Monday, November 09, 2015

Found in the Wild: Le Rust

I absolutely love how stupid the name "Le Car" is. I mean it's really handy if you thought you were staring at a Le Blender and needed clarification. Never mind that French for car is "voiture," this 1980 Renault Le Car is a hilarious caricature of French motoring in the malaise era. 

The Le Car was sold in countries that haven't sent men to the moon as the Renault 5. Hence the faded and sad "Le Cing" stickers on the sides of this one.  The Renault 5 started production in Europe in 1971 but didn't make its North American debut until 1976. The 5 was met with much acclaim overseas and nearly won the 1973 European Car of the Year award. But for reasons I'll soon explain, that success didn't translate over in North America.

The Le Car was exactly the type of car that buyers were screaming for in the late 1970's; it was fuel efficient, spacious for its size and arguably stylish. But there were a few major problems that burned this car in the NA market. Firstly, these were distributed by the forever-in-financial-trouble AMC through their 1,300 dealer locations. The AMC mechanics were hardly competent in keeping these "furrin" cars running and finding parts was rarely easy. And things would break often because these were cheap cars, assembled cheaply in France in the 1970's. 

But possibly the biggest problem was that this economy car required premium fuel to run properly. Premium fuel required for a car whose goal is to save people money on gas? Who thought that one up? It wasn't like it was a highly tuned-race engine either. The 1.4L OHV carbureted engine was rated at a hilarious fifty-one horsepower. I guess when your car is that slow, every single French pony has to be accounted for. But why did the French need premium octane fuel to eek out 51 horsepower from a 1.4L engine? For reference, the 1.3L engine in the 1979 Honda Civic made 68 horsepower on regular fuel.

The survival rate for these cars was extremely low. Rust accelerated their demise and most were treated as simple throwaway economy cars. There can't be more than a few hundred left on the continent in running condition. When you actually find one of these for sale, the prices are usually cheap but you'd have to really like Renault 5's to buy one. They're essentially slightly faster Citroen 2CV's without the classic charm. It's doubtful that this brown champagne-colored example will be returned to the road. 


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