Our cars : Renault 18 – 500 miles on
A few weeks back, and after much prevarication, I bought myself a lime green Renault 18TS. My rationale for buying such a car was simple – I wanted a vaguely classic shaped car from the late 1970s that I could press into daily use – and practice what I preach about old car ownership. You can read the Renault’s introduction to the AROnline fleet in my first update – it was a lucky find, and pretty much fitted the bill, but still bought pretty much on a whim.
But then, that’s how I usually do it.
Many readers have commented on the rarity of my Renault 18, and it’s true that taking the How Many Left website‘s data at face value, there are 46 Renault 18s left taxed on the road, seven of which are TS models like mine. So, it’s definitely rare – and more so than the Talbot Solara or Morris Ital that this could easily have been had there been one on sale when I bought this. It does cause some for concern – parts availability, or the lack of.
But nevertheless, I’ve been using the Renault 18 pretty much exclusively as my daily smoker since I bought it, and have found it utterly desirable. Mainly. The seats are as comfortable (and soft) as your favourite armchair, and as soon as I jump in and drive it, I’m sinking in, and adopting a slouchy, slightly lazy driving position. Compared with the stiff, Teutonic style seats we’re all used to in new cars, this is a real culture shock, and one that takes some getting used to.
Once underway, the long throw gearchange feels nicely mechanical, if a little vague and notchy compared with something like a Cortina, and offers stress-free ratio swapping. Only when dropping into reverse is it a bit hit-and-miss. The unassisted steering is reasonably accurate and not too heavy – and it only really causes concern when parallel parking in tight places. And the instrumentation is an object lesson in clarity – and minimalism.
There isn’t really a lot of equipment in the TS – no rev counter, no central locking, no electric windows. In fact, all there is to worry about on the dashboard are the rear foglights, heated rear window, and hazard warning switch. The wipers, lights and indicators are controlled by three slim column stalks, with the indicators on the right-hand (and correct for RHD) side. Adding to this feeling of Issigonis-like minimalism are the slim pillars, and light, airy cabin, which make town driving an absolute delight.
Performance is leisurely, of course, but in non-competitive town and extra-urban driving, it’s more than adequate to keep up with the flow. What Car? magazine tested the R18TS back in 1979 and recorded a 0-60mph time of 13.8 seconds and a maximum speed of 96mph. It doesn’t feel out-of-order slow because the gearing is low, and the venerable 1647cc pushrod engine delivers its best at low-to-mid revs.
But there is a pay-off. Head for the motorway, and the Renault 18 feels a little less in its comfort zone. It’s lively up to 50mph, but keep the throttle pressed, and it begins to feel painfully undergeared. Because there’s no tacho, I’m unsure just how many revs it’s turning over at 70mph, but I’d reckon it’s around 4000 – and that’s enough to have it feeling thrashy and a bit disconcerting initially.
Still, it’s not the end of the world, and I’m soon used to it. And in a couple of 300 mile days, the Renault 18TS actually starts to impress. Yes, I’ve been sticking to the 70mph limit, and at that speed, there’s a reassuring lack of wind noise or mechanical vibration, and it feels like it could do this all day long. Not only that, but those soft seats and lack of apparent lumbar support do not manifest themselves in the form of backache – something I’d been fearing. And if nothing else, that is a big advantage over the Vauxhall Cavalier, which does its best to make the driver feel like his leg’s been stabbed repeatedly with a knitting needle.
Handling, too, is pretty good. It’s a safe FWD set-up, so I find myself barrelling into corners without any real worries. It rolls a fair bit, but it’s well damped and doesn’t feel sloppy, and it’s always consistent. So, it’s a win all round, and ever lasting love is the result? Certainly compared with my last one – a Renault Fuego 1.6TS that I owned back in 2005, it’s much more satisfying. But I suspect, because I had much lower expectations. But it’s not quite perfect, and there are niggles to sort.
The most annoying aspect of the Renault 18 is its automatic choke. And basically it doesn’t work. You need to churn and churn – and churn some more – on the starter, and on cold mornings, it’s not really likely to start at all. I’ve found the best way to get it to start within a minute or so, is to pull off the air intake from the carburettor (above), press the throttle to unstick the auto choke, then close the inlet flap with my finger. Then, jump back into the car, and churn and churn – and it should eventually go.
Once it’s running, the it idles cleanly and smoothly and runs a dream from cold. Like butter wouldn’t melt in its mouth. I’ve already made a couple of enquiries about manual choke conversions – and so far, you guessed it, no one Istocks a kit for my Renault. Might have to fix the problem by stripping the carburettor down, after all. It is annoying, and there have been a couple of moments I’ve thought ‘sod it’… but I do have my Saab 900 T16S as a back-up when it does fail to proceed.
The second issue surrounds the electrics – or what little there are of them. I suspect it needs its fusebox re-soldering – the heater fan stops blowing when you sling it in reverse or pop on the heated rear window. I can also see the alternator light dimly glowing at night. Oh, and on my last trip to Heathrow, the flashers stopped flashing, which is probably down to a duff relay, which I am now hunting for.
So, we have one very annoying fault, and a couple of niggles. Once licked, and on the assumption that I’m not going to use the Renault for repeated long distance motorway drives, then it’s a delightfully quaint and idiosyncratic car to live with on a day to day basis. It’s always in the back of my mind that it’s so rare, and where do we get parts from? And there are some rusty bits that need addressing.
But all in in, it’s halfway to worming its way into my affections. And isn’t that what old car ownership is all about? Ask me again in a couple of months’ time.