Here’s One Of The Lane Motor Museum’s Forbidden Fruits They’re Not Allowed To Drive: The Renault Sport Megane F1 Team R26

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At Lane Motor Museum, where I work as the education director, we have a few cars in the collection that are here under the Show and Display clause. I thought I’d start a series highlighting these cars that us ‘Muricans don’t get to enjoy on this side of the globe. I considered naming this series Barely Legal, but I thought that might be problematic for everyone’s algorithms.

The Show and Display clause is an exemption under the US Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards’ Imported Vehicle Safety Compliance Act, otherwise known as the 25-Year Import Rule. That rule simply states that a car that was never sold new in the US cannot be imported into the country until it is at least 25 years old. The official reasons are varied, but it mostly has to do with a specific vehicle not meeting specific US crash tests or emissions requirements. Once the car turns 25 year sold, however, it can be legally imported.

For a non-profit car museum with a stated educational mission, Show and Display means we can bring in a newer-than 25-year old foreign automobile (after a lengthy paperwork and legal process) in order to , you know, show and display the vehicle to the public.

For you, dear reader, I will now Show and Display the museum’s 2007 Renault Sport Mégane F1 Team R26.

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The Megane debuted in 1996 as a replacement for Renault’s R19, competing with the likes of the Volkswagen Golf and the Ford Escort. Our car is a second generation Renault Sport Mégane, with the F1 Team designation commemorates Renault’s 2005 and 2006 Constructors’ and Drivers’ Championship titles in Formula 1 those years.

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This will be a basically a walk-around and interior tour. I haven’t spent much time in the driver’s seat since 2017, but needless to say, it’s quite a bit of kit. A 2.0 liter, 227 hp turbo four powers the front wheels, and is paired with a 6-speed manual, along with the requisite hot hatch add-ons like stiffened steering, 18-inch anthracite alloy wheels, Brembos all around, and sport-tuned exhaust.

4 Large 5 LargeI’ll start inside the wide doors, where this little cubby resides in between the door and under the floormat. Torch may correct me, but I cannot think of any other modern car with this type of cubby storage area in the footwell of the front seats. [Editor’s Note: Yeah, I think Rex is right about that; this is a weird one! – JT] The driver’s side has one too. It’s not very deep, but it is one more storage area, along with the flip-up armrest lids that are common on many French cars.

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Let’s move on the arguably the coolest part of the center console, the thrust lever-style emergency brake.

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This thing is such a visceral, aesthetically pleasing design I’m not sure why more cars didn’t copy the Mégane’s e-brake. Perhaps there is a design issue I’m not aware of, but is it very satisfying to engage. It also contains a plaque, because you can’t charge more money for a special edition without a numbered plaque.

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As we move up the console, you’ll find the 6-speed stick, with Renault’s ring-style reverse lock-out. Again we see some interesting “cup-holders.” They look to me like a pair of ski goggles, but way less useful.

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Renault debuted its key card entry system in 2001 with the introduction of Mégane’s second generation. This version still required you to push the button to unlock the doors, and you have to insert the card in a slot on the dash, but the key card eventually led to the proximity key, using the same flat design. The lock and unlock pictograms on ours are barely visible, as you can see, but it does save space in your pockets.

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[Editor’s Note: Wow, that’s a weird setup! I’ve not seen this up close before! – JT]

A look at the comfortable, suede-insert Recaros, and the habitable-by-adults backseat.

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Another interior quirk: I can’t tell if its clever or not to replace one of the passenger grab handles with a sunglasses case, as it seems it’s at a weird angle to grab your shades. I know BMW does this for some models, but I don’t know of too many companies that use this method of Pit Viper storage.

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A nice chonky steering wheel, along with the climate controls in Celsius, and the gauge cluster (in Françias).

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[Editor’s Note: That center screen there with the overhead view of the car is interesting, because instead of using a dot-matrix screen like the text screen above, Renault decided to go with a screen made with custom, discrete segments for the parts of the car, a simpler approach that is closer to the old LEDs-behind-a-translucent-panel-with-silkscreened-graphics that would have been used in the previous generation of car. It’s an interesting transition display tech that is effectively extinct today. – JT]

The Mégane is listed officially as a small car, but I think of it as a mid-sizer, mainly due its large Avantime-like derrière. This is a good amount of storage, back seat space, and the doors are rather wide for a hot hatch.

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The Mégane II debuted in 2002, which means us regular Americans will have to wait 5 more years to import the mild, and 9 more years for this spicy version.

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46 Responses

  1. My wife and I had a 2015 Clio as a rental car in Ireland, and it had the card-slot key too. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. You had to put the card in the slot to start it, but there must have been some Bluetooth connection with the car or something; if you walked away with the keys in your pocket and neglected to lock the doors, the horn would beep to remind you. We joked that the car had separation anxiety from us.

    1. Observation about Renault Clios: In common with almost everyone in Europe, almost every female relative and friend of mine has had a Renault Clio at some point, so I’ve driven dozens. In UK and Irish Republic models, the steering wheel and pedals are a little offset and it always bugged me. I assumed it was a detail lost in translation to RHD.
      I had several LHD Clios when I worked abroad, the effing steering wheel and the bloody pedals were offset a little on LHD cars too.
      It turns out they’re just shite.

    1. The Megane CC (Coupé-Cabriolet) had an even worse rear end. Terrible when parallel parking or parking in reverse. Had a card key you didn’t have to insert, it just noticed you we’re there, push start button and go. Never knew 100% sure whether the car locked itself automatically. Bought is as showroom model with 1,000 km on it, sold it 6 months later without loss as the CC’s were quiet populair back than. What a shit bathtub.

      Used to have more fun with an old R5 Ts, painted black using a paintroller.

  2. As someone who has driven one of these, on unexpectedly damp and slightly greasy British roads, I may be able to add some tidbits.The airbags are very loud, the seat belts work very well and they do not look as pretty with the wheels uppermost .Oh., and Renault had not entirely eliminated ‘turbo lag’.

    1. “With the wheels uppermost.”

      This is just feeding the “people with a British accent are all smart” stereotype. There’s impressive ingrained code-switching involved for them all to talk like this when Americans are around.

      Meanwhile, the first eyewitness report with only other Brits present was probably more like “Blimey! Tha fuckin’ gormless cunt’s car went ass-over-teakettle inta the trench. Damn thing’s proper knackered now!”

      1. Strange as it may seem, I really do type pretty much as I speak. It does lead to the comment along the lines of “Ooo the fuck d,ya fink you are, Prince Charles posh fukin cousin or summat”

  3. I didn’t like the design of these Méganes when they came out, but like many other cars, they don’t look half as bad after all these years. The fact that many much uglier cars came out since then mustn’t be stranger to that fact. In fact it’s mostly the ass I don’t like, very similar imo to its Versa sibling/cousin.

    That said, this specific F1 edition must be a hoot to drive! And in proper Renault Sport yellow to boot!

  4. What happens in 2032, when this Megane hits 25 years, if it’s already in the country under a Show and Display? Would it have to be exported/imported again in order to be legally titled and driven in the US?

    1. It depends on a lot of things. Only the folks from the Lane can answer in their specific case(s), and it’s also subject to NHTSA and EPA whims.

      However, it depends on the terms of the S&D. By default, an S&D is limited to not more than 1 year, and at the end of term, the car must be exported or certified as destroyed under direct Customs Supervision. This is how most race cars are legally brought into the country, in fact.
      Unless the S&D is granted a permanent exemption (which allows the car to be imported freely,) the annual mileage is limited to no more than 2,500 miles per year and certified and reported annually for the first 5 years. However, the NHTSA or EPA may revoke or refuse to grant permission to operate on public roads, implement any other arbitrary limitation or restriction they deem reasonable at time of import, and a whole host of other things.
      However, once a vehicle is imported under S&D, renewal can be sought on an annual basis for up to 5 years (from date of import.) However, they are not required to approve any renewal, and if a renewal is denied, you must export or destroy. Also you do require an EPA waiver or certification. NHTSA also has the authority to – at their discretion – allow an S&D to be extended past 5 years without export, or to grant a permanent waiver (making imports of the car prior to 25 years legal.)

      The form is HS-7, Box 7 for road cars, and Box 8 for strictly off-road (absolutely NO use on public roads, even if closed for filming) use.

      Amusingly, because of the shortages, the petition list has gotten very long and very… weird. A single ICI petitioned to add nearly every single 2015-2020 GMC and Chevy SUV sold in the Mexico market and a number of pickup trucks to the federalization list (which was rejected for filing errors.) Oh, and G&K can now federalize 2015 Ford Fusion SEs. As of 11/3/2020.
      Like I said: weird.

  5. Ah the Mégane 2. It’s a good thing you don’t drive it much. The Renault’s from these years are famous for being unreliable as they all were designed hastily because bean counters are gonna do their thing.

    I honestly do not know much about that special car but my parents bought a Laguna 2 new from the same years and that car was such a piece of shit that it’s still refered to as the worst by reliability websites. I can’t imagine the Mégane to be much different.

      1. How to fix Renault Megane issues:
        1) Set out box wine, sliced ‘American’ cheese, and grocery store ‘baguettes’
        2) Declare it a proper French meal
        3) Car will fix itself so that an infuriated Parisian can run you over with it

  6. I think it’s hilarious that NHTSA won’t let a modern import on the road because it’s “not safe” while they don’t bat an eye when Lane takes the Helicron out. Because uncertified airbags are more dangerous than a wood body, rear-wheel steering and a freakin propeller on the front.

    1. The many cubbies are one of the things I loved about my ’89 Taurus SHO. It had cubbies big-enough for the flat Kleenex tissue boxes in front of the gear shifter with room to fit sunglasses next to it. The arm rest flipped up out of the way, yet had a cubby inside. The cup holders were rubber inserts into a large, rectangular bin in the center console, large-enough to fit a case of 10 cassette tapes. (Great for long trips!)
      Between the speakers in the rear window was a large, flat cubby under a carpeted door. No indication it’s there until you lift it.

      With cell phones, the cubby interiors are returning, but our current car has too much crap landing in the cupholders.

  7. The Megane II is a very common sight where I’m from and has a reputation for being legendarily unreliable and having all of the electrical gremlins. I travelled quite a bit in one last year (the break version, belonging to a friend and co-worker I was carpooling with). During that time the injectors failed, and soon after the front suspension/steering started knocking – which quickly turned into banging – and it needed a complete overhaul. Along that time we had to deal with an electric issue preventing the hatch from unlocking in wet conditions. That gremlin had been there for ages, they managed to fix it when it first manifested but a few months later it came back and no electrician ever managed to find out why.

    Shitty cars, is what I’m trying to say. Damn good looking, but extremely shitty cars. I wouldn’t be able to live with that much unreliability unless it was an Avantime or Vel Satis.

  8. “I considered naming this series Barely Legal, but I thought that might be problematic for everyone’s algorithms.”

    Ehhhh, does anyone really need any more of this skeevy-adjacent type of humor? What you came up with, “Forbidden Fruits” et al, will do just fine, thank you.

  9. I’ve had a Megane as a rental in France; it’s always fun to drive something that we cannot get in the US. I’ve also owned a few French cars, so the “oddities” don’t hit me the same.

    Volvo had the key-slot thing in it’s cars even when they went to proximity keys; my 2017 V60 had the slot. Volvo also has had the sunglasses case in the grab handle area as well (I forget which model though.)

    It’s very cool that you can get these vehicles under show and display.

    One minor spelling issue — “(in Françias)” should be “(in Français)” or “en Français” to be completely pedantic! 🙂

      1. Yet, the “IA” to “AI” typo is still there… Remember we celebrated Cutting Heads Day two days ago and still have to reach this years quota of cut heads !

        Merci de corriger sous peine de coupage de tête !

  10. Brings to mind a question – how common are driver-actuated reverse lock-outs these days? Is it still a thing, or are they even less common than the manuals themselves?

    I’ve driven the ring-lift ones and the push down ones, but it does seem less common of late (at least in what I drive).

    1. It’s still super common, common enough to make me think it might be mandatory. I can’t think of a modern manual that has nothing at all in terms of a lock out.
      Some of them are very subtle, almost invisible. My wife’s VW Caddy has a push down type lockout that really doesn’t take much effort at all.

      1. I wonder if they’re dependent on where reverse is located? My S197 Mustang doesn’t have a lockout for reverse, they may have added one when they jumped to the Coyote/6-speeds but my 4.6/5-speed is properly primitive. My MkII Escort had a push-down style one but I think that’s because it was left and up, right next to 1st where on the Mustang it’s right and down, where 6th would be if it had it.

        1. My Honda Fit has 6th and reverse next to each other and the lockout is internal, likely some sort of centrifugal action sending down a mechanism to block off reverse if the car’s moving forward at all. It’s highly necessary since 6th is so short and 4th-6th so close that 90% of the time I end up shifting 1-2-3-6.

  11. The grab-handle-replaced-by-sunglass-storage is actually pretty common on European cars in my experience. Mercedes offered it as an accessory for most models, as did Volvo, in colors to match the rest of the interior plastics. I actually find it quite handy.

    1. Ah! Volvo, yes. I knew I had seen it elsewhere, but I did not know it was as pervasive. I haven’t used it for sunglasses myself, so I was just thinking out loud about you would retrieve your shades. Good to know it’s handier than it looks.

  12. ” I considered naming this series Barely Legal, but I thought that might be problematic for everyone’s algorithms.”

    This site has a daily article named The Morning Dump. The algorithms are already @#$%ed. 😛

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