In memoriam : Dacia Denem
A look at some of the less likely extinct cars in the UK, according to data supplied by the brilliant How Many Left? website based on DVLA data.
2: Dacia Denem – died out in 2005
Regular viewers of Top Gear will no doubt be aware of Dacia through James May’s repeated references to the impressive Renault-engineered Sandero and Logan, two sensible well-priced ranges that are doing impressive business across Europe right now. However, those older viewers with longer memories and a liking for East European cars will, no doubt, remember the first car that Dacia sold in the UK, the Denem.
The Dacia Denem wasn’t, of course, a new car at all when us Brits had our first chance to buy it in 1983. Its evolution can be traced back to the formation of Uzina de Autoturisme Pitești (UAP) in 1966 as Romania’s national motoring company. Nicolae Ceaușescu was keen to Westernise his country – while remaining in the Eastern Bloc – and part of this was to rapidly industrialise Romania. Within two years, the Dacia factory at Colibaşi (now called Mioveni), near Piteşti was completed and licence-built Renaults were rolling off the line.
In 1969, the first Dacia 1300 was shown to the public, going on sale the following year – and, in comparison to its Eastern Bloc rivals, it was very impressive indeed, being little more than a rebadged Renault 12 – a brand new car. Initially, sales were strong as buyers clamoured to get hold of one but, as the 197os ground on and Romania’s economy started to struggle, the Dacia was left behind.
In 1980, it was given a light facelift to become the 1310 and it was in this form that the car came to the UK as the Dacia Denem. It actually went on sale at the end of 1982 – hitting the market at the same time as the Ford Sierra – and was sold as the ‘New name in family cars’ and ‘the very acceptable Dacia Denem.’ Priced from £3190, it was a new entrant in the extremely busy budget car sector.
Rivals included the Lada 1200 (£2499), FSO 1300 (£2599), Skoda Estelle 120L (£2449) and Yugo 511 (£2849) and, in that context, the Denem wasn’t exactly a bargain, despite being arguably better to drive than the lot of them. Anyway, needless to say, UK buyers ignored the Denem in thier droves, choosing instead to buy more established rivals.
The Denem’s failure here was a reflection of how wide the differences between East and West had become – working families here turned up their noses at a car reserved for the Communist Party nomenklatura in its homeland.
Unsurprisingly, it didn’t last long here, fading away in 1984, after several hundred were sold. The Dacia name lived on here throughout the 1980s, thanks to the importer’s decision to bring in the ARO 10 (for Auto Romania), rebranding it the Duster. Given the abject failure of ARO and its Portuguese CKD off-shoot, Portaro, in the UK, it was a brave move. However, as it happens, British buyers had an insatiable appetite for bargain off-roaders and the Duster sold respectably here until 1990.
It’s a name that stuck, too – and, in 2012, you’ll be able to buy a new Dacia Duster here again.
What about the Denem, though? It was rapidly forgotten, with the final car being scrapped in 2005. According to The Independent, the Romanian embassy used a fleet of them, which were regularly spotted in London. However, after 1989, once Nicolae Ceaușescu had been deposed and killed and the country staggered into the free-market economy, they were also pensioned off, in favour of secondhand Mercedes-Benz S-Classes. Rightly so…
Should we mourn the passing of the Denem in the UK? It would be nice if one was left as a reminder of bitter times and how we’ve all moved on. Then again, there’s nothing stopping someone bringing one to the UK…