Appropriately Named: 1965 Mercury Monterey vs 1980 Renault LeCar

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Happy Friday, Autopians! As you have no doubt read, the Autopian bigwigs are enjoying the spectacle that is Monterey Car Week. We mere mortals were not invited to attend, but I didn’t want to miss out on all the fun. In honor of the event and, therefore, to close out the week, I have chosen to feature a vehicle called “Monterey,” and a vehicle called “Car.”

So first we’ll finish up with our sports cars from yesterday, and then we’ll dive in…

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Well, I can’t disagree with that. A good Miata is pure bliss, and even a beat-up Miata is a hell of a lot of fun. Somebody go scoop that thing up before the seller comes to his senses.

That takes care of the old business, now, on to the new. When you choose cars purely by name for a joke, you end up with some strange combinations. Today we have a big, cool American cruiser, and a tiny French city car with a silly Americanized name. Why not? It’s Friday; let’s have some fun.

1965 Mercury Monterey Convertible – $13,995

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Engine/drivetrain: 390-cubic inch V8, 3-speed automatic, RWD.

Location: Portland, OR.

Odometer reading: 86,000 miles.

Runs/drives? “Perfect,” according to the seller.

I have to start by saying that I love, love, love the looks of this car. Slab-sided mid-Sixties American cars just work for me, especially convertibles. If I were going to look for one, I’d prefer a stacked-headlight Plymouth Fury to this, but I wouldn’t kick this car out of the garage. That is, if I could get it into the garage in the first place; this car is every bit as long and wide as it looks in the photos. But man, what a presence!

Just look at this profile:

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It occupies psychic space as well as physical space. This car is there, making its presence known, in a way that very few cars do anymore. This is the full-size Mercury, based on but longer than Ford’s Galaxie. This one has the smallest available V8 engine, still a whopping 390 cubic inches. It won’t knock your socks off in terms of performance, but that’s not the point of a car like this.

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The point of a car like this is looking at the world from this viewpoint, aiming this long, wide battleship of a car down a highway and just letting it eat up the miles. Choose your favorite music for accompaniment: I bet anything from Sinatra to Operation Ivy would do just fine for this ride.

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With all that said, I think this particular Monterey is overpriced. (But then again, overpriced cars are kind of the theme of Monterey Car Week, so it fits.) There are too many little things wrong with it – the missing “Y” in “Mercury” on the hood, the spots on the dash and steering column, and whatever that tow strap is all about – to justify a fourteen-grand price tag. I’d say for half this price you’d be getting a good deal.

(Image credits: Craigslist seller)

1980 Renault LeCar – Up For Auction

1980 Renault Lecar 1

Engine/drivetrain: 1.4-liter inline-4, 5-speed manual, FWD.

Location: North Hollywood, CA.

Odometer reading: 39,800 miles.

Runs/drives? Yep.

And at the other end of the size spectrum, we have this delightful little thing. Renault never really caught on in America like it did in Europe, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Unable to stop being all weird and French, Renault simply leaned into the weirdness and Frenchness of it, and called this car – known as the Renault 5 in the rest of the world – the LeCar.

1980 Renault Lecar 4

And it really is a cool little car, with its three-lug wheels, gigantic sunroof, and happy little face. In the grand French car tradition, it’s also quite comfortable and smooth-riding for such a small car. It’s not fast by American standards, but the LeCar was available with only the largest of the R5’s engines, a 1397 cc overhead-valve four. It always surprises me just how small the engines get in European cars compared to ours: in France this car’s base engine was under 800 cc.

[Editor’s note: Annoyingly, the three-lug bolt pattern for the LeCar is ever so slightly different than a Smart. Shame, because you could get turbine wheels for a LeCar and they would look so sweet on a Fortwo  – MS]

1980 Renault Lecar 9

This LeCar looks like it has been gifted with a pair of uprated front seats. I don’t recognize them, but I’m sure someone will. They certainly look comfy, and French, so maybe they came from a fancier Renault? It does look nicer on the inside than it does on the outside; there are a few rust bubbles popping through here and there, and it looks faded. But it also looks original, which is a good sign. And I like the snazzy alloy wheels on it.

1980 Renault Lecar 3

This LeCar is up for auction, so we don’t know how much it costs, and I didn’t bother to sign up for the auction site to see what it’s going for right now. But in any case, a car is worth exactly what someone is willing to pay for it at the moment it sells, and not a penny more or less. I would imagine it won’t go for a whole lot; not too many eccentrics out there want a forty-year-old French economy car (though there are a few, and thank goodness for them), and there are nicer LeCars out there. This one just spoke to me.

(Image credits: David’s Classic Cars)

And that’s our Shitbox Showdown salute to Monterey Car Week. Which one will it be, the American land yacht, or the tiny French runabout?

Quiz Maker

 

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74 Responses

  1. I love old Mercurys, especially convertibles, but not that particular year/model. It takes “slab-sided” to an unfortunately rectangular degree. Just one or two years older, or four years newer, and I’d be ever so much happier. This one looks like it was designed in Minecraft.

    But I learned to drive in a 1974 Renault, and that’s the last AMC-era Renault I ever hope to drive. I always though the R5 was cute, but no freaking thank you. I remember my dad didn’t offer to jump-start other people’s dead cars with the R12 because it had a tendency to blow out his alternator… and back then (circa 1980) a new alternator was four hundred bucks and a week’s shipping away.

    So I picked the overpriced Mercury, thinking I’ll trade it in for a ’63.

  2. I voted for the Merc…hard to pass up that nice of a car even though it can’t fit in my garage. But I had a LeCar briefly in the 80’s and it was a fine piece of transportation. I remember it was quite easy to work on and was fun-ish to drive. But I also had a 3 cylinder Subaru Justy that I drove from Colorado to Maine and back so I’m a bit of a econobox mutant!

  3. I’ve owned 4 Le Cars and they were all absolute joys. Fun to drive, comfortable, and yes reliable. They were a revolutionary design with just enough quirks so you don’t forget it’s French.

  4. Buy both drive the Mercury and give the Lemar to someone you really hate just short of wanting to kill. I mean it was a car noone wanted when new and only cheap people with no money bought.

  5. I was visiting some friends in Germany circa 2005. A friend had a Renault 5 he got for free from one of his neighbors when he moved overseas, and my friend just parked it in the back of his yard for about a decade. It had way over 100k miles, and the previous owner didn’t do any maintenance on it, ever. We put some gas in it and a battery we found in the garage and it started right up. Got some air in the tires, slapped some dealer plates on it and off I went. A couple days later I checked the oil and all there was in there was some dark black sludge at the end of the dipstick, so I got the cheapest oil from Lidl and changed it.

    The R5 spent its next 3 weeks at redline, and I even managed to get it to 140km/h on the autobahn, which felt like I was in the Challenger right when it was about to blow up.

    Compared to all that, the old boat anchor Merc with its 3spd slushbox and single-digit gas mileage is like getting a colonoscopy while being hungover, so I vote for the french.

    1. Can’t believe I’m wasting my first comment on this one… The Challenger did not blow up, the airframe broke apart due to aerodynamic forced after the SRB separated. Also, too soon.

  6. Yes, the Mercury is expensive. It’s also an enormous convertible with several tons of presence. If you had time, money and desire you could do incredible things with it. People will turn to look at it, and people will want to be seen on it.
    The Renault is the opposite.

  7. By the way, if anyone would like a price for the Le Car: I’ve tracked it down to lot # 63129941 sold on Copart (reckon this will scare a few people away…) on November 12, 2021 for $4200. While you can find nicer ones for less money in Europe, I’d say that’s a decent deal for just about any car in alright shape right now, especially one as rare and quirky as this.

  8. Everybody calling the Monterey a land yacht doesn’t know land yachts. The land yacht in ’65 would be the Park Lane.
    I can’t believe that 43% of people would take a piece of shit French sub sub compact over a classic ’60’s rag. C’mon, folks – roll the top down, throttle that little 390 up and enjoy open air motoring.

  9. Mercury. It was actually a hard choice simply because the the LeCar’s low miles. All in though, there’s nothing on the Mercury that can’t be fixed and the end result would be majestic. Practice your royal wave, Sweetheart. The people deserve it.

  10. I know the Monterey will take the cake, but I left my vote for the LeCar anyway. If I ever get rich I’m 100% importing one (well, maybe more than one, I want a Lectric Leopard too). For some reason I never saw one of those here in Portugal. I’ve seen imported Alliances, Encores, even Medallions and Eagle Premiers – the last Premier registered in Portugal was scrapped a week ago, sadly.

    Please take good care of these, I’m pretty sure it’ll take me a while to get go-around-saving-USDM-Renaults rich.

  11. I had a 1980 Le Car. French blue. Entertaining to drive. Very nice ride. Required premium gas and when it didn’t get it, would blow the head gasket.

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  12. When I was in middle school, there was this kid name Dane that was… an odd duck. He was kind of nerdy, but also a huge a-hole. Not a bully, just a d-bag. One day, I was playing in my front lawn and I saw a Renault LeCar drive by and who was in the passenger seat? That shitheel, Dane. I remember giving him so much shit about being driven around in a LeCar and it made him so mad, but there really wasn’t a retort because they sucked, even in 1991.

    Looking back, I feel kinda bad, because as you age/grow into being a ‘car guy’, you kinda learn not to make fun of anyone’s car, and even if someone is a gigantic butthole, you don’t mess with another person’s car. On top of that, having a 1981 LeCar in 1991 meant you likely weren’t doing super hot, financially speaking, and it’s never ever a good thing to make fun of someone for being poor.

  13. “This one has the smallest available V8 engine, still a whopping 390 cubic inches. It won’t knock your socks off in terms of performance, but that’s not the point of a car like this.”

    FWIW, you can squeeze a ridiculous amount of torque out of these FE big blocks pretty easily. Cams, intakes and even aluminum heads are still readily available at surprisingly reasonable prices.

  14. I voted for the Monterey, ’cause it’s cool! AND , because growing up my neighbor had a LeCar and after the first year of ownership ( he bought it new) he began to refer to it as the “LeMon” because it could not go one week without some issue that necessitated a visit to the dealer.

  15. >the LeCar was available with only the largest of the R5’s engines, a 1397 cc overhead-valve four.

    Note that this only holds true for the first generation of the R5, which, to be fair, was the only one sold in North America. The second generation got the 1.6 L F8M diesel, as well as the 1.7 L F2N/F3N (same engine; the former has a 2-bbl carb and the latter is fuel injected) – both shared with the contemporary R9/11. The F3N also made it into the R9/11-based Alliance which was sold in North America… but made less power than in the R5.

    The F3N was later bored and stroked into the F3R, which is comically shared between the USDM Alliance GTA and… wait for it… the Moskvitch Svyatogor!

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