Essay : BMC vs Renault: The engine story

They say that great engineering minds think alike, and it’s interersting to see just how the parallel engine development programmes of Renault and BMC>MG developed during the 1950s through to the 1990s.

Robert Leitch leads you through the story of Renault’s engine programmes, and compares them with BMC>MGs to come up with a number of surprising similarities…


Billancourt and Longbridge contrasted
Ventoux, Cléon and A-Series

The greatest home for the Sierra engine? The Renault 5 was a fine supermini.

The greatest home for the Sierra engine? The Renault 5 was a fine supermini.

FOR a one-make website – and was British Leyland ever anything more than a coalition? – austin-rover.co.uk has always tended strongly towards the omnivorous, with plenty of informed enthusiasm expressed at the merest mention of the domestic and European competition. After all, half of the fun of enthusing about any given subject matter is appreciating what the opposition was concurrently up to.

This holds particularly true for Renault’s products, and no wonder – for much of the post-war period the companies seemed to mirror each other in the timing of their product planning, if not the design solutions adopted. Both were front wheel drive pioneers throughout the 1960s, although neither manufacturer’s system was adopted as the tediously uniform and far from perfect industry standard when the rest of the world caught up from 1980 onwards.

It should of course be noted that in corporate structure the two companies were very different; Renault was a large homogeneous enterprise, opportunistically taken into state ownership in 1945, and, until relatively recently, was effectively run as a branch of the French civil service. BMC/British Leyland/Rover was composed of an assortment of formerly competing manufacturers brought together, often reluctantly, in a series of major mergers from 1952 to 1968. Leyland’s transfer to state ownership in 1975 was engendered by a very different kind of political expediency.

The parallels in the product timelines are there for all to see:

· 1948 Morris Minor/1951 Austin A30 Seven – 1946 Renault 4CV
· 1958 Austin A40 Farina – 1956 Renault Dauphine
· 1959 BMC Mini – 1961 Renault R4
· 1962 BMC 1100 – 1962 Renault R8
· 1964 BMC 1800 – 1965 Renault 16
· 1971 Morris Marina – 1969 Renault 12
· 1973 Austin Allegro – 1976 Renault 14

There are quite a few more which could be added – and some gaps as well, such as Leyland taking more than eight years to answer the challenge of the extraordinarily successful 1972 Renault 5.

All of this is intended to set the background for some observations on the small Renault engines and their rival from the opposite side of the Channel, the BMC A-Series.

A new motive power…

Renault's 4CV was a huge international hit for Renault.

Renault’s 4CV was a huge international hit for Renault.

In 1946 introduced the 4CV, a Beetle-like four-door saloon, with a rear mounted 760cc water cooled in line four-cylinder engine. Austin’s A-Series was still five years in the future and differed markedly in construction. The Longbridge engine had a one piece block casting and an iron block and head, the Renault had detachable wet liners and an alloy cylinder head. Both engines had siamesed inlet and outlet ports, as much an economy measure to keep costs as close as possible to the dreaded side-valve alternative, as an ingenious means of maximising breathing space within a very small head casting.

The 760cc Renault ’662′ engine had bore and stroke dimensions of 54.5mm x 80mm, the 803cc Austin engine’s dimensions were 58mm x 76.2mm. The 662′s power output was a not particularly impressive 17bhp, but account has to be taken of poor petrol quality and the precedence of reliability over outright performance. By 1950 the Grand Luxe Versions of the 4CV were delivering a healthier 21bhp, and throughout the decade it was the favoured engine of France’s tuners and sports car specialists.

Foremost among these were Jean Rédelé’s Alpine company in Dieppe, and after 1956, Amedée Gordini, recruited by Renault from Simca as soon as their smaller rival dispensed with the services of the Italian ‘Sorcier’ in an act of unenlightened management which would have done credit to Donald Stokes. From 1952 to 1956 Renault produced its own in-house performance 4CV, the 42bhp R1052, anticipating the Mini Cooper by nine years.

The 1052 figure relates to Renault’s project numbering system, not the engine’s capacity, which was the standard 747cc. The engine’s construction made stretching capacity something of a challenge although Alpine built 662/Ventoux variants of up to 998cc. The illustration of a twin cam head produced by Roger Boudot of Montrouge shows the extent to which tuners were prepared to go to increase the little engine’s power within the limits of its capacity.

In 1956 the engine found a new home in the Dauphine, and a new name – Ventoux, after the Provencal mountain, a celebrated car and bicycle hillclimb course. A 3.5mm increase in bore diameter brought capacity to 845cc and power output to 29-32bhp.

The following year, Amedée Gordini, lent his name and tuning skills to the first sporting Dauphine, producing all of 36bhp from its standard capacity engine.

The sporting Dauphine pinnacle was the ’1093′ factory homologation special of which 721 were built from 1963-1965.

With a heavily reworked six port cylinder head, the 1093’s 845cc engine produced 49bhp, with aftermarket tuning kits available to produce 70bhp from a 998cc engine fed by a Weber 40DCOE carburettor.

The Ventoux’s career was distinguished not so much in competition and feats of extreme engineering as in the variety of ordinary cars in which it provided faithful service, often in the most extreme of road and climate conditions. It became the defining engine of the 1961 R4, of which over eight million were produced over a 32 year production life, the vast majority Ventoux-powered.

The future arrives – in a van

The Estafette was Renault's first front wheel drive vehicle...

The Estafette was Renault’s first front wheel drive vehicle…

In May 1959 Renault offered its first front wheel drive product, the forward control Estafette van, with a longitudinal Ventoux engine slung forward of the front wheels. Early in 1962 production of a larger-engined version began. The 1108cc unit was completely new, codenamed Sierra, although in many respects it followed the Ventoux formula with detachable wet liners in an iron block and an alloy cylinder head with pushrod operated valves, now slightly inclined from the vertical to create a wedge-shaped combustion chamber.

The major departure was the adoption of five main bearings for the crankshaft, far from common practice for sub-1300cc engines at the time, and an indication its manufacturer’s ambitions for future increases in power and capacity. Near square 70mm x 72mm bore x stroke dimensions also hinted at the engine’s built-in expansion capacity.

A modest beginning, then a new star is born

Also in 1962, Renault introduced the rear-engined R8, a car history would judge as an engineering blind alley when compared with its BMC contemporary, the ADO16 Morris 1100. The rear-engined Renault had its own technical innovations, such as four wheel disc brakes, but the real advance could easily have gone un-noticed. In order to fall within the French 5CV tax bracket, the earliest models had a 956cc 65mm bore version of the Sierra engine, only 111cc larger than the Dauphine’s Ventoux unit and providing 44bhp.

Larger, more powerful engines and new applications were soon to follow. In 1964 the 1108cc R8 Major offered 50bhp. More excitingly, in the same year Amedée Gordini was given a proper chance to work his sorcery.

The Renault 12 was a significant step forwards...

The Renault 12 was a significant step forwards…

The 90bhp 1108cc R8 which carried his name became as much of a national motoring icon in France as the Mini Cooper was in the UK. In 1967 he excelled himself with the 100bhp 1255cc development of the engine. 1970 saw the introduction of the series production 1289cc version of the Sierra engine, with a new eight-port cylinder head.

Bored and stroked to 73mm x 77mm and with an output of 54bhp it powered the new front wheel drive 12 saloon and was also offered detuned to 48bhp in the final versions of the Renault 10, an unloved derivative of the 8 with an elongated nose and tail.

The Sierra engine and end-on gearbox...

The Sierra engine and end-on gearbox…

Hitting the supermini bullseye – The Renault 5

The Renault 5 Turbo delivered well over 200bhp in rally form...

The Renault 5 Turbo delivered well over 200bhp in rally form…

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In February 1972 Renault introduced the 5, a hugely successful three door supermini with Sierra and Ventoux engine options, which was to remain in production and in strong demand for the next thirteen years. The larger engine in particular served the car astonishingly well – its wide range of capacities allowed Renault an effective arsenal in the hot-hatch wars, while the high-torque, high-gearing philosophy, first demonstrated in the 1289cc 5GTL, caused the industry to reconsider its ideas on the relationship of engine capacity to fuel efficiency.

The Dutch-built Volvo 340 was introduced in 1976 with a larger capacity 1397cc Sierra engine, the extra capacity achieved through a 3mm increase in bore diameter. In the same year this engine variant was offered in locally assembled Australian Renault 12s, but the big technological and sporting excitement came with the 5 Alpine. This car featured the big capacity block with a completely new and exclusive Alpine-built cylinder head.

The engine’s valves were opposed and served a crossflow hemi-head arrangement, although pushrod operation was retained. This development represented the most radical variation from the original Sierra design, and was never emulated in large-scale production versions, which retained the in-line valve configuration until production ended.

Worthy of mention as a Cléon pinnacle, the Group 4 homologation special mid-engined 5 Turbo of 1980 produced 160bhp from a heavily modified Cléon unit, fuel-injected but still with eight pushrod-operated valves. Such was its success that after the required 400 were sold, production was continued until 1984 with a Turbo 2 version which achieved the same output but with greater use of standard internal components. In racing form the Maxi version produced up to 350bhp using essentially the same engine as the first-run 5 turbo.

As an aside, the Sierra nomenclature appears to have been applied until around 1981, after which Cléon was used. The name derives from the town near Rouen in which it was first produced – a possible secondary association with the eponymous pre-Christian Athenian leader seems unlikely, given that individual’s historical notoriety.

1974-78 – Everything Changes

The 12 and the 1972 5 were probably the defining applications of the Sierra engine, and could have been among the last had it not been for the seismic upheavals which shook France’s automotive industry in the 1970s.

In 1966 Renault and Peugeot had entered into an agreement to produce a range of common components. In 1969 they set up the Compagnie Française de Mécanique to design, and build in a plant in Douvrin in northern France, a range of advanced aluminium engines which would meet the majority of the two companies’ future needs. In the mid to late 1960s this seemed a far-sighted commercial collaboration which would bolster Renault and Peugeot’s commercial and technical competitiveness.

What was to happen over the following decade could scarcely have been anticipated. In 1974 Peugeot took over Citroën, four years later they were to acquire Chrysler Corporation’s European car manufacturing operations.

Renault's 14 was powered by an all-new XA engine, built in Douvrin...

Renault’s 14 was powered by an all-new XA engine, built in Douvrin…

Between these two events, Renault began production of the 14, a five-door hatchback seen as its response to the Volkswagen Golf, and powered exclusively by the suitcase XA powertrain from Douvrin in 1218cc and 1360 cc sizes. It was Renault’s first transverse-engined car, and it was widely expected that the replacement for the 5 would use the same major components.

In planning their new small-car strategy, Renault had not anticipated that in the space of less than a decade, Peugeot, hitherto regarded as a respected compatriot, would become its deadliest commercial rival. It seems probable that Renault abandoned further use of the smallest Douvrin engine when they recognised that they could not have full control of supplies of the most important components of their largest-selling products. Co-operation on the larger Douvrin engines, where economies of scale were far more persuasive, has continued between Renault and PSA to this day.

A new role in a new generation

The 9 might have been the 1982 Car of The Year, but it's largely forgotten today...

The 9 might have been the 1982 Car of The Year, but it’s largely forgotten today…

Renault found itself reconsidering product and investment plans to develop a new, autonomous small car range making best use of their in-house components or, where necessary, developing new ones. There was neither the time nor money to develop a new small engine for the 14 and 5 replacements now required urgently, and when the Renault 9 was introduced in September 1981, the Cléon engine was one of the few recognisable components in the first of Renault’s new generation.

Although installed transversely with an end-on gearbox, in accordance with the new orthodoxy, the Cléon was little changed in principle. A redesigned cylinder head retained the pushrod operation and in-line inclined valves, but advances in casting techniques allowed better breathing and improved cooling. Camshaft overlap was reduced, and a high 9.25:1 compression ratio was adopted for both 1108cc and 1397cc versions, although only the larger capacity versions featured electronic ignition.

Although it received Car of the Year awards in Europe and the United States, the 9 was more remarkable for the efficiency of its production engineering than for advancing or inspiring automotive design. The 3 and 5 door 11 derivative appeared 18 months later, finally laying the ill-starred 14 to rest and, with its bubble-windowed tailgate, adding a little originality and panache to a rather lacklustre product.

As far as the Cléon was concerned the major news was the introduction of a 105bhp 1.4 litre turbocharged variant – Renault were by now at the leading edge of forced-induction engine technology, and hot hatchbacks were the big automotive news of the day. A 110bhp turbocharged version of the longitudinal-engined 5 Alpine (Gordini in the UK) had appeared in September 1981, and the installation in the 11 (and a small number of 9 saloons) built on this work.

In 1985 the most fondly remembered of the new generation trio arrived, the Marcello Gandini-styled Supercinq, finally replacing the longitudinal-engined 5 after a remarkable 13 year production run. The Italian master’s bodywork was a neat and faithful hommage to Michel Boué’s hugely influential original, but underneath the engine and chassis components were near unaltered 9/11.

The Cléon’s final act of heroism above and beyond the call of duty was as motive force in the 5GT Turbo. Still retaining its pushrod valve actuation and carburettor, this big-selling variant is revered to this day for consistently bettering its fuel-injected and multi-valved opposition on paper and for on-road excitement.

Starting in 1985 with a 10bhp advantage over the original 11 Turbo installation, the 1987 Phase 2 version gave 120bhp, trumping its Peugeot arch-rival by a useful 5bhp. Reliability was maintained by rigorous attention to cooling, both of the intake charge and the turbocharger installation itself.

Cléon and Ventoux – the final acts

Well into the 1990s, the Cléon engine continued to play an important role in Renaults increasingly diverse product strategy.

In 1991 the 19 replaced the 9/11 duo, featuring from its launch the 1.4 litre Energy engine which would finally replace the Cléon engine, at least in western Europe. For most of this dreary car’s production life, the Cléon, in 1.2 and 1.4 litre mono-point fuel-injected form, continued as the power unit for the cheapest versions in the range.

Although it was very much a bit-part player in the 19, the Cléon performed a persuasive one-man show in the first three years of the life of a far more appealing Renault, the Monospace Twingo. The success of this inexpensive and versatile car, which easily achieved its 1250 per day sales target, ensured that the Cléon engine was produced in large numbers until the end of production on western Europe.

The final versions, built from 1991 to 1996 came from the plant in Cacia, Portugal and featured Marelli single point fuel injection and a catalytic converter, and capacities of 1239cc and 1397cc. Also used in the earliest Clio, the smaller capacity versions were finally phased out in 1996 in favour of the new D-Type engine, an all-new 60bhp 1150cc OHC unit.

A historical curiosity is the late-production Argentinean and Colombian version of the Cléon engine used in the locally produced 9, 19 and 21. This had a capacity of 1565cc and the same 77mm bore and 84mm stroke as the alloy-blocked pushrod A-Type engine first used in the Renault 16.

The Ventoux engine remained in continuous production for over forty years until 1987. Unsurprisingly, the cause of death was recorded as inability to meet impending emissions regulations. Its place in the Renault 4 was taken by a second revival of the 956cc Cléon engine, which along with the 1108cc high-torque variant powered the car until production ended in 1994

Renault Twingo was a popular addition to the range - and the perfect home for the Cléon.

Renault Twingo was a popular addition to the range – and the perfect home for the Cléon.

Ventoux, Cléon and A-Series compared:
good luck or judgement

A consistent theme of French foreign policy from the time of Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu and, in part, before was the state’s expansion to Les limites naturelles, the Rhine, the Alps and the Pyrenees. In marked contrast to the wars fought and treaties sought in pursuit of these geographical frontiers, Renault’s engineers capitulated easily to the difficulty of stretching the physical limits of the tiny and ancient Ventoux engine. Choosing to leave it as it was, they embarked, lessons learned, on a new campaign which would produce the engine we know as the Sierra or Cléon.

Meanwhile, in the most landlocked city of France’s island neighbour, a group of engineers set their territorial ambitions on every scrap of otiose cast iron in the similarly tiny A-Series engine to reach a frontier hitherto thought unapproachable, an engine close to 1.3 litres in capacity which was reliable, tractable, and above all capable of being built in large quantities using mostly existing machinery.

The goal was achieved in small production runs in the 1275cc Cooper S engine of 1964, then in large volume production form by late 1967 in the Mk.II ADO16 1300.

Their achievement came, literally at a price in the expensive materials and production techniques required to overcome high top-end temperatures and the conflict for bottom end space between bearings and crankshaft webs. The Nimonic alloy used for the A-Series’ exhaust valves was developed for aircraft engine turbine blades; the same valves sat into seats faced with Stellite, a cobalt based alloy. Nitriding and fillet rolling were considered necessary to produce a crankshaft with sufficient structural strength and wear resistance for normal use.

The unseen sophistication of the BMC engine contrasts with the juxtaposition of advanced and unadventurous design in the Renault engines. This characteristic is typical of the idiosyncratic charm of French automotive engineering, examples of which are evident in the work of all four main post-war volume producers. Sometimes the technology used is sophisticated beyond what was previously considered appropriate or feasible for automotive applications, for example Citroen’s hydropneumatic suspension, or Renault’s more advanced turbocharging applications. At other times it appears unabashedly rudimentary and simplistic, but invariably effective – a favourite example being the small-front-wheel drive Renault’s push-pull gearchange.

The lesson of Renault’s engine strategy is that BMC’s interests may have been better served by developing a more generously sized engine based on A-Series principles to power the ADO16. The best evidence is the extraordinarily long stroke 1098cc engine – the 1275cc unit had a shorter stroke and 9.3 per cent larger bore diameter. A new engine to fit between the A and the heavy and physically bulky B-Series may have set the ADO16′s launch back a couple of years, but it would still have been two years ahead of the Simca 1100, Peugeot 204 and Autobianchi Primula, and more able to be expanded to a natural limit of around 1600cc.

It took until 1965 and the ADO14 project for BMC to recognise the need for such an engine, and the design of the E-Series, close in size to the larger Cléon variants once account is taken of its archaically long stroke, is a textbook example of why the engine should not be designed to fit the car.

Originally conceived as a 1200-1500cc unit at a time when the was no certainty that a 1275cc A-series was a viable large-scale production option, the E-Series grew with the Maxi through its development phase, arrived in production form at its natural capacity limits with the same problems of top and bottom end space restrictions as its smaller and much older stablemate. It is a huge credit to the designers of the S-Series, that many years later, they managed to turn the sow’s ear of an engine which powered the early Maxi into a useful suede purse, if not a silken one.

The E-Series, had it appeared earlier, been less technologically ambitious, and been fitted to the right cars, could have been a formidable building-block for BMCs success in the 1960s, rather than a lingering symbol of stagnation and incompetent management at the end of that decade.

Renault and BMC – A broader lesson

After the coups d’éclat of the Mini and ADO16 in 1959 and 1962, BMC manifestly failed to produce the follow-up cars which would complement and eventually replace them. The corrosive effect of near non-existent product planning, quality and production problems and diminishing profitability was masked until the Leyland era by strong loyalty to the old trademarks, and burgeoning demand for private transport.

At the same time Renault, starting from far more modest beginnings, consistently introduced products which could be sold and built in huge numbers – it was part of their philosophy from the R4 onwards not to bother with any market sector which could not accommodate a Renault product able to sell at least 1000 per day, an objective consistently achieved, even with the upmarket 20/30.

The component production infrastructure Renault set up in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s was the cornerstone of this strategy, and the three engines, Ventoux, Cléon, and A-Type together served it with distinction. As with BMC, bad times as well as good were to come for Renault, particularly the vainglorious AMC episode, but the global infrastructure the French company founded has underpinned its survival.

Meanwhile, their British competitor, consistently fixated with an unproven notion that niche and upmarket products would deliver profits, appeared to implode and diminish before our very eyes. As we watched Leyland/Rover retreat ever closer into its Midlands epicentre, while its erstwhile competitors strode the global stage with confidence, we should perhaps have recognised sooner than we did the inevitability of its eventual collapse into industrial oblivion.

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Editor at AROnline and @hjclassics. Likes cars, taking pictures, travelling and knee-high boots...


36 Responses

  1. Jemma - August 8, 2011

    Brings back fond memories of my inherited Renault 5 Campus 4 speed. Manual choke and all. Reliable and quick even with the 52hp C1E 1108 it could howl along all day at 90-plus yet returned 52.2mpg. I hate to imagine what a handful it would have been with 100hp. I cant honestly think of a bad thing to say about it. Bar the usual Renault habit of eating wheel bearings for lunch.
    The ‘supercinq’ turbos were another matter – driven badly and not treated properly they did tend to detonate in spectacular fashion – usually about half a mile after they’d flown past us doing well over 100… The refit turbo was upgraded with both water and oil cooling, which helped, but not enough.
    I’d love a R5 Baccara…

  2. Will M - August 8, 2011

    Had a Renault Clio 1.2 Campus with the 4 speed box.
    Not the quickest but very reliable.

    The Renault 19 that seemed most popular seemed to be the 1.9 diesel. Nearly bought one in this engine at one point – the Biarritz edition.

  3. Merlin Milner - August 9, 2011

    The French have always supported home grown products and still do. We in contrast prefer to slag it off and we still do (Rutherford, Clarkson et al).
    In the early 70′s Rensault and BL were roughly the same size. Both had industrial problems, Renault’s vice president even got assasinated. However BL was never properly finaced by any of the UK governements. Renault was and is strongly supported by the governement rather treated as a sick patient.
    It all goes back to the UK establishment treating engineering as “trade” rather than a wonderful creative means of creating wealth.
    The French support engineering and science as do the Germans. Thankfully we do still have strong manufacturing industry that is the largest single contributor to our economy. We should all encourage our children to study the sciences and engineering.

  4. Jim-Bob - December 20, 2013

    The sad thing about Renault in the US market is that they were appallingly unreliable and poorly built. The Renault 9 was sold in the US as the Alliance (gaining the nickname “Appliance”), and my only memory of one is that it broke down constantly for the friends of my parents who had one (and spent a shocking $12,000 on repairs for it in one year! Needless to say, they weren’t that bright.) Like the Zastava Yugo, they littered the import section of the self service junkyards for a few years and then they disappeared. Today it is exceedingly rare to see a Renault ANYTHING on the roads. You are more likely to see an AMC- the company Renault bought a controlling stake in back in 1979 in order to to sell cars in their dealer network. In 1988 they sold out to Chrysler who kept Jeep and discarded everything else-including Renault. Shortly after that, Peugeot left the market too. French cars were considered too unreliable and expensive to run in the US compared to cars from Japanese manufacturers, so nobody bought them. The only French cars sold here now are joint designs between Renault and Nissan.

    Sorry for the long post, but I figured some people might like to hear the history on this side of the pond.

  5. Pedro the parrot - December 20, 2013

    However many similarities the French and British car industries may have had there is a problem. The British and French share relatively little culturally, socially and most evidently politically. Britain and particularly England is naturally Conservative. France had been largely run by the left since the war.
    It’s interesting to note that France proved particularly poor at developing luxury cars after the war, whilst being very adept at producing ‘people’s cars’.
    In the UK, the opposite, RR, Jaguar, Rover and many other high end companies continued successfully while more prosaic brands struggled with consistency and above all cost.

  6. Hilton D - December 20, 2013

    You learn such a lot at aronline! I’ve never owned a Renault but some neighbours used to own a Dauphine in the 60′s and a friend had two Laguna MK1′s (nice cars). My old company owned a Ren 14 in the late 70′s and i drove it a couple of times.

    From memory, it went quite well and had comfy fabric (velour?)seats. Also had loud indicator’s – which I dont mind.

  7. maestrowoff - December 20, 2013

    So the Ventoux has powered
    Longitudinal FWD behind the axle (e.g R4)
    Longitudinal FWD in front of the axle (e.g. R12)
    Transverse end gearbox FWD
    Rear engined
    Mid engined
    Front engined RWD (e.g. the Volvo 340)

    That’s impressive versatility!

  8. Glenn A - December 20, 2013

    Nice to see a Renault 14 on here, these cars are almost forgotten now but had a small following among Renault fans wanting an Escort sized hatchback in the late seventies.

  9. christopher storey - December 21, 2013

    #5.I don’t think it is quite correct to say no French manufacturer produced luxury cars after WW2 . The Citroen DS unquestionably had many luxurious features even if it was let down by an antiquated engine. Similarly , Peugeot continued to make very classy cars – particularly the 504 – up until the 1970s, after which things went downhill

  10. Richard Davies - December 21, 2013

    I wonder how well the SM would have done if Citroen hadn’t had so many problems happen all at once.

    Peugeot seemed to do a good job with the 505, even if most were bought for their lugging potential.

  11. svenman - December 21, 2013

    As far as I know, tax legislation introduced after WW II effectively killed off the French luxury car segment. A shame really, as there had been many illustrious companies making beautiful cars in that segment before the war: Bugatti, Delahaye, Delage, Hispano-Suiza, Talbot-Lago, Panhard-Levassor, to a lesser extent also Hotchkiss and Salmson.

  12. Richard Davies - December 21, 2013

    Ford sold their French factory to Simca in the early 1950s.

    I did wonder if it was because they were still using the side valve V8′s that must have been in a high tax bracket.

  13. Glenn A - December 21, 2013

    Could we really say Renault is a successful company now? I would say their only recent success has been Dacia, building budget cars in Romania with Renault engines and ironically better reliability than Renault. In Britain the dealer network has been halved, four models have been discountinued and larger models like the Megane have developed an awful reputation for electrical faults and complexity. Who would really want to buy a car where to change a headlight bulb you need to remove a wheel? Also Nissan seem less keen on their Renault alliance since some Renault parts have reduced the reliability of their cars that use Renault parts,and have reduced their links with the company.

  14. The Wolseley Man - December 21, 2013

    Great article Robert – thanks.
    I have done many miles in a Dauphine – I am a rear engine devotee and just loved the thing to bits. The R8 and 10 were great fun too – I still think the ‘dip-bonnet’ R8 was a one of the prettiest cars. With regard to the engines – they were unburstable if well looked after. We had a Caravelle at one stage but that did did appear a little fragile and the handling was – er – interesting. I used a 16 for some time and always thought the ride and comfort level was streets ahead of anything in the same price range. Interestingly though, when some competition still had leather seats and veneered dashboards, the Renault was ‘ultra- modern’ – yet still managed to get you to journey’s end totally refreshed. And the column change was a delight!
    Wasn’t it a Renault 12 that our friends at CAR magazine raced across France in – declaring that other scribes in a ‘Roller’ “got there just the same – but less relaxed”?
    Taking Glenn’s point @13 – I don’t naturally think of a current super successful Renault (but that’s probably my ignorance of the current car scene). I much admired Patrick LeClement’s ‘kick ass’ Megane but even that is history now. My only real experience of modern Renault’s is as the basis for motor homes. In this regard, the Fiat Ducatto and Renault Master are equally matched – except that the Renault has a quieter and smoother engine, a better gear change, a far superior cab and a better driving position. The ride is slightly harsher than the Fiat though.
    As this article us primarily about engines – surely the current Master 2.5 diesel is superb – how come it is so much quieter than a Ford or Fiat?
    The only other diesel I have owned that was as smooth and lacking the loud diesel ‘knock’ was a 3ltr Mazda engine in 109 Land Rover!

  15. Glenn A - December 22, 2013

    The best era for Renault was the seventies. There is an 18 on a long term test on here and this was a satisfying alternative to a Cortina with a more comfortable ride and a smooth engine that was good on long journeys. Also good was the 12, slightly bigger than an Escort and cheaper to run.
    Things started to go Pete Tong was the dismal 9 model. Apart from looking like a cardboard box, this was dismal to drive, unreliable and almost forgotten now. An attempt to sell them in America was a disaster.

  16. Dave Dawson - December 22, 2013

    My first car was an ’82 1108cc Renault 5. Hardly a speed machine but I recall it coping well with the very high geared 5 speed box. Drove mine carefully but my mate had one too which was thrashed and completed safely some amazing over-taking manoeuvers. Can still recall the sound of it!

  17. Dave Dawson - December 22, 2013

    A complete digression, but doesn’t the 5 dr Metro pictured on the intro to this item look well !

  18. francis brett francis brett - December 22, 2013

    A friend and I bought a Renault 12, a P reg with no brakes with the intention of just screwing it till it exploded.
    We was 17 apiece at the time, but boy did we love this car- it wasted XR3i’s for fun!

  19. Juan Reyes - December 22, 2013

    The Cléon engine, built in my own town, which powers my dad’s Renault 18 Break. One of the most beloved mechanical pieces of this Colombian hills and valleys.

    Here the R9 is still a really impressive car. I don’t know if Colombian workers did a better job assembling them than French ones, but you still see them (we never got the R11) in every junction and road.

  20. Richard Davies - December 22, 2013

    The Turks seem to like the R9 as well, there were loads in Turkey when I was there, along with updated R12′s & plenty of booted Clios.

  21. christopher storey - December 22, 2013

    #18. Did it really “waste XR3i’s (sic) for fun” ? With no brakes ?

  22. Pedro the parrot - December 22, 2013

    @9. The SM wonderful though it may be is a footnote; it sold in small numbers and contributed to Citroens downfall. Peugeots are not luxury cars (other than the 604- a beautiful and well appointed car but another minor flop; although they did make a small profit) The Lion was conservative and reliable; if dull. The DS had some features which were luxury; at least by British standards. I believe Citroens’ suspension, or a variant of was used on the RR Shadow.

  23. Pedro the parrot - December 22, 2013

    @18….Renault 12 vs XR3i? The R12 is an underated car true but even a Gordini would struggle to be on terms with an XR3I.

  24. francis brett francis brett - December 23, 2013

    No reason to lie, no XR3i got past my 1293 mini either.
    The 12 was just some 1300 odd cc shed that got scrapped after we had our fun, and im talking about round the streets not Santa pod.

  25. francis brett francis brett - December 23, 2013

    @23
    Put an 850 R5 ‘box and in a Gordini and it will fly.

  26. Steve - December 26, 2013

    What amazed me about the R6 was the way the umbrella handle gearstick was connected to a conventional gearstick which stuck up from the gearbox, in front of the engine. Mid-engine R4, R5 and R6!

  27. Richard Davies - December 26, 2013

    Some Citroens also had the same linkage, the Tractions, 2CV, Dyane, Ami come to mind.

    It’s interesting that the R16 had a column shift, not sure if any other Renaults had one.

    The R12 had a conventional floor shift, at least my Mum’s only one did.

  28. mm - December 27, 2013

    Renault and BL had something in common, BL FWD Hydragas and interconnection, vs Renault FWD long-travel rear suspension and packaging, big interior for a small exterior.

    Friend had a R16, it easily maintained 100 mph aon the A13 and the superb roadholding saved him from a crash on Porlock Hill in Somerset.

    Renault used wet liner engines, and when 100,000 miles was considered an achievement, the Renault unit was still going strong.

    The reputation of Renault was corrosion, you would have the good mechanical parts but nothing left to bolt them to.

    I am keeping a watching eye on Dacia, it would seem they are having problems with rust on the Indian built Dusters.
    I hope this is just a one off

  29. Rammstein - December 29, 2013

    Dear Robert………………….I cannot say anything else but being impressed and I have to take a deep bow for you, take of my hat, this is an impressive piece of journalism.
    As owner of the boy-racer Renault R8S, being raised with R16′s Peugeot 404′s R4′s and Rover SD1′s and Princesses and Mini’s ( I even owned an Innocenti Cooper 1300 sold it stupid git I am) and as being very interested in the history of cars and what makes factory’s tick.

    Oh, the wife drives a Twingo 1, the one you never got in the UK. And we’ll never get rid of the Twingo, for me it is the spritual successor of the Mini, a car with a concept and an ‘idea’
    I really appreciate the fact you mention the Renault 4, I had many an R4 and Mini’s and people never believed me when I explained to them these cars bear a lot of resemblences.
    I always put it like this : BMC climbed the mountain from the West, Renault climbed the mountain from the East.

    My father once did an article in the sixties how surprised he was (after visiting the Renauls 16 plant in Sandouville near Le Havre) that Renault was absolutely NOT run as a state owned company, lets face it, most state run companies are run unefficient, create fundamental losses and lazy uninspired workers.
    This article was published in a local magazine that featured the economy.

  30. Rammstein - December 29, 2013

    Oh, by the way, the Renault 8′s design was more or less a test case, for what would eventually become the Renault 16.
    They are both from the hand of Phillippe Charbonneaux, a French industrial designer who worked for General Motors in the US in the fifties.
    He can best be compared with the American designer Raymond Loewy, artistic, individual, and more an industrial designer.
    The V shape of the R8′s bonnet was made to get a better drag but also to give the driver a better view from over the bonnet.
    He had to work with the Dauphine platform that was modernized and adapted for the R8.

    Cheers !

  31. Rammstein - December 29, 2013

    @ Pedro the Parrot
    - Citroën were ‘la grande dame’ a beautiful Parisienne who lived on the boulevards.
    - Renault were the working class girl.
    - Peugeot would be the shy country girl, conservative and very, very catholic
    LoL

  32. Richard Davies - December 29, 2013

    Did Phillippe Charbonneaux work on the Chevrolet Corvair?

    This does resemble the R8 quite a bit, but until now hadn’t been able to connect the 2.

  33. Rammstein - December 29, 2013

    @Richard Davies

    Fraid not, but he did work on the first or second Corvette.
    But what you say might be of interest, in my opinion the Corvair was the first car that had a rather sober appearance and absolutely no excessive chrome.
    And the waistline of the Corvair was low compared to its contempories and it was wide and had a floating roof with thin A, B and C posts to create a roomy appearance.

    I am convinced the Corvair has been of much more influence in the design world then the rather dismissive opinion most people have regarding this car because of Nader’s book Unsafe at any speed.

    If you take the Farina design for BMC(Austin Cambridge/Morris Oxford series) and the 404 Peugeot and its FIAT 1800/2300 and the Lancia sisters we see fins; inspired on fifties US design, the 504 however was a totally different beast design wise.

    I did an article in Dutch about the Corvair a few years ago, and it is amazing how many designers were inspired by the lines of the car.
    The Range Rovers ‘floating roof’ as well as the Mercedes 230SL Pagoda roof come from the Corvair; as well as the design of Panhards BT and CT 24 models, the designer Louis Bionnier who was in his late seventies, admired the Corvair design and it was his inspiration for the Panhard BT & CT models.

  34. Richard Davies - December 29, 2013

    One oddity about the Corvair was the rear mounted air cooled engine.

    One American site reckoned it smelt of gas at the front, & burning oil at the back.

    I hadn’t realised the Corvair had been so an inspiration for so many other designs.

    Like the 504 a few designed at the end of the 1960s had a wedge like rear end. The Renault 12 & Avenger come to mind, & the Marina to some degree.

  35. Carl - December 30, 2013

    Great article and great comments. Love it.

  36. didierz65 didierz65 - December 31, 2013

    I think that Peugeot in the 50′s and 60′s was the French Rover and to some extend Mercedes-Benz, a bit upmarket/traditional if not “old money” bank manager/doctor car compared to less plush more Spartan Renault(say Morris in UK) but definitely NOT as “flashy” as a Citroen DS (Jag MKII in UK) though they all only were sold with 4 cylinder engine until the 70′s. That’s when the 604 saloon appeared alongside the more utilitarian hatchback and FWD R30. My belief is that Peugeot “lost it” after the 505, going FWD on the 605 and a very poor reliability record combined with badge snobbery toward anything German…

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