From the Blog

Reno-vating

This morning I am going to depart from the scheduled theme of these symposiums and talk about another obsession of mine, Renault cars. Since getting my first car in 1970 I can’t tell you how many cars I have owned but the proportion of “normal” cars, Fords and Holdens and Toyotas, is remarkably small. Instead I have tended to buy cars that are slightly and sometimes wildly out of left field. Nowhere is this more evident than in my on-going love of French cars.

We bought our first, and, so far, only new car in 1974, a green Toyota Corolla. We loved it, it had that wonderful new car smell. Over the next year or so it did commuter duties an the daily round as well as regular trips up the country, along the very rudimentary and dangerous Putty Road to visit my brother and his wife in the little town of Denman. As with every Toyota before and since it did everything that was asked of it without complaint.

BUT, as Clarkson used to say, there was a problem. In 1975 my wife fell pregnant and, along with all the other changes that would bring to our life, one of them was that a two+-door car, and a very little one at that, was not going to cut the mustard when it came to transporting a new bub around. Now here I must say that this was well before the days of dedicated child restraints and seats. When you needed to transport your baby around, you put the baby in the bassinette, slid it across the back seat and, as a concession to safety, “secured” the bassinette with the rear seat seat belt. Yes, I know, it sounds terrifying now but that’s what we did, and most babies survived.

The Corolla was not going to allow us to even do this so we started looking for a 4 door car that was bigger and would enable us to also be able to carry the mountain of stuff that you needed to carry when you took baby out on an excursion. Fortunately, my best mate was managing a used car yard in Wollongong and he had a lovely little light green Renault 12 wagon on the lot. It fitted the bill perfectly, money was exchanged and I became a happy Renault owner.

I instantly fell in love with it. It had even better performance than the Corolla, was spacious and had all the benefits of being a wagon. When Natalie came along it fitted the bill perfectly as a baby transport and we did lots and lots of happy miles in it, including a trip in the middle of a vicious summer to Melbourne to watch the Australian TT at Laverton. Helena was 7 months pregnant with Natalie at that time and I figured we could sleep in the wagon and save money on the deal. I bought a 4″ thick piece of foam  rubber, trimmed it to fit and, voila, a mattress. Of course, that weekend was hotter than hell and we ended up finding a nice, air-conditioned, motel.

Anyway, as an entry level into Renault ownership, the 12 was wonderful. The only thing it lacked was a bit of performance and, once in the “in-crowd” of Renault ownership, so to speak, I started looking for a performance upgrade. It soon became clear that the Renault 16 was a good move. I searched around and bought a brown 16TL.

Now I should have done my research a bit better because it was only after I bought the 16 that I came to discover that the TL and TS models in the small Renaults were actually different. The TL was the economy model with a “normal” inlet and exhaust manifold set up and lesser performance than the sportier TS motors that had a cross-flow head and other improvements. So the brown 16 wasn’t quite the performance upgrade that I had anticipated. Nevertheless, the 16 was a remarkable car. One of the very first hatchback cars it had the usual plush French car seats and the ability to fold the back seats down and make the car into a mini station wagon, as most modern hatchback cars can. But there was more. Because the car was built long before modern design rules began to hamper car designers’ creativity, you could actually remove the rear seats altogether and leave them at home. Thus the 16 literally became station wagon and its luggage carrying capacity was huge. A mate from CRRC back in the day used to carry his TZ350 in the back of his 16. All he needed to do was remove the bike’s front wheel and it, and all his spares, fitted in easily.

We kept the 16 for several years and probably would have done so for longer except that a brain-dead motorist tried to change lanes on Helena when she was driving south on Commonwealth Avenue just outside the British High Commission. She was in the right hand lane and swerved right to avoid the fool. Unfortunately, where she chose to swerve was just adjacent to a set of traffic lights and the car hit the light stanchion at unreduced speed. The car stopped almost immediately, spun around with the rear wheels off the ground and came to rest facing in exactly the opposite direction. Helena’s knee was injured by the handbrake that hit it as the front of the car crumpled but Natalie, secure in a proper baby seat, was uninjured. Staff from the British High Commission office rushed out to help and the offending driver took the opportunity to disappear and was never found. The car was a write-off, of course and, once the insurance paid out, we went looking for another car.

We just couldn’t find another 16 so we settled for a 12 sedan, oddly enough, the same brown colour as the 16 had been.;

At least it was a TS model so we gained in performance. But my heart had been stolen by the sheer versatility of the 16 and it wasn’t long before one turned up, a later model, bright yellow and with the TS engine. What a beaut car it was.

We kept it for a long time until getting spares for it started to become an issue. Plus we had moved from Canberra to Sydney and I lost the availability of my tame Renault mechanic in Queanbeyan, so, for quite a few years, I became a Renault-less driver.

Later, probably 15 years or more, I was driving past a car yard in Kogarah in Sydney and I saw a silver grey car on the forecourt. I didn’t know what it was but it looked very swish so I stopped to have a look. As fate would have it, it was a Renault, a 25, and the price was right, too. I did some reading up and the reviews were excellent so we went back to Sydney on the weekend and brought it home.

What a wonderful car it was. 2 litre fuel injected, auto gearbox, electronic everything and it went and handled like a dream. We went everywhere in it including some pretty rough trips down to our bush block in northern Victoria. Like the 16 it had the removable rear seats and I can’t tell you just how much clutter we crammed into it on trips down to set up our little cabin in the mountains. It had an electronic voice processor that told you if the system detected a fault. It was so much fun to put someone in the back seat and then only close the door on the first latch. As you drove off the system would say in a loud, female voice, “Left side passenger door not closed.” Watching your passenger’s startled look in the rear vision mirror was such a hoot.

But the sophistication came at a price; after a couple of years the fully electronic dash started to cause problems, blinking out and zeroing itself before it came back on again. I never did manage to find an auto electrician or a Renault expert who could fix it and eventually the frustration grew too much and it was sold, traded, if I recall, on something decidedly boring.

Once again a long period of boring cars followed until, as before, I stumbled upon my next Renauly, again by accident. Driving past Hatchback World at Haberfield in Sydney, I spotted a Renault Laguna on the point. Could it possibly be that price? I stopped, doubled back and checked; yes it could. And it wasn’t the 4 cylinder version, it was the 2.5L V6.

It was the same sliver grey as the 25 had been and it was a gem, even more loaded with sophistication than the 25. Electric everything and they all worked, whoohoo. And it went like stink. It was so much fun blowing the doors off Falcons and Commodores with my little, inconspicuous car. I don’t know how many k’s we did in that car in the years that we had it but it was a lot. But one day it started making a horrible clanking noise. As luck would have it it was the morning after I had driven it back to Canberra from a holiday at Surfers Paradise. Engaging reverse didn’t achieve anything and it soon became apparent that there was a serious transmission issue. I’d been getting it serviced by Colliers at Paramatta so I arranged for the car to be taken there and was told, in the course of time that the flywheel had fractured. A new one was THOUSANDS and would need to be back-ordered from France. It COULD be repaired at a much cheaper price but there was no guarantee how long the repair would last.

I settled for the repair though, in the end, I probably should have cut my losses there. Barely a year afterwards it fractured again and this time there was no thought of having it repaired or replaced. As much as I loved it, the Laguna was determined to bankrupt me.

That should have been my last Renault, but, masochist that I was, I dived back in one last time. I’d always loved the Fuego, the 2L coupe with the 5 speed box, and I found one that was very much the right price.

The love was instant and remained so until one day when I was heading down Brown Mountain on the way to Bega. A tight right hand corner tightened up a little more than I was expecting and a a quick jab of the brakes saw the car switch ends rapidly in the middle of the corner, coming to rest in the middle of the road, facing the right way with a stalled engine. It was then that I realised that the front disk, rear drum brake combination was not only most un-Renault-like but also likely to bring me unglued if the situation was ever repeated. However, before I had even started to look for a replacement, the Fuego committed suicide, snapping the cam belt out on the F6, coincidentally not very far from where I now live. I sold the remains for what I could get and swore I’d never have another Renault.

But, as they say, never say never….