Home » Gaull-ing Gallic Garbage: 1971 Renault 16 vs 1984 Renault Le Car

Gaull-ing Gallic Garbage: 1971 Renault 16 vs 1984 Renault Le Car

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Mark! Mark? Are you back from France yet? I know you said something but I just can’t seem to find the memo. Well, even if you are, you’re likely jet lagged, full of Fois Gras, and wouldn’t mind a break. Let’s ease his entry back into a country where they don’t let children drink wine and never really thought Jerry Lewis was that funny. I’ve got some delicacies from a time when the French actually thought they could sell their often odd creations here in America; that was decades ago so like any delicacy sitting in the sun they haven’t aged particularly well.

Friday’s vote between a Rolls and a Jag came down so close that I would suspect either contender could claim election fraud if they weren’t so British and reserved.

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Ultimately, the crowd thought that S.W.’s Silver Shadow was more rock ‘n roll and befitting of being driven into a pool Keith Moon-style (but you’d need someone to push you first based on the running condition). I’d personally take that Jag-wire since it’s the most beautiful sedan ever made (go ahead and hit me with Quattroportes and shit, you won’t change my mind) but maybe the Series III XJ6 is remembered more as the car in the opening of LA LAW than something a rocker would drive.

Anyway, on to the Gallic charms to choose from today:

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1971 Renault 16

Engine/Drivetrain: 1600cc Inline 4/ Four On The Tree

Location: Santa Rosa, CA

Odometer reading: 180,000 miles

Runs/drives? Runs? Yes. Stops? No

Americans used to refer to vehicles imported from Europe as “foreign cars”, and there is a reason. This 1971 Renault 16 certainly proves that, and as one of the first hatchback sedans it likely must have seemed quite alien when sold on these shores. Introduced in 1965, it might have in fact been the FIRST hatchback sedan ever, and the numerous interior configurations included one which involved hanging the rear seat backrest from the ceiling.

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16a D
source: Renault

Here’s a video with odd jazzy music playing that shows all of the configurations for real near the end. If you scroll to about 3:50 you can see that I’m not lying about the seats-in-the-air setup that did NOT catch on with future hatchbacks:

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“Foreign” enough for you? There’s more! You want to know the wheelbase of this thing? Left side or right? What? That’s right- the front and back wheels on the Renault 16 are closer together on one side of the car than the other, so the left and right wheelbase are different thanks to the rather odd rear suspension configuration. I mean, different by nearly 3 inches! That’s a lot!

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Source: Wikipedia

This ultra-rare-even-new US specification 1971 model is presented in rather grainy photos which suits the rather grainy condition of the exterior finish. Remarkably, it reportedly does run and is rather free of corrosion, though in this case a rusted floor might be a benefit since you could drop your feet Flintstones-style to stop it; the brakes have “lost pressure” and now work about as well as the entire nation of France during the month of August.

Renault1

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It’s remarkably clean inside, including the column shift manual gear selector; the way the factory put the radio in a big box on the floor doesn’t look like an afterthought at all.

Renault2

The seller lists “quirky French car” in both the “Pro” AND “Cons” section of his description, which proves his honesty. If it’s a bit to “quirky” for you, here’s a more mainstream French option, if there is such a thing.

1984 Renault Le Car

Engine/Drivetrain: 1400cc Inline 4/ Four-On-The-Floor

Location: Chapel Hill, NC

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Odometer reading: 128.480 miles

Runs/drives? No, but “tries”

The Mark I Golf/Rabbit gets all of the accolades as an “innovative” modern hatchback but the French had them beat by years. The new-for-1972 Renault 5 was a fun-to-drive, super-comfortable-riding marvel of packaging that deserves more recognition than it gets. The R5 was a sales dud when introduced in the US market until some marketing genius decided to put giant “Le Car” decals on the flanks; the resulting dramatic uptick in sales proved how shallow Americans were, and still are.

[Editor’s Note: This is right near me? Who froze the corporate card in ice? – JT]

Our 1984 example is one of the last Le Cars sold here in the US, and the square headlight front end might be recognizable as the star of the infamous Saturday Night Live skit about the “Adobe” car-of-clay.

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The finish on this particular Facebook Marketplace example actually resembles the Adobe in it’s dull, dirt-like color scheme; the door jambs show that it was once a lovely bright red that likely suited this cute little car quite well. Apparently it needs “carb, tires and battery” to run, and the carburetor is described cryptically as “trying not installed on vehicle”. What is it trying? Did it try to run away to find a better car to sit on and now wants to return prodigal-son-like to its old manifold? Who knows.

It seems to have dimensional eagle logos on the front doors; did they do this to match the Chrysler brand that eventually included Renault cars?

Renault3

Moldy sunroof canvas is still in place, and I see controls for the optional air conditioning; if you get that working be advised that it will take about half of the engine’s power when the compressor kicks in. Like the earlier car in our Showdown, this one also places the radio in a stuck-on vertical box like Renault had never heard of car audio until the day before they released the thing. This car is located dangerously close to Jason Torchinsky so I wouldn’t let him know it’s available.

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Renault4

Mark is probably back tomorrow, so we’re all nervous about his reaction to the smoking pile of embers we’ve left his Showdown baby in.

For now, please make a choice between the stinking piles of Gruyere cheese.

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Instagr.am/JakobKsGarage
Instagr.am/JakobKsGarage
4 months ago

always the running one.

Erik Hancock
Erik Hancock
4 months ago

Renault 16. I think I got Le Pinkeye just from looking at those photos of Le Car.

Phuzz
Phuzz
4 months ago

The seller lists “quirky French car” in both the “Pro” AND “Cons” section of his description

Ah yep, that’s someone who’s owned a French car all right.
A French person will cook you an amazing meal, whilst simultaneously being incredibly rude to you. That’s what their cars are like.

Jonee Eisen
Jonee Eisen
4 months ago

They’re both glorious. I’ve had four Le Cars and I loved every one. Super fun and more reliable that most people would expect. This one, however, might need more work than it’s worth. But, perhaps not for someone since they’re pretty hard to find. This 16 is a great deal. A revolutionary car that only someone boring would get bored of.

Mike F.
Mike F.
4 months ago

This surprisingly turned out to be one of the better SBSs in some time! When I saw the headline, I was all set to vote Le Car; I have very fond memories of driving a borrowed one between the San Gabriel and San Fernando valleys to visit a young woman I was very interested in. That thing was a lot of fun to drive, and I’d love to have one now – it would be like a mobile version of those madeleines that Proust was fond of. But that 16 is just such a weird, interesting car and it looks like it would be less of a project (maybe). Going with the 16 and letting the past remain the less-remembered past.

ES
ES
4 months ago
Reply to  Mike F.

great simile. i never got past the first 50 pages of the Swann’s Way, but i sure remember that cookie, i remember certain past tendres, and i can perfectly place your meaning (‘tho for me it’d be a Passport C70).

CSRoad
CSRoad
4 months ago

The 16 got the vote because I’ve never owned one, I’ve had two 5’s that did quite well at autocross. The interesting thing is they are both the same layout front wheel drive mid-engine, torsion bars and uneven wheelbase, that being a repeat of the success of the Renault 4.

JDE
JDE
4 months ago

Facebook Seller and the barely running bit kind of makes it an easy choice for the older version. Brakes are usually easy, but of course this is a french vehicle, so it likely is a combination of backward french design theory and age, but I imagine I could probably figure out the brakes faster than getting parts from Puerto Rico to make the LeCar work.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
4 months ago

Le Car = Le Projet, but I still want it.

Pneumatic Tool
Pneumatic Tool
4 months ago

mon Dieu….why hast thou forsaken moi?

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
4 months ago

vive le car

I chose le car because of the canvas sunroof

FloridaNative
FloridaNative
4 months ago
Reply to  Dogisbadob

Hmmm… the condition of that sunroof and the condition of the interior because of said sunroof is why I chose the 16.

Ricki
Ricki
4 months ago

Le Car has a lot of stuff going on that makes me think “I could fix him.” Those seats? Duct tape, recover, replace, whatever. The top? Bleach and steam clean. Paint? Spruce it up a little. If it spins, it’ll start. Current project car needed (and still needs) a lot more, and I bought it for almost as much.

But let’s be real. I just want it to make the “I own An Car” joke at every possible opportunity.

Ncbrit
Ncbrit
4 months ago

I voted 16. Simply because:

  1. Probably more comfortable
  2. It has a real name
  3. Its more quirky than a stupidly named R5
DDayJ
DDayJ
4 months ago

GEORGE: Puddy’s just gonna give you the car, huh? (Skeptic) You’ll see. First they stick you with the undercoating, rust-proofing, dealer prep. Suddenly, you’re
on your back like a turnip.
JERRY: Alright. Calm down.
GEORGE: My father had a car salesman buddy. He was gonna fix him up real nice. Next thing I know, I’m gettin’ dropped off in a Le Car with a fabric sunroof. All
the kids are shoutin’ at me, “Hey, Le George! Bonjour, Le George! Let’s stuff Le George in Le Locker!”

The Dude
The Dude
4 months ago
Reply to  DDayJ

Came here for this, and now left satisfied.

SageWestyTulsa
SageWestyTulsa
4 months ago

I’ve never owned a French car, but that $800 R16 looks like exactly the kind of shitbox I’ve drug home many times over the years. In fact, if it were close enough to justify the trip, I’d have already paid the man my money.

I bet you could get the brakes sorted to some sort of reasonable degree in a couple of hours…

ExAutoJourno
ExAutoJourno
4 months ago
Reply to  SageWestyTulsa

I did the brakes on mine — rebuilt four wheel cylinders, the master and fresh flex hoses, plus pads and shoes — over two leisurely days. Easy.

Don’t know if kits for them are still available, but at worst an email to France would probably do the trick.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
4 months ago
Reply to  ExAutoJourno

What did you do the 2nd week?

Fuzz
Fuzz
4 months ago

How could I resist having a vehicle with 2 wheel bases? I’m in!

TriangleRAD
TriangleRAD
4 months ago

Jokes on you, I sent the Le Car link to Torch a week ago!

I looked closely at this car as a potential group project for my ’80s & ’90s car club, TriangleRAD. Then I heard from a group member who has owned 4 Le Cars in the past. He went to go see this one intending to buy it, but ended up walking away. In his estimation it would take at least $10k to get it halfway decent.

Turbotictac
Turbotictac
4 months ago
Reply to  TriangleRAD

I need to try and make it up to another TriangleRAD meet. Bit of a haul from Wilmington but last one was fun.

TriangleRAD
TriangleRAD
4 months ago
Reply to  Turbotictac

Please do!

AnalogMan
AnalogMan
4 months ago

I might be one of the few people who’s actually owned one of each of these beauties. Yep, back in the day, in the long ago hazy 1970’s when I was a college student, I owned three Renaults. Not at the same time (too rich for my poverty-stricken student’s budget), but serially. First a R16, then a R5 (LeCar), and the piece de la resistance (or piece of something…), a R17.

Yeah yeah yeah, I know and have heard it all. They were laughably unreliable. Even back when they were only a few years old. Yeah I’m not right in the head (I’ve heard that often enough in my life). But those who criticize these cars have rarely actually driven one. Of course they have their faults and problems. Even compared with their peers at the time. But they also have more character and personality than almost anything else on the road. They have a soul (even if it’s a fickle one). They have personality. They have joie de vivre. Unless you’ve driven one, it’s hard to understand.

You have to love the R16 for its asymmetrical wheelbase. Who but the French would think, bonne idee! Let’s do that! As strange as it sounds, it worked. That car, even being an 8 year old rusty semi-beater that the time I owned it, rode like a Rolls Royce (or how I imagine a RR rode, since I’ve never been in one). Only the French seem to know how to combine a magic carpet smooth ride unperturbed by the deepest canyons with cornering ability. I could (and did) drive that car at 40 mph down unpaved streets under construction, with foot deep potholes, and my muscle-car obsessed friends were amazed. They thought I was leading them into certain death, yet all was calm and serene in the cabin. The 2CV supposedly was designed to be able to carry a basket of eggs across a field and not break any. The R16’s ride had that same buttery smoothness, but unlike American luxo-barges of the time, it didn’t wallow, and would actually corner. It wasn’t a ‘sports car’ (not even in my drug-addled teenage mind), but I could literally outrun friends in their MBGs. Very embarrassing for them.

The seats were like fine divans in a French brothel, and would fold flat into a bed. C’est magnifique, n’est pas? Like Saabs it was a hatchback, the back seat would not only fold down but into the floor to create a cavernous SUV-sized cargo space easily big enough for a teenager (or two) to camp in. Formidable!

I’ve owned well over 100 cars in my life, and the R16 is one of the ones I miss.

The R5 was a different beast but with as much spunk, charm, and je ne sais quois as anything from France. Also about 8 years old by the time my $500 bought it (in 1979). It had a full soft folding sunroof, almost making it into a convertible. Drunk or stoned friends would love to stand up in the back seat through the open roof as we tooled around town. A mere 1.4 liters cranked out enough chevaux (supposedly 93?) more than enough to make it genuinely fun to drive. When it ran.

Like all French cars it had an electrical system only the French could understand. An old engineering saying, ‘The French don’t build things like anyone else, and no one else builds things like the French.’ The car would periodically, regularly, unpredictably, stop running. Clearly an electrical problem (no spark), but the cause defied identification or solution. C’est la vie. You just sort of lived with it, knowing that any trip could end with either a tow (if I had the $20 they cost at the time), or a walk back home.

At the time (late 1970’s) some lunatics actually raced these. There was a SCCA class for them. On weekends I’d sometimes drive to Lime Rock to watch them ‘race.’ Sitting up on the hill, watching these screaming little LeCars take the hairpin, we’d laugh non-stop. They would corner on 3 wheels. Bein sur. What better way to reduce rolling resistance than to remove one wheel from contact with the Earth? About 1 in every 10 cars would roll over on the hairpin. Sometimes rolling more than once. Sometimes they’d end up back on 4 wheels, other times the drivers would hop out, roll it back upright, and sputter back onto the track and continue the race. Speeds were low enough that I never saw anyone get hurt, and rarely would a car be out of the running.

Say what you will, but French cars are just plain fun. They have a soul like few of the boring, anodyne, soulless SUV/CUV transportation pods today on our inexorable slide into EV autonomous pod hell could ever have. They made driving exciting, an experience, not like today’s devices that are about as interesting and stirring as using a dishwasher. The world is worse off without French cars in it, and we in the U.S. of A. are poorer for the lack of them on our shores.

As far as these two beauties go, of course they’re hopeless. I suspect the only way to find parts would be to spend months in France rummaging through old barns in the countryside (actually sounds pretty good…), and the cost to get them running would far exceed any sale ‘value.’ It would have to be an insane labor of love. As the French say, “The heart has reasons, that reason does not know.” But thanks for the dose of nostalgia this morning and flashback down memory lane.

SageWestyTulsa
SageWestyTulsa
4 months ago
Reply to  AnalogMan

This was an outstanding read. Thanks for contributing!

AnalogMan
AnalogMan
4 months ago
Reply to  SageWestyTulsa

Thank you! Cars have been a life-long disease for me, for which there is no cure.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
4 months ago
Reply to  AnalogMan

Little odes to automotive passion like this are much of the reason I hang around here. You are so right about joyful driving being an experience.

AnalogMan
AnalogMan
4 months ago
Reply to  OrigamiSensei

Thank you! As I’ve become an increasingly curmudgeonly old geezer prattling on about how ‘things were better back then,’ one of the things I’m most nostalgic about and miss the most is society’s passion for driving. For so many people, it’s no longer something fun, something joyous to look forward to. It’s just transportation to many.

But then, it’s impossible for me to get excited about most of the blah snooze-fest SUV/CUV boxes on the road, or EV’s with all the personality and charm of a blow dryer. I don’t care about ‘maximum torque at zero rpm.’ My washing machine has that too, but it doesn’t thrill me to take it town a twisty New England country road. I’m hopelessly old-skool, but I still love to take my Mustang GT or Subaru BRZ (both manual transmission, of course) and head off just to row through the gears on a beautiful fall day. The feeling of having a car directly connect the road surface to your central nervous system, to hear an engine wail to the redline… To each their own, but I think many people don’t know what they’re missing.

Of course if we want to save the planet and survive as a species we need to stop burning things for power. Which also means phasing out fossil fuels for cars. For better or worse, EV’s (and their devil-begotten unholy offspring, autonomous pods) are coming. It’s last call for the glory days of driving. For those who get off on it (meaning probably anyone here) let’s enjoy it while we can. Once ICE’s and things like naturally-aspirated V8’s and manual transmissions are gone, they are never coming back. And a part of us, at least me, will have gone in the process.

Chronometric
Chronometric
4 months ago

I have owned an R12 so an R16 upgrade seems perfect. Plus, what a cool and innovative car!

ExAutoJourno
ExAutoJourno
4 months ago

I’ve owned both. Like both, have wrenched on both, and rebuilt my R16 which, like most R16s that had uncaring first owners (all of them?), was a Roach Motel when I got it.

After all the mechanical and cosmetic redos, plus a five-speed transaxle and a Weber carb to replace the cranky Solex, it was a helluva car, fast enough, very, very comfortable and spacious. I regret selling it.

The R5s gave some trouble, but not much. Their worst feature, like the 16, was the horrific dealer network. I got more parts from BAP-Geon than I did Renault. But I still dug the little critters. All mine were early models; the later ones — like the one shown — had cheap-O interiors and even less horsepower than original (if that’s possible).

So I’d take the 16, if I had space to work on it. The 16 is a far better car than most people think.

Cal67
Cal67
4 months ago

I have an old Ford radio of the same configuration as the 16’s. Not sure of the exact year but somewhere around the 40’s.
Just to give Jason another rabbit hole to chase down, check out http://antique-autoradio-madness.org/first_radio_usa/first_radio_us_fr_01-25.htm

Last edited 4 months ago by Cal67
DONALD FOLEY
DONALD FOLEY
4 months ago
Reply to  Cal67

Not just a rabbit hole, an extensive rabbit warren.

Arrest-me Red
Arrest-me Red
4 months ago

I would avoid a Le Crap as it is Le Broken quite a bit. I don’t really like the other choice, it the better of the two theses were last cars I could buy,

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
4 months ago

Both are quirky, odd cars. I was leaning towards the LeCar until I saw the mold. I’ve owned cars with worse mold and water damage, but I’m also one that learns from past mistakes, so the oddball 16 wins my vote.

Parsko
Parsko
4 months ago

I don’t need my wheelbase to be off by more than….. oh just forget it.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
4 months ago

I am the sole LeCar vote so far.

I just want to relive second grade when I thought I was the coolest person EVER by standing up thru the sunroof in the front seat of Mom’s LeCar and waving to all my classmates as we drove away from school one day.

Plus it has AC.

Last edited 4 months ago by StillNotATony
10001010
10001010
4 months ago
Reply to  StillNotATony

I’m the 17th Le Voter so far.

When it comes down to it I’m just a sucker for square headlights ⬜.⬜

Voeltzwagen
Voeltzwagen
4 months ago
Reply to  10001010

#22 here!

Nycbjr
Nycbjr
4 months ago
Reply to  Voeltzwagen

#74 🙂

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
4 months ago

Vive la Regie! Je choisis la Seize, parce que le Cinq est trop scuzzy. Merci beaucoup, M. Eveque!

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