One of the perks of writing about cars for a living is that I do get access to all manner of new ones to test and review. But despite the new metal that comes and goes in my life, I still enjoy owning and maintaining my own cars – and that’s why, when I passed my Citroen Xantia on to Mike Humble (oh, he got a bargain there), it was so I could get something older and more needy to replace it.
When I was shopping for a replacement for the Xantia, I certainly wasn’t looking for a Renault 18. I had about £500 to play with, and what I really wanted on my drive was a 1970s saloon – something I could jump in, largely keep up with the cut and thrust of modern traffic, but not get hung up about leaving it on the street outside the house, or in Waitrose car park. On the top of my list was a Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1 – and after that, a Marina/Ital or Talbot Solara.
So, you get the picture – something old, vaguely classic, and reasonably practical. In short, a ’70s repmobile.
After a couple of weeks of searching the usual places, I failed to spot any Cavaliers at all, and as for Marinas – they seem to have driven out of budget (I guess because they’re now thin on the ground, and demand is beginning to outstrip supply). My searches started to widen, but the Renault 18 was a bit of a random stumble on eBay, as the seller had it listed as a Mégane.
It looked like it could tick the boxes – it was a 1647cc 18TS, with seven months’ of MoT left on it, and was clearly being sold by an enthusiast. So far, so good. A quick call to him, ascertained that it was sound enough, and he was selling for all the right reasons. As per usual it was located 200 miles from home (who’d have thought that being in central England constantly finds me so far away from all the best cars?), but a viewing rapidly followed.
A couple of days later, and a sunny Saturday morning drive had be face to face with the Renault and its seller. A quick scan around it saw it was exactly as described, and a brief drive left me pretty impressed. A deal was struck, a hefty deposit paid, and a delivery date cooked up between us. Martin even changed a few bits and pieces, and put it in for an MoT test (it passed). If at this point, it sounds like I wasn’t exactly excited by the prospect of Renault ownership, you’re probably not a million miles away.
As a kid growing up, who’s main source of information was What Car? magazine, the Renault 18 was a bit of a nearly car. It took part in a number of group tests, and as far as I can recall, it never won a single one. But it usually came second – a clear ‘nearly’ car. With lowish expectations, my first drive of the car was a bit of a revelation – the steering, critcised in contemporary tests feels precise and not-too-heavy, while there’s plenty of grip in corners. Even the body roll doesn’t bother me too much, because it’s well-damped. In short, it steers like a soft Audi 80.
As for the ride quality, it’s soft and compliant in a way that you just haven’t been able to encounter in a family car since the end of the 1980s. And the seats are even softer. It’s probably a recipe for long-distance car sickness and backache, but for what I have in mind for it, this is just about perfect.
Now I’ve been driving it for a few days, there’s so much to like about the Renault 18. Being a TS (rather than the then top-of-the-range GTS) mean it’s lightly equipped. There’s no electric windows or central locking; I have only one door mirror, and the switchgear on the centre console is limited to a heated rear window and hazard warning switch. And the gearbox is limited to four-speeds. So, it’s basic.
And as for performance, the bald specs from contemporary road say 0-60mph in 13.8 seconds, and a maximum speed of 97mph. I’ll not be trying to match those figures, but I will say that it’s more than adequate for England’s choked roads. It’s quaintly undergeared, but without a rev counter I can’t quite say precisely how busy the engine is on the motorway, but it’s probably turning at around 4000rpm at 70mph.
Thankfully, the engine is smooth, and feels like it would be capable of running at these speeds all day long. Would I want to? Probably not. Another aspect of the Renault 18 that has surprised me is the general feeling of quality and dependability. The doors thunk shut satisfyingly, the interior is solid, and once underway, there’s little wind and road noise.
There are a few bits of crustiness around the edges which I’d like to attend to now, before they take hold, and then give it a thorough service, and new set of tyres. And then enjoy my rolling memorial to late-1970s motorway life. Do I like it so far? Yes.
Now for the million euro question: how does it compare with AROnline‘s favourite ’70s repmobile, the Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1? It’s a bit early to say, but the Gallic repmobile does have a certain number of advantages, such as the driving position and general overall refinement. We’ll see in the coming months…