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The History of the Municipal Fleet

1910-1946 Period

Characterized by great political instability at international level, the period between 1910 and 1946 was marked by the introduction of the first mechanical vehicles into the fleet of the City Council of Lisboa (CML), by the first attempt of actual mechanization of the fleet, and above all by the 2nd World War, which imposed many many difficulties upon the different mechanized services and upon the different peculiar solutions in the attempts to overcome them.

The first mechanical vehicles acquired by the Municipality date from 1910, more specifically 2 sweeping machines, which were at the time purchased in England.

The first light vehicles were only acquired in July of 1920, to “be able to carry the city councillors and their assistants to all points of the city”, according to a new city management model that was then being applied, and which advocated a greater proximity between the responsible politicians and the ongoing works in the field.

Following the evolution of the times, the City Council of Lisboa intensified the process of mechanization of the fleet from 1922, investing in the most recent innovations in the sector to improve its loading capacity and multitask functions.

With the beginning of the decade of the 30s, massification of transports became a reality. As a matter of fact, in 1930 Portugal had one car for each 204 inhabitants, which proportion in 1939, came down to 141. Over the decade, the number of light vehicles, which average price was about 18 thousand escudos in 1930, almost doubled. In other words, about 3300 vehicles/year between 1930 and 1940, representing one third of the total imports related to consumption.

In agreement with this reality, the municipal fleet entered a period of significant expansion. The Mechanical Transports Division of the Municipality in 1931 comprised a total of 62 vehicles, among which were counted 33 trucks and 24 light trucks of the following brands: Delahaye, Chevrolet, Berliet, Laffly, Renault, Kelly, Bussing, Opel, Daag, Schneider, Thornycroft, Lacre, Pierce-Arrow; 6 cars of the Ford, Oldsmobile, and Dodge brands; one motorcycle of the Indian brand and, 5 Tractors. These were complemented, throughout the decade, by more acquisitions, having reached, in 1940, 120 units.

However, this trend was counteracted after 1941, which was marked by the consequences of the spreading of the 2nd World War. Oil, tyres and other consumption materials soon started to be unavailable, making maintenance and repair of vehicles difficult, and in the medium term, the circulation of mechanical transports also.

The Mechanical Transports Division of the Municipality was particularly affected by the situation, although the existence of some stocks of parts and consumable materials, as well as the limitations imposed by the government to the circulation of vehicles helped, at a first stage, to mitigate the effects of the scarcity and of the general price increases.

The process of mechanization of the Municipal Fleet was thus interrupted and a rapid degradation of the stock of vehicles was seen, which prematurely became quite old for the intense use in became subject to.

Different solutions were then studied, among which stand out the studies that were made on the different systems of alternative fuels, which would use namely poor gas as a replacement fuel – the gas engines system. 

However, the results were not considered as encouraging. As a matter of fact, the system required specific technical knowledge and lacked reliability, and the workshops, very much depleted in terms of materials and staff, did not have the capacity to counteract such issues. 

This situation ended up imposing more drastic solutions for the rehabilitation of the fleet, such as the transformation of the Scammell collection trailers acquired in 1939, for animal power (3 solipeds), while at the same time the hippo mobiles were repaired and more were acquired.


The situation became so serious that vehicles pulled by human power were actually created, as explained by City Councillor Pereira Ferraz, in a City Council meeting in1946, referring to the “deplorable aspect, the degrading spectacle, of seeing men pulling a cart.... and even women in the same conditions.”.

Máquinas de Varrer
Puxada Cavalos

1946-1955 Period

With the end of the 2nd World War and with the gradual return to normal life, Lisboa recovered its natural role of the main pole of attraction of populations in search for better living conditions.

This trend, developed at the pace of the opening of commercial routes and of the subsequent recovery of economic life, was leveraged by new roads for the circulation of vehicles, which facilitated the contact with the peripheries, where the new populations were preferably settling.

The whole network of public transports was rethought in order to face the increased demands, and so the first bus lines appeared, as these had greater mobility than the traditional electric trams, and the first drafts of a future Metropolitan network were prepared.

Cars became more democratic. Most of the surviving manufacturers of the conflict understood that the market required cheaper and smaller vehicles, easy to drive. Women took up an equal role in society, a right acquired with the development of the war, and so they also started to want to have access to cars.

The way how the recovery of the motorized fleet of the Municipality of Lisboa was processed, clearly expresses this new reality. 

Without replacing the constant effort to equip the essential services of the city with the necessary logistic means, while re-establishing and strengthening the sectors connected to services such as urban hygiene, the presence of light vehicles also increased, as they were more economical and easier to maintain. 

That sector started to include jeeps – a new typology of vehicle developed by the American army during the war that had just ended.

The first units of the leading North-American brand Jeep were quickly followed by other brands coming from different European manufacturers, among which it is worth mentioning the Land-Rover – a brand that replaced the hegemony of Jeep in this sector of the municipal fleet after 1951.

Following this strong movement of growth, significant infrastructures capable of increasing the profitability of the municipal fleet were also built. Among which we should highlight a new garage in the Alcântara facilities, with a service area of 3,890m2 and with the capacity to accommodate 170 vehicles; and a new Service Station, which included a section for washing and disinfecting vehicles, more in compliance with the new requirements imposed to the service.

As a conclusion, we can mention that the renewal of the fleet, during the period under analysis, was guided by three main vectors:

The amount of motorized vehicles available, with a number of acquisitions of about 366 vehicles (78% of which correspond to heavy vehicles and 15% to light vehicles).

The diversity of functions and technical solutions applied, which enabled significant increases in the levels of performance in the traditional sectors, and the use of motorized vehicles for new functions.

The significant reduction of the percentage of Municipal Hippo mobiles in circulation, which value decreased from 40% of the total Fleet in 1946, to a residual value below 4% in 1955 (1).



1. Only some Covas horse charts still remain, used for emptying sewage pits.

1956-1974 Period

With the economic recovery that was starting to be seen in a more intense way throughout the whole of Europe, Portugal and especially its industry started to show clear signs of modernization and economic growth, which movement generated an improvement in the standard of life of the urban medium class.

These conditions manifested in a clear and unequivocal way in the National automotive sector.

Despite being ruled by a policy of restrictions to imports, as a measure imposed to all brands  that did not establish their production in Portugal, the national stock of vehicles was showing an exponential growth, and in 1970 was already four times greater than in 1960.

Along with this growth, came the congested traffic in the city and a strong increase in the number of accidents, generating the imperious need of disciplining the traffic through the implementation of a new and more restrictive legislation, more monitoring, and rationalization of urban parking.

Thus a specific Division was created in the Police - the Vehicles and Traffic Police – with the double purpose of raising the awareness towards the dangers of car driving, and penalizing noncompliant drivers during traffic operations that became known as “Auto-Stops”.

For the Municipal fleet, the new reality of the national automotive market was revealed in two different aspects – a significant growth of the number of vehicles available, and a gradual increase in the number of brands assembled and/or produced in Portugal.

Thus can we explain the increase that was seen in several brands from the universe of General Motors, namely Opel, which would become the brand with the greatest expression over time in the sector dedicated to light vehicles; of Chevrolet that acquired a similar role in the sectors that resorted to medium size vehicles; and of Bedford, a brand dedicated to the heavy duty sector, and that came to record the greatest number of vehicles in the Fleet of the Municipality of Lisboa.

As a matter of fact, the level of demand imposed to the municipality grew as a result of the macrocephalus growth of Lisboa, introducing new and greater challenges.

Social construction in peripheral neighbourhoods of Lisboa became imperative, working as a solution to fight the clandestine construction, with no safety conditions.

The basic structures of basic sanitation were suffering a growing pressure.

As a response, the fleet increased and diversified. 

New performance solutions, namely in terms of vehicles dedicated to public hygiene, were implemented, by resorting to the most recent technical solutions available in the market at the time. 

This greater capacity of the municipal fleet would even actually be confirmed in extraordinary events that took place, as for instance in 1967, when the region of Greater Lisboa was devastated by strong rain, from which followed a huge flood in different inhabited areas  of the region, causing a great devastation and several casualties.

The collaboration process among different Municipalities, although never before did it take place in such difficult conditions, had been established already in the 1930s when the first great push for the mechanization of the Fleet took place along with the scrapping of some of the older vehicles, which were at the time given away to the Municipalities with no means for acquiring more expensive vehicles.

Throughout the 1960s, several requests for technical support also started to appear, either materialized through the temporary displacement of technical staff, or through the supply of copies of the lists of specifications, required for the acquisition of especial vehicles, or other things.


This and other resources, started to be very much used after April of 1974, as the Revolution that happened at the time, branded in an indelible way the country and the city of Lisboa, changing in a definite way the institutional purposes of the Municipality and of its modes of organization.

1974-1986 Period

With the end of the old political regime and the inception of a new system guided by the principles of democracy, the City Council of Lisboa, lived, just like the rest of the country, a time of great euphoria and of some lack of orientation on the new ways forward, which it should pursue.

Thus, after a period in which it was managed by Administrative Committees (between 1974 and 1976), the City Council of Lisboa searched for, first under the leadership of Aquilino Ribeiro Machado (1977-1979), and then under Mayor Nuno Kruz Abecassis (1980-1989), the balance and how to react in a positive way to the demands that were asked from it.

Concerned with the public health issue ever since the beginning, the City Council of Lisboa launched in 1977 the draft short term Plan for Lisboa Waste (PPLL), which main goal was to reformulate the structure of the Division of Cleanliness and Transports, with greater emphasis in the management methods, in the facilities and, naturally, in the means of especial transports connected to the cleaning of the city. 

The modernization of the fleet, according to the new technologies applied to the sector, became a fundamental imperative, and which in 1979 achieved a critical goal with the ending of the last waste collection units not provided with compression systems.

The stock of especial vehicles supporting urban cleaning and sanitation was also diversified and enlarged with the introduction of mechanical sweeping machines, pavement-washing machines, container holders and compactors, sewage-pit washers and sewage-collector washers.

To the municipal fleet were also added new light passenger vehicles, and mix vehicles from the new national automotive industry, which developed during this period (1).

Some examples of this are the 10 UMM (2), acquired between 1988 and 1991, for the services  of Staff Transportation, Support to Workshops, Maintenance and Conservation of Infrastructures and Sanitation, Civil Protection and Municipal Police. In this latter case, converted, after the scrapping process, into reserves of the remains of vehicles of the Municipality. As well as the different Renault vehicles (3) assembled in Portugal, among which stood out the Renault 4 (4), true “democratic” vehicles, widely used by a vast diversity of services, such as the following services: Education and Social Intervention, Green Areas, Public Works, Procurement and Consumption, Civil Protection, Office of International Relations, Culture Department, Urban Planning and Management, Media, Studies and Projects Office, Sewage Cleansing, Support to Waste Collection, City Councillor Offices, Urban Rehabilitation, Building Construction, among others. Some of these units were still in service in the beginning of 2004.

After going through a stage of mechanization, crossed in the middle by 2 worldwide conflicts; after a period when restricting was the main strategic economic line of the State, and so the expressiveness of the services provided by the Municipality was more contained; after a period of rupture, euphoria, freedom and some disorientation regarding the way forward, the Fleet reached its maturity by finally finding the methods that are going to enable it to conquer an expression of modernity.


1. After the project FAP – Factory of Portuguese Cars (1959-1965), the assembly lines of the decades of the 50s and 60s, and the Project ALFASUD (1972), appeared the UMM and Renault Projects based upon new assumptions and benefiting from the experience of the past.

2. UMM, Lda. (Metal and Mechanical Union, Ltd) appeared in 1977. The company purchased the license of the Cournil brand from Bernard Cournil, which was undergoing serious difficulties since the oil crises of 1972, aggravated with the subsequent increased competition in the sector. The first units, named UMM-Cournil, used 2100cc Peugeot Diesel engines which later on evolved to 2300cc. In 1986, appeared the Alter model, as a clear attempt to modernize the vehicle by making it more attractive, by “styling”, as much as possible its lines. Mass production ended up in 1994, after which it was only available upon demand.

3. The project considered 3 vectors corresponding to 3 different factories. One unit for the assembly of vehicles, with no stamping, in Setúbal; one unit for the production of gear boxes and engines, located in Cacia (Aveiro); and in the same place the foundry FUNFRAP, Fundição Portuguesa, SARL, which casted the necessary parts for the production of gear boxes and engines.


4. Present in the City Council of Lisboa since 1966, the Renault 4L gradually asserted itself in the sector of Light Vehicles of the Municipal Fleet, taking up a functional space formerly occupied either by services related to general transportation of goods and passengers, or also by medium range leaders.