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Although the UMM Alter came to the UK around 1990, the vehicle's origins date much further back than this. The story actually begins with Frenchman Bernard Cournil, who was born in Aurillac in April 1909. Before WWII began, he set up an automobile workshop business which as the war progressed and fuel became hard to find, specialised in converting cars to run on wood based "gazogène" fuel (wood gas).

After the war, Cournil found a stock of US built Jeeps that had been left behind, and these he adapted and maintained for agricultural use. When Hotchkiss began to assemble Jeeps under license in France, it was a natural progression for Cournil to become a regional distributor for the Hotchkiss Jeep, and in 1954 he went a stage further, concluding his own licensing agreement with Willys Jeep for assembling their vehicle.

However Cournil had already progressed from merely assembling standard Jeeps to improving them to meet the agricultural market's needs, including designing workable implements and tools to run from the vehicle. Responding to a perceived concern over the robustness of the standard Jeep gearbox, Cournil substituted gear wheels derived from castings which he machined in his own workshops. He then started looking for an engine that would be more reliable than the ones provided from Hotchkiss, initially fitting a diesel engine from tractor manufacturer Ferguson.

By the late 1950s Cournil had decided that the Jeep was insufficiently robust for the agricultural challenges of central France, and using the engineering experience gained from his modified Jeeps, designed his own more robust, more adaptable four-wheel drive vehicle.

'Tracteur Cournil' - Aurillac circa 1960

Tracteur Cournil

In 1957 Cournil produced a prototype of his new "Tracteur Cournil" model - using Hotchkiss JH Jeep bodywork - which went into production the following year. This model saw changes in it's short life including a heavy duty chassis upgrade. The model was a great success locally and so Cournil continued development of the design to produce the Cournil JA1 and JA2 models.

These are much more agular and less Jeep-like, with Cournil-designed bodywork made of 2mm sheet steel, with a 4mm steel chassis. The front wings are sloped to allow a better view for wheel placement, and the engine was moved back for better weight distribution. In 1964 a limited-slip diff axle was produced as an option (a first in France at this time), and a Leyland diesel engine was offered, which gave a usable power increase.

Tracteur Cournil 1965

Tracteur Cournil 1965

In 1968 with the creation of British-Leyland, Cournil were offered the Land Rover 2.25 litre diesel engine. It was fitted to around fifty JA2 models, though another engine from Ricardo was also available.

Cournil

In 1970 Bernard Cournil's son, Alain, took over the company, and from 1971 to 1977 produced 50 - 80 vehicles. 1976 saw negotiations start with Gevarm, Stemat, and UMM for the production and sale of the Cournil 4x4 design. In 1977 Gevarm Gévelot group took over the company and manufacturing was transferred to Saint-Germain Laval. Soon they were selling Cournil 4x4s to local authorities and government bodies. UMM were given a licence to produce the Cournil in Portugal. As part of this licence agreement however, they were not allowed to sell their vehicles in France. In 1980 the Gevarm business was acquired by the Société I.D.M.I. company (SIMI) who produced the SIMI-Cournil and in 1983/84 the vehicle was briefly renamed as the Autoland. In 1985 Auverland took over the business and after this the vehicle was marketed as the Auverland.

UMM- UNIÃO METALO MECÂNICA s.a.

In 1977, Lisbon manufacturer UMM started production of Cournil 4x4 vehicles in Portugal. UMM saw the potential of the design and set about making some of their own changes. The first UMM models were named 'UMM-4x4-Cournil' and were available in three versions, the Randonneur (a rare version), the Tracteur (a pick-up version of the Randonneur), and the more common Entrepreneur. The vehicle was now powered by an Indenor-Peugeot 2.1 litre diesel engine giving 62 PS, matched to a Peugeot 4-speed manual gearbox. The transfer case was built by UMM in-house. In 1978 UMM and French builder Gevarm had a disagreement and UMM began sale of the UMM-Cournil in France. Gevarm continued to make and sell their own version of the Cournil design.

UMM 4x4 Cournil

In 1979 UMM launched a redesigned vehicle, now called the UMM 4x4 (also known as the UMM Transcat). It continued to use the 2.1 litre diesel of the UMM-4x4-Cournil model, but was available in only one trim level, The Entrepreneur.

 UMM 4x4

UMM Transcat

In 1982, The UMM 4x4 was given bigger doors and a new Indenor-Peugeot 2.3 litre diesel engine, giving 66.5 PS. The chassis was tweaked also. UMM vehicles were entered in the 1982 Paris-Dakar Rally. Three UMM 4x4s start and all three complete the rally. UMM 4x4s are entered in the rally each year until 1985.

In 1985 UMM launched their improved UMM 4x4 version, the Alter. Fitted with a new 2.5 litre Peugeot diesel engine giving 76 PS, and restyled bodywork, especially at the front. In December UMM renamed their French sales arm 'UMM France' (formerly UMM-Cournil).

 UMM Alter

In 1986 the Alter II was launched. It featured a new Peugeot 4-speed manual gearbox, a new UMM transfer case and a new suspension in a 100 inch wheelbase, leaf-sprung package. The engine was carried over from the original Alter model. Although it was a new model it was very similar to the previous one and it is very difficult to distinguish the differences. Deliveries of the Alter 2.5D model continued in France, solely available with a 4 speed box, Peugeot XD3P diesel engine and drum brakes on both axles.

France would become UMM's main export market, followed by Angola and the other Portuguese - speaking African countries, the United Kingdom, and in lesser scale Spain, Germany and Holland. In France, due to its solidity and Peugeot mechanics, the UMM became popular and was used by many government bodies and local authorities. UMM France also supplied customers in French Overseas countries, such as Guyana. French company Heuliez signed a production agreement with UMM, offering a modified Alter to the French Armed Forces. The French Army preferred to continue to buy the G-wagen-based Peugeot P4, but the Gendarmerie purchased Heuliez-UMM vehicles.

Heuliez-UMM

Heuliez-UMM - ex Gendarmerie

Heuliez-UMM

In 1987 a new facelift was made. Alongside the 2.5-litre naturally aspirated diesel engine, it was now available with a new Peugeot 2.5-litre turbo diesel engine, new 5-speed manual gearbox, ventilated disc brakes in the front axle, power steering and a Momo racing steering wheel.

In 1989 the Alter II was now available in a 121 inch long wheelbase for the pickup and soft-top versions.

In 1990 there was a crew-cab chassis option offered for the long-wheel-base model, and a chassis-cab version also became available. Some of these models featured a new steering wheel that came from the Peugeot 405. 1990 also saw the UMM enter service with Angolan Army, who used it in great number in the civil war.

Alter II

September 1990 saw the UMM Alter II launched in the UK at the Birmingham Motor Show, initially with four models on offer, Station Wagon, Soft Top, Pick-up and Hard Top, all powered by Peugeot 2.5 litre diesel engines with the option of normally aspirated or turbo versions, the latter developing 110bhp at 4,150rpm.

1991 The UMM Alter II is developed and marketed as a firing platform for Milan and SS-11 missiles. Chile, The Netherlands and Belgium trialled the vehicle, but no firm orders were placed.

UMM milan

In 1992 six models were fitted with BMW engines. Four models were fitted with the M21 2.4 litre turbo diesel engine producing 116 PS, one model with the M51 2.5 litre tds engine giving 145 PS and one model with the M50 2.5 litre petrol engine producing 192 PS.

1992 also saw UMM begin development of the Alter III, a more modern SUV style design, with independent suspension and a high level of equipment (including air conditioning and electric windows). The prototype of the UMM Alter III was presented to the public at the FIL auto show, gaining the attention of the press. UMM ran into financial difficulties however, and the Portuguese government decided against a bailout. Just three of the Alter III prototypes were built.

UMM Alter III Prototypes

1993 saw another facelift to the Alter II. This one provided H4 halogen headlamps, a redesigned dashboard, new door panels and new shock absorbers. Some of the electrical problems were also solved. UMM tendered to supply the Alter II to the GNR (Portuguese National Republican Guard (Guarda Nacional Republicana)), the gendarmerie of Portugal. They lost the tender to the Nissan Patrol model, which was being assembled in Spain, but the Portuguese Army ordered some for use overseas.

1994 Beginning of the reorganization of the company and the end of mass production of the vehicles. The Alter II continued to be available by special order only.

In 1996 UMM stopped building the Alter II for private custumers.

In the year 2000, UMM launched a tweaked version of the Alter II, the Alter 2000. With a new 2.1 litre Peugeot HDi turbo diesel engine, it was more quiet, fuel efficient and torquey. Also the suspension, the brakes system and interior (mainly the dashboard) were revised. It was available in several trims and chassis configurations. Only 25 cars were made however, and most of these are still in Portugal. The last UMM vehicle left the plant in 2004.

The last UMM

The last UMM to leave the factory

In 2005 UMM left the automobile sector. From October 2005, Europeças became responsible for the distribution of UMM spare parts world-wide.

UMM in the UK

A few UMM vehicles had reached Britain between 1983 and 1986, badged as the UMM Transcat, but the vehicle found few buyers. Between 1986 and 1988, the long wheelbase Alter I was available, and then a year later SMC picked up the franchise and started bringing in the improved Alter II models. A further revitalised range was announced in 1991, the majority of vehicles in Britain being of this type. During 1994 however, with UMM in trouble, UK imports of the UMM Alter II ceased.

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