and axles were sourced from other manufacturers.

From 1961 the body style was changed to include the steeply raked front end, a feature that would become synonymous with Cournil and the SIMI and UMM vehicles that followed.

In 1977, Council was sold to two companies, “Groupe Gévelot” obtained the French rights and UMM from Portugal obtained the international rights.

UMM Alter II

Pronounced “UMM” rather than “Umm”, the company name means União Metalo-Mecânica in Portuguese or “Metal-Mechanical Union” in English. The company is a Portuguese metallurgical plant and a former automobile manufacturer based in Lisbon.

UMM Alter II 9

Description of the imageThe steeply sloped nose of the Alter II was designed to ensure drivers have excellent visibility over the front terrain.

UMM had acquired the rights to Cournil’s designs in the late 1970s, and by the mid-1980s a new, updated design was available from SIMI, the company that had taken over the French rights holder.

The new design was put into production in Portugal and named UMM Alter II. As with previous Cournil/Simi designs, the Alter II was rugged, simple, and very capable off-road. It has front and rear live axles on leaf springs, a steel ladder frame, and a simple angular body with a steeply sloped nose for better visibility.

Eight different engines were offered, from the naturally aspirated 2.5-liter diesel with 75 hp to the 3.0 V6 petrol engine with 150 hp, but the 2.5-liter turbodiesels were the most common. Both soft-top and hard-top versions were offered as well as civilian, military and police specification variants.

Around 10,000 were made in total and many are still in service to this day, with spares available through Europeças.

UMM Alter II Paris Dakar Rally 1

Description of the imageA number of Alters have taken part in the Paris-Dakar Rally over the years, although it is unconfirmed, it has been claimed that everyone who entered managed to complete the event.

The 1993 UMM Alter II shown here

The vehicle you see here is a 1993 UMM Alter II, the penultimate year of production.

It was imported from Spain in December 2021 after a rebuild that included a new paint job, newly upholstered interior and some engine work on the 2.5-litre turbodiesel. The cooling system was also replaced, as were the braking components.

As a later example of the model, this Alter II is fitted with the desirable 5-speed transmission that returns power via a dual-range transfer case to all four wheels. It has a black canvas top, pivoting spare tire carrier, roll cage and Continental stereo.

It is currently offered for sale in Plymouth, Massachusetts on Bring A Trailer. If you want to know more about it or place a bid, you can visit the listing here.

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AMU Alter II
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AMU Alter II 1

Images courtesy of Bring A Trailer

AMU Alter II 3

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