Our Cars : Out with the old… in with the older

Mike Humble

After the snow the 18 seems to be a sound little car.
After the snow the 18 seems to be a sound little car.

As a rule, I don’t do jealousy with cars. Yeah sure I feel mildly envious with certain steeds some people have bought purely because I like them too – but jealousy? not me. But as the opening gambit states. I did say ‘not as a rule’ and my favourite cars are as eclectic as you can possibly get, so why did I feel so pleased and jealous as hell when Keith Adams texted me a short while ago heralding his new purchase – a 1980 pea green metallic Renault 18?

My sentiments were made known to him on the phone soon after he collected it from way down in the South West, I yearn for a retro car – and the 18 is the epitome of the word.

Some things are meant to happen in life, and just as a work colleague almost begs me to sell him the Xantia after he stole a fling round the block in it, Keith decides to move the Renault onwards because he needs a bigger estate kind of car. My mind springs into action… here is a car that is simple to run and work on, known for its placid ride and of course oozes charm from every angle.

Some mental sums are calculated, the idea is sold to ‘er indoors, said work chum is qualified for his viability – all systems go, the phone call is made to Keith saying ‘I want the Renault’ and 140 miles later, its resting outside.

Modern Renaults do nothing for me, In my opinion they lost the plot after the 25 was axed and future cars though always driving well as French tin does, have proven to be spectacularly unreliable and more recently – lacking in popularity. Collecting the car from the eastern corner of Northamptonshire and jockeying it down to leafy Horsham went without a hitch.

That was until I approached Surrey and drove through some snow storms and heavy winds even Sir Edmund Hillary would wince at. After pausing at the new Cobham services for a dash ‘n’ splash, I exited the services and found myself heading the wrong way round the M25.

Well… I got home eventually after some truly windy blizzard conditions you would find challenging in modern metal let alone an old Renault. So daylight has come and what exactly have I bought and what genuine condition do I find it in and more to the point, how do I feel now reality has set in.

I knew the indicators were faulty – they only flash if you switch them on and off, I had been warned about the mild brake judder and Keith showed me the knack of starting the car from cold thanks to a misbehaving auto choke – YES the car has a carburettor and a choke!

The 1650cc pushrod four is far sweeter than equivalent O series - CiH or Pinto for refinement.
The 1647cc pushrod four is far sweeter than equivalent O-Series, CiH or Pinto for refinement.

Let me say this for the record (or eight track even) the little thing drives superbly, and whereby an equivalent Marina 1.7 with is comparatively modern OHC engine feels crude and unrefined, the 18’s pushrod all alloy 1647cc plant runs quietly and smoothly.

No crashing or wallowing suspension with lever arm dampers and cart springs but double wishbones and coils at the rear give the Renault a long travel but well damped suspension that’s almost Xantia smooth once up to speed. Sure it rolls around during spirited cornering, but it grips like a limpet considering its laughable 13in wheels with skinny profiles.

So what about that legendary French build quality then? No squeaks or rattles, no thumps or knocks either – it’s amazingly refined if you stay below 70mph. The lack of wind noise around the doors is such a contrast from the British Marina or Ital too, you can understand why so many of us walked away from BL in the late ’70s in droves.

Effective heater and sensible ergonomics along with spacious interior with pillow soft seats make for a car that feels like it was built in the late ’80s rather than a decade before. The drive home genuinely was a hoot rather than a horror.

Smoking about town today caused plenty of glances and smiles – and of course that’s what retro driving is all about. Never mind fuel consumption and running costs – retro motoring is valued only in smiles per mile than MPG. So after taking stock of the situation I have found a few items requiring attention along the lines of the flasher unit is kaput and the recent exhaust is blowing from every single joint. Nothing major and of course it needs a bit of tidying up but I love it and even the original AM/LW Blaupunkt wireless trills away through its single speaker – my kinda Bangernomics!

Flashers that wont flash and a new exhaust that blows everywhere but from the tailpipe - Its all in hand however!
Flashers that won’t flash and a new exhaust that blows everywhere but from the tailpipe – Its all in hand however!
Mike Humble


  1. Great stuff. I’ve no idea why I like the Renault 18 either, but its a long way up my list of favourite cars from the 70’s/80’s.

    Re the carb / auto choke issue, I had the same problem on my Audi 80 back in 2010. As the carb was also on the way out and refurb parts non exsistent, I sourced a new/old stock K&N replacement kit with manual choke from the excellent Carburettor Hospital which are located (I think) in Kent. They have access to loads of old carb replacement kits & parts (all as new and in original packaging) and the proprietor was very knowledgeable, even on obscure stuff like my Audi!
    They should come up on a Google search, but let me know if you’d like their contact details.

  2. VAG Dave:

    It seems to be nothing more than a lubrication issue (ooh pardon)… I sprayed all the carb & throttle linkage with some seeking grease and left it till late evening when the motor was cold again – all seems good.

    The choke was / is working, it was just the fast idle side of things that played up. Oh – its unbelievably economical too!

  3. Sold already! 🙂

    Cracking car. It’s a shame that French cars have lost some of that reliability and comfort in becoming too complex and trying to chase the german market.

    If BL had tied up with Renault, could this have been the basis of a Marina replacement, a late 70s Rover 400?

  4. Nice beast,

    I quite like Renaults….had an ancient clio with a 1.9D and it went on and on and on. 250K It spent its last few years in France…

    Her nibs has a megane 1.5 dci and that is lovely.

    Petrol is mega expensive in France, and in my experience all French cars are frugal on fuel or they would never sell in thier home turf.

    I bet fixing the indicators will just be a duff earth, and because its old school it will be a satisfying job.

    Look after the old girl!

  5. I agree regarding Renault having lost the plot after the 25, as I drove 3 R25’s (2 TX and 1 TXI) as company cars in the late 80’s / early 90’s and despite spending many long hours and hundreds of thousands of miles behind the wheel, the seating and ride was always comfortable and smooth. Happy days!

  6. Very pleased for you Mike, its a nice motor.

    Something very satisfying about coaxing an old iffy-carbed motor into life, and so gratifying to see copious amounts of white smoke gushing out of the tailpipe before the battery gives up the ghost…

    …either that or they’ve elected a new Pope.

  7. I once owned a 1979 V reg Datsun Cherry which I expect will lomg have been scrapped, unlike this fine R18. I also recall the Fuego coupe (neighbour in our street owned one). I guess they were the coupe equivalent of the 18, also nice looker.

    My only experience of the R18 was a diesel Estate hire car driven from Amsterdam to Dortmund,Germany in 1982. Went pretty fast on the Autobahn as I remember.

  8. I can see why Mike sold the Xant and bought this. The Xant is a ‘south paw’ so not really that good for UK roads, and the potential for things to go wrong on them is alarming, especially the suspension. This Renner will also qualify for classic insurance, thus there is a potential of a years premium being stupidly low

  9. I don’t approve.

    I’m jealous as hell and I didn’t even like Renault 18s back when they were banger fodder. Damnit, I never even got to meet this one 🙂

    Hope it is as much fun as it sounds in the long run!

  10. Blaupunkt radios aren’t to be sniffed at & a carburettor has to be well & truly shagged before it needs replacing.

    I had a Volvo 340 with the later 1721cc OHC engine. No mechanic could fettle the carb but a bit of teamwork between my mate & the Renix electronic ignition meant that it carried on working.

    The rich mix fed through the engine meant for nippy performance albeit for a consistently delivered 16mpg.

    Range Rover economy for miles more smiles!

  11. @ Yorkie

    The issue I had with the Xantia was `er indoors point blank refusing to drive it owing to it being back to front inside. Mechanically, its as solid as stone – I would drive that Xantia to the moon and back.

    But the Renault….

    We both jump in and out of each others cars from time to time and besides, she likes the idea of something retro, thinks it cute and can see writing and investment potential.

  12. I can see the appeal but how long will it last? Mike, are you not now yearning for another BL>MG Rover?

  13. The 18 was a good car, a Cortina rival with a more cossetting ride and similar reliability levels. Also a good car was the 12, which later ended up in Romania.

  14. As I recall, later models with plastic bumpers and other exterior tweaks looked much more impressive (not that I mind this earlier model).

    Wasn’t there an 18 Turbo?

  15. Lucky you don’t live in Spain. Everyone would think you’re just a gypo scum ball that cant afford a proper car!

  16. @ 26, yup, there was indeed a turbocharged 18 in the later mk2 plastic bumper version, and towards the end in the UK nearly all models had a turbo style rear spoiler. A neghbour had a late model GTX in burgundy, and I quite liked it

  17. @ Tom No 27

    The French have a much better idea. A car is still considered by many rural folk as simply a means of getting from A to B.

    20 years is the expectation level…a few dents and cracks are to be considered the patina of age.

    A nice bottle of wine with dinnner is to be preffered to a shiny new car.

    Its a real shame that most modern tin is built to self disintegrate at 7-10 years regardless of the badge on the front of the car. This is honest johns opinion…and I for one think its wrong to build cars that dont hold up.

    I think its a cool car, and its different.

  18. My dad had a 1982 Y reg 1647 GTL ( they put this unit into the GTL about then) it was a very good car being reliable and comfortable, he had the car between 1986 and 1997 till it was written off by a Renault 21 cutting a right turn, the car still drove like nothing had happened, but the drivers A piller was bent, but i liked the 18.

  19. @ Mike Humble no.4
    That’s good news then! I was hoping for a similar remedy with my Audi, but the carb was waaay too gone.

    Incidentally, Renault 18s are still very common in Morocco. I was there last year and couldn’t believe how many there were about (mainly diesels). They made them in Casablanca for a while and I think they were available for quite a long time after they had been discontinued in Europe.

  20. My God! An engine you can recognise the bits on! So easy to work on after modern electrickery equipped motors.

    That is a lovely old thing Mike. But a Fuego would have been even better. 😉

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