A French strain of feral fever just struck close to home and, in the spirit of liberté, égalité and fraternité, we’re here to let you know that a 1968 Renault R10 has just joined the fleet. It’s the damnedest thing when an off-the-wall purchase seems to make sense but that’s the basic story.
We had two rear engine cars in the paddock: a ’67 Fiat 500 (Cinquecento) Giardiniera baby station wagon and a ’70 Volkswagen Type III Fastback. Both of these have air cooled motors stashed under trap doors in the back. Both have trunks in the front and room for cargo above their respective motors. The water-cooled Renault R10 is the last rear engine model that the #1 French builder exported to the US. Their later offerings, the R5 (marketed as “Le Car”) and Kenosha, Wisconsin-built Renault Alliance didn’t really find a market here, especially in the face of the ’70s Japanese car invasion. After Renault sold its controlling stake in American Motors to Chrysler, it was all over for the offerings of the Régie Nationale des Usines Renault as far as the North American market was concerned. Some Renaults, however, were sold by Chrysler as the Eagle Medallion (in concept, a great car for Sammy Davis, Jr) and Eagle Premier which sounds like the code name for a South American dictator.
We’re now down to just the “new” Renault and the little Giardinera as the Volkswagen Fastback was quickly sold off to make room for the Gallic newcomer. Maybe it was just too “normal” to make the final cut but it was the most powerful of the three pushers with a 1.6 liter motor developing a whopping 65 horsepower. The Cinquecento is powered by a minuscule two cylinder motor displacing slightly less than half a liter, making freeway cruising mostly a theoretical endeavor.
The Renault R10 falls somewhere in the middle of these two with a 1.1 liter motor that produces 48 horsepower. It’s vaguely competitive on the freeway — meaning it’s capable of 65 mph under ideal conditions. The point of its acquisition was not performance but.. hmm.. what was the point? Oh, yes, the point was that we hadn’t had a proper French car since dear mom’s 1968 Peugeot 404 and a recent visit this winter to the giant Rétromobile* vintage car expo in Paris fired up one’s inner Francophile feelings on a certain level. There’s always a reason, isn’t there?
At any rate, it’s fun to drive and gets more comments than the VW since it’s so unusual and, let’s face it, kinda cute. So there you have it or, more appropriately, voici la voiture. Fun to drive, fun to say: we’ll call that a win/win.
If you’re interested in acquiring your very own Renault, we wish you good luck. There are very few for sale in this country, probably because they were thought to be disposable but we did find a doppelgänger — is it OK to use a German word in describing a French car? — in nearby Arudel, ME for just $8500. Enjoy this commercial for the R10 from 1970 in which the car is favorably compared to a horse.
*Here’s our Rétromobile coverage for Automobile Magazine’s website.
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