In memoriam : Dacia Denem

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Keith Adams

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

Dacia Denem in the South Downs... may as well be a million miles away from Bucharest.
Dacia Denem in the South Downs… may as well be a million miles away from Bucharest.

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.

Dacia 1300, AKA the Renault 12 in the UK
Dacia 1300, AKA the Renault 12 in the UK

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.

ARO 10 - or Dacia Duster as we came to know it in the UK
ARO 10 – or Dacia Duster as we came to know it in the UK

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…

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

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58 Comments

  1. I wonder if the owner who scrapped the last Denem knew what he was doing. It’s a shame when any car, no matter how crap, disappears from the road completely.

    I never recall seeing a Denem though I certainly remember the Duster which was a fairly common site around Yorkshire. I actually work next door to Huddersfield’s old Dacia dealership – it was literally just an old corner shop converted to a miniature showroom with a sliding door and space for one car. It’s now a fireplace shop.

  2. I first went to Romania in the mid-1990s and Dacia 1300/1310s were everywhere but it’s a very different story nowadays. It’s sad when something like this disappears because, no matter how bad the car might have been, at the end of the day the Denem mobilised a country and served them well.

  3. Sacha Baron Cohen has an interesting take on this car in the film, Borat, in which it’s being pulled along by a horse!

  4. There were still plenty of Dacia 1300/1310s about in Brasov in Winter, 2003. It’s a shame the four-door pickup never came here -and, for that matter, the Oltcit.

  5. I remember the Renault 12 very well in the UK and Spain and recall the launch of the Dacia Denem (in pictures at least). However, I don’t think I was lucky (or unlucky) enough to see one for real!

    Romania also took over production of the BAC 1-11 aircraft after UK production ceased but that didn’t last long either.

  6. @Craig Tetlow
    Well, to be fair, it’s not as if the owner scrapped the last Denem in existence, merely the last one in the UK!

    Actually, come to think of it, I can’t remember the last Renault 12 in the UK either.

  7. I saw loads of Logans and the odd Sandero in Spain. They seemed to provide honest and reasonably-priced motoring. It’s a shame they are still not selling Dacias in the UK/RoI.

  8. I seem to remember CAR Magazine’s GBU listing the Dacia Denem’s Pro as “Rarer than a Ferrari”…

    I thought that the plastic bits made it look quite fetching in a Renault 12-meets-17 way. Oh, and I definitely saw a Denem, but I also lived in a town with a resident Firenza (allegedly with a Ferrari engine transplant) and a Talbot Tagora.

  9. I worked in Romania for a few weeks in 2009 and there were still a few Dacia 1300/1310s about but the Logan was way more common. I understand they are still common in rural areas.

    Incidentally, the driving in Bucharest is probably the scariest I have ever experienced!

  10. Someone mentioned the Tagora above – there is only ONE left!!!

    I’d say that, at a guess, the Talbot range is probably the most at risk of becoming extinct…

  11. @Andrew Elphick
    Yes – I’m not too sure about some of the stats on How Many Left? I’ve been toying with the idea of buying a Rover 114 Cabrio for a few months and have seen at least 15 go through Auto Trader and/or eBay .

    However, according to How Many Left? there are only 25 left. I reckon that, in that case, a very high proportion of them must have changed hands recently!

  12. You will find that, if you click on the model name, it tells you how many are SORN’d and then, of course, there will be the not taxed/not SORN’d group.

    Jon.

  13. When I was 7 we had a very late Renault 12TL Break (1980/ ELJ354V). It was a great car, reliable, practical and rust free!! Dad replaced it with an 12 month old 1.7L Ambassador (CNO877X).

    I belive the Romanian opperation had a terrible reputation for build quality and reliablity. (Check out carsurvey.org for the full horror!)

    I remember thinking that the Denim looked really plush and wanted my dad to get one. The Amby was by no means perfect, but may have been the lesser of two evils.

    JON

  14. Adrian :

    That Dacia 1310 looks like a collision between a Saab 900 and a Daewoo…

    …except that both of these came after the Dacia. Does this mean that Saab and Daewoo looked at the Renault 12 for inspiration?

  15. It’s a pity that Dacia didn’t make a copy of the Renault 12 Gordini – with a 1.6-litre engine and 108? bhp, it was an excellent “wolf in sheep’s clothing”! 12 Gordinis were very rare in this country as it was a special order only model.

  16. I can’t remember when I last saw a Renault 12 but apparently there currently 77 taxed in the UK. However, seeing pictures here of the Renault 12 in its original from makes me think what a nice looking car it was. They seemed to be everywhere when I was growing up.

  17. Somebody round here (Norfolk) has a Sandero! It’s a left hooker on Romanian plates, but I see it almost daily. James May would have an trouser accident if he saw it. LOL!

  18. Mark Pitchford :
    @Andrew Elphick
    Yes – I’m not too sure about some of the stats on How Many Left? I’ve been toying with the idea of buying a Rover 114 Cabrio for a few months and have seen at least 15 go through AutoTrader and/or eBay .

    However, according to How Many Left? there are only 25 left. I reckon that, in that case, a very high proportion of them must have changed hands recently!

    Mark, there are FAR more than that left.

    Rover 114 Cabriolets come as “114 Cabrio” or “114 Cabriolet”. There are about 160 on DVLA’s system, plus some in Jersey which won’t be on the DVLA.

    The R6 Metro Cabriolets are sometimes counted with the 114s and some appear to just be registered as the base Metro.

    I’m wondering if a 114 Cabrio Buyers’ Guide might be worth putting together because they’re cheap at the moment.

  19. Yep, it’s all in how the orginal Dealer filed the paperwork with the DVLA.

    The same goes for all car makers and models. That’s why I think the How Many Left? site is a load of rubbish as not all the data is 100% correct.

  20. Apparently the Fiat 132, once a fairly popular large saloon 30 years ago, is down to its last registered example and the Datsun 120A is extinct.

  21. I’ve just had a look to see if there were any Oltcits (Citroen Axels) left. Unfortunately, even if any were ever imported, none appear to have survived. It is a possibility as the Axel was sold in some countries on the continent.

    Anyway, if you want to see what the Axel looks like check out this page on the Citroënët website – that, by the way, shows a British-registered car.

  22. I was the Dacia dealer in Denmark for a short time. I can say that I’m not crying any tears over them now that they are gone.

    The Renault 12 was (in my eyes) a little boring but the car was pretty well built and sturdy. However, the Dacia was built poorly with poor, miserable materials, but was probably good enough on the Eastern bloc roads.

    I was unlucky enough to run our Dacia demonstrator for a short time. The engine ran began to run on three cylinders after a short time. One of the spark plugs had lost the electrode so we changed all the ignition parts and fitted a Weber carburettor repair kit in order to get it to run properly. We also had to change all sorts of clips and other things so parts did not fall off. An experience best forgotten…

    Erik.

  23. My parents had a 1972 Renault 12 for nearly ten years and were mostly satisfied with it.

    The last time I saw a Renault 12 on the road in the UK was in 1993. However, around the same time I went to the South of France and there were still lots around.

    I spotted a few Dacias on Rhodes a year later, though I didn’t think the plasticky facelift did much for them.

    Incidentally, didn’t Dacia make R18s as well?

  24. @Erik Loye
    No, not forgotten. The citizens of Romania probably buy their Logans and imports for a lower relative cost so it should never be forgotten just how much cheaper cars are for much higher quality and volumes of production – and why cars like the Denem simply couldn’t be sold now.

  25. Oh, that lovely lime green Dacia estate!

    I spent the years 1975 to 1982 being ferried to and from school in a silver Renault 12 estate and then a maroon red Renault 12 saloon. I think they weren’t too bad looking but you soon remember how primitive they were: no radio, no headrests, no rear seatbelts, no electric windows, no aircon, no rear wiper, no fifth gear, no speedo etc, etc.

    My other abiding memory is of my dad taking us on holiday and overtaking a juggernaut on an A-road in a car laden down with three children, my mum, a full boot and a loaded roofrack, in a vehicle with the acceleration of a drugged tortoise. Scary!

  26. @Richard Kilpatrick
    Well, if you do such a thing I’d be very interested in it. I know roughly what to look for with regards to Metro/114s generally but nothing about particular nasties to be wary of with the Cabrios. Indeed, failing a formal Buyers’ Guide, a few pointers would be appreciated!

  27. I (think) I can remember CAR Magazine’s GBU summary of the Dacia Duster:
    For: In Romania, this is a luxury.
    Against: So is bread.

  28. Another early make and model of car which I remember appearing in UK newspaper adverts twenty one or so years ago is the Proton MPi or MOPPIES as they latter became known.

    This Proton model was based on the old 1980s Mitsubishi Lancers and they were quite a common sight on UK roads until the new Proton models replaced them. The Proton badge was funny looking – it looked like a fried egg had stuck to the front of them.

    This was the start of the invasion of the UK and Europe by Korean and Malaysian car manufacturers – even Hyundai, the first one here, expanded its range after the Pony and Stellar.

    However, it’s possible that the numbers of surviving early model Korean cars are higher than the Eastern Bloc models becuase they successfully managed to force them out of the market.

    Anyway, what of Proton today? I have not seen any newly registered models on the roads up here but they still own Lotus.

  29. @Mark Pitchford
    Actually, to be honest, there’s not much on the Cabrio to cause headaches. The main rust spots are the sill seam under the door, which is usually unbelievably obvious, and the rear arches (they all do that sir). The roof mechanism is generally tough – new roof covers/windows are about the same price as any other cabriolet – the pump is nothing exciting, the wiring is straightforward and the seals are still currently available.

    I’d look for window issues (make sure they go up/down properly and are lined up), missing trim on rear quarter windows, dampness in carpets for potential rust issues in the floor/sill strengthening. The roof should open smoothly and fairly quickly (I started making a video but I’m not good at video!) and seal properly when closed (it closes fully, you just latch it – if it needs pulling down something’s not right). Rear seatbelts should latch on the wrong side. Boot struts are NLA but should be possible to get recharged.

    The engine is as per the Metro, so a clogged radiator, blocked thermostats, failed fan switches and a badly bled cooling system are the order of the day and the thing that does most of them in mechanically.

    Additional nuisances are the Metro’s cheap central locking system, rear radius arm wear/lack of maintenance.

    What I’d be wary of are inflated claims of rarity or history. Most of them seem to have done low mileages, presumably because they go wrong with lack of use – and a low mileage car which has been neglected will invariably be a world of pain unless you properly clean out the cooling system. That’s probably going to apply to any K-Series-engined Metro.

    Gumtree seems to be a good source of them as well as Auto Trader and eBay.

    The conversion was – tall folded roof aside – very well executed indeed. I don’t see how they could have dealt with that apart from sending it into a parallel dimension or using the entire boot.

    I may be selling the red one as my girlfriend doesn’t like it, but I do. It was supposed to be a car for her but, in the event, she’d much rather have had a normal one or a Morris Minor.

  30. I remember that a lot of Dacias came to the USSR in 1990 or so. However, these cars were even worse than the fwd Lada Samara and disappeared in a couple of years.

  31. It looks like Zastava are going the same way (YUGO 45 etc). An old school friend brought one new in 1990. It lasted about five years before he had to scrap it because it had became too expensive to maintain in relation to its value.

  32. Here, in Hungary, the Dacia was considered the worst of the Eastern Bloc choices. The indestructible Lada was seen as the best – though anyone who had some DeutschMarks would buy a secondhand Golf.

    A friend told me that when you bought a new Dacia you had to literally rebuild it again if you expected it to run. However, there are still a few Dacias left but they’re all looking sad these days

    You can still see some Trabants and Wartburgs (later types with VW engines) and there are also quite a few Lada 1.2s and 1.5s to be found but no Polskis…

  33. There are a lot of Renault 12s still on the road here in Galicia, Northern Spain. The new Dacias are quite popular at the moment too.

    I will try to take a few photos and post them on your Facebook page.

  34. The last time I saw a Yugo in the UK was in 2007 and that was the first one for a few years.

    The sanctions againt Serbia in the 1990s probably caused a lot to be scrapped because of a lack of spares.

  35. The denem was a UK-only model so it is, technically, extinct. Sam Glover’s is a 1310 Sport but not a Denem. Photos of the last one are here: http://volganeagra.blogspot.com/2011/10/ultima-dacie-denem-last-dacia-denem.html . The last one I saw in the flesh was in a scrapyard in Wales in 2003 – a green A-reg saloon.
    However, rumours of an estate stashed away in a barn since new persist so it is – just – possible that one day, a new Denem will rise from the ashes!

  36. Hi folks,
    I’ve been to Cluj-Napoca (in the Northwest of Romania) and there were lots of Dacia 1300 in all different kind of shapes (YES, also the PICKUP Version with or without hardtop and also as limousine or caravan.
    Some of them are in well condition, others stand unmoved for a long time with flat tires along the roadside…

  37. I remember plenty of Denems around in Britain when they were new… .then in scrapyards during the last half of the ’80s.
    From what I remember they were of inferior build quality to the R12 so didn’t last long.

    The person above asking about UK survivor Citroen Axels and Oltcits will be disappointed.. They were certainly never sold here and as far as I know never made in RHD. If any got here they would have been secondhand LHD personal imports.

  38. Apparently only 700 or so Denems were sold. Shifters (the pickup version) lasted until 1990, and a couple still exist, including one limited edition Shifterossa (none on the road though). The Welsh Denem in a scrapyard made it until 2011, at which point environmental directives made the owners clear that part of the scrapyard. It was David Kelly’s place, near Wrexham. A few Dacia 1310s have already made their way over here – sadly, though, the Denem had several features unique to the UK so there are not going to be any failed exports still around in Romania ready to revive the Denem name.

    There used to be a handful of C-reg Axels around – alsmot definitely no survivors though. An Oltcit import does exist, however, as does an original ARO sold here in 1980.

  39. There is one 1984 Dacia Denem base saloon surviving, I have it in my shed in Northern Ireland. It’s an A reg that I bought in Bolton 13yrs ago. its in complete original condition and I would consider selling it to someone who would be willing to put it back on the road as it is super rare!

  40. My dad bought a new 12tl in 1973 after test driving a Marina and an Allegro. No contest, the Renault being smooth ,quiet well equipped and those big comfy seats!
    He replaced it after 5 years with a Renault 14 which was an inferior car sadly.

  41. Blast from the past! A neighbour of ours in France died, he had a garage (for car repairs) and workshop adjacent to his house, when the family were clearing out (and having a sale) a yellow Dacia like the one pictured was “for sale” I don’t think they sold it, as far as i am aware it was put back in the garage!

  42. One of my flatmates had a Renault 12 in the late 80s in that odd green colour. I remember that it was reliable but a bit stodgy.The Denem build quality (or lack of) was legendary and I can recall on of my acquaintances more or less tearing it apart and then screwing it back together properly.

    OEM spark plugs were notorious for snapping electrodes and ceramics cracking. Also I recall snapping hose clips (especially radiator hoses) and various other bits falling off. Unfortunately, none of the above mechanical blandishments would stop the rust endemic in the cheap Russian sourced steel used in the Denem (even worse than the stuff Fiats used on the Strada and Mirafiori).

    I doubt that many (possibly not any) tears will be shed for the demise of the Denem – which was a bit like a Primark T-shirt – looked good until the first wash.

    Now the Renault 12 estate was a really useful car in the French mould of the time. Went well, road well and generally all round useful.

  43. Dear Nigel,

    I would also be intersted to know a bit more about the dacia denem.my email address is cosmin18430 @ gmail.com

    Kind Regards,

    Cosmin

  44. I remember the Dacia very well. My Dad was the second ( I think) owner of RTF 610 Y, a yellow estate, back in the 80s. The brochure cars were 611 and 612 Y and Dad’s car was badged a 1310 not a Denem. Lovely car and I was gutted when he swapped it in for a Cavalier- noisy with rotten suspension in comparison.

  45. Hells bells had a denem in white but could not kill it phone call in night throw the back seat out roll in a 900×20 two bottle jacks bits of wood wheel brace and away down the road to change a trailer wheel some nutter had a blow out the Romanian lady did that no problem even had gas bottles in sometimes try going down the motorway with your back end nearly dragging in the road I still have the hand pump for the tyres the only thing that lasted god bless her what a machine also had a roman artic unit column change HAPPY DAYS If dacia want a driver to tesat the new range I will take a duster in silver please BRYAN

  46. I had a red one back in the early eighties big mistake but I do like the look of the Dacia Duster fancy a 4×4 but most are too expensive

  47. My primary school teacher had a yellow Renault 12 similar to the Dacia in the photo that she bought new in 1976. She must have thought a lot of the car, or maybe couldn’t afford to replace it( teachers and their low wages, as they alwats tell you), as ten years later, I was walking past the school and a now rusty and battered looking R reg 12 was in the car park.

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