Good morning! Today we’re headed back to project car land again, with a lone Italian against a half dozen French hatchbacks. I’ll explain in a minute. First, let’s see where we landed with Friday’s all-wheel-drive contenders:
Interesting. My wife actually preferred the Bravada, and her opinion counts more than any of yours. And I don’t really want to deal with a transverse V6, the more I think about it. With a little more searching, we’ve discovered that better deals are to be had on the larger SUVs, so we’re considering things like Expeditions and Tahoes and Yukon Denalis (or is it “Yukons Denali,” like “Attorneys General?”). I’ll let you know how it all turns out.
Today, however, we’re looking at smaller, older, rougher, more European vehicles. I found someone selling an adorable little Fiat, and a Renault hoarder looking to divest. Let’s see what they have to offer.
1962 Fiat 1200 Granluce – $1,500
Engine/drivetrain: 1.2 liter overhead valve inline 4, four-speed manual, RWD
Location: Garden Grove, CA
Odometer reading: unknown
Runs/drives? Engine runs, but not driveable
The Fiat 1200 was a larger, more upscale version of the 1100, which is one of those cars that was license-built for decades after Fiat stopped building it themselves. It never was a common sight in the US, but show this car to anyone of a certain age in, say, India, or Eastern Europe, and they’d recognize it instantly. The four-door sedan version of the 1200 was known as the “Granluce,” which translates as “great light” or “daylight,” a reference to the car’s enormous greenhouse, with a tall roof and big windows for a bright, airy feel.
Believe it or not, this is a six-passenger car. Its bench seat and column shifter wouldn’t look out of place in a contemporary American car, and supposedly it’s wide enough to allow three-across seating in both the front and the back. I think you’d all have to be really comfortable with each other, though. The seller says the seats are “together and functional,” which, hooray?
The little 1221cc pushrod four does run, but the car isn’t exactly roadworthy – it needs at least a brake master cylinder and the fuel tank cleaned out, and probably lots more. There’s some rust here and there (I mean, it’s a Fiat, after all) and the interior needs some work, but look at it! It’s so cute!
Yes, you’re right; you’ll never find certain parts for it, especially trim and interior bits. But who cares? Think of it as a blank slate. Finish it off however you like. No one is going to know what the interior of a Fiat 1200 Granluce is supposed to look like anyway.
One of six 1970ish Renault 16s – $1500-3000 each
Engine/drivetrain: 1.6 liter overhead valve inline 4, four-speed manual, FWD
Location: Glendale, AZ
Odometer reading: various
Runs/drives? Not for decades
The Renault 16 is one of those cars that was successful everywhere except the US. French cars never really caught on here, but they do have their enthusiasts, and the folks who love them really seem to love them. I mean, they made over 1.8 million of these things, and this guy owns 0.0003% of them. Not exactly cornering the worldwide market, but I bet it’s a significant portion of the US models.
The Renault 16 is a hatchback, but it predates the term; it was called a “Sedan-Wagon,” which I guess is accurate. It’s a weird design – when Renault went from rear-engine cars to front-engine cars, they basically just took the whole engine/transaxle assembly and moved it forward. The longitudinally-mounted engine, which was behind the rear axle, is now just behind the front axle. But that’s not the weird part. Because of the rear suspension design, the wheelbase is actually almost three inches shorter on the right side than the left. You’d think this would cause handling weirdness, but apparently it doesn’t, and in the grand French tradition, the ride quality is reportedly superb.
Unfortunately, it’ll be hard to experience that famous French smoothness in any of these without some work. Two of the cars have license plates with the registration tags visible; one was last on the road in 1979, and another in 1987. On the others, your guess is as good as mine, but I think it’s safe to say that the last tankful of gas pumped into any of these cost less than a buck a gallon.
Obviously any of these cars is going to be quite a project to put back into service, but they’re neat cars, and I think at least a couple of them deserve a chance. It’s probably best to carefully choose two of them and make one good one, and I bet the seller would make you a pretty good deal. Or – hear me out – buy all six, get ’em running, don’t worry about the cosmetics, and make the greatest spec-racing series of all time.
Yeah, I know, a lot of you hate it when I do project cars. But I think these are cool, and I like the idea of saving them. Who’s with me, and which one do you want?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)
This Fiat 1200 is unknown is Eastern-Europe, as we did not have it. The russian Lada 1200 was based on the Fiat 124, a more modern car. Now that is the quintessential commie time car for us.
Hi! I am from Europe and I am familiar with both cars presented here.
I’d stay away from anything 1100/1200 range, since they are rolling disaster, breaking down on different areas every day.
R16 is much newer and advanced car, 1200 not comparable at all. Supreme FWD (try driving that Fiat in the snow), huge space and really comfortable ride (although not as Citroen DS). It is the first 5-door hatchback, in production long before Germans brought VW Golf to the drawing board. But, it looks somewhat weird (most French do).
If there is a TX among them, I’d go for it, it was top-of-the-range model, 5-speed or auto. In Europe they are recognizable by twin squared headlights, for US market they all have twin round ones, so I can’t tell from the picture.
Little Fiat is cute, but nowhere near the Renaults.
Absolutely! A manual TX is the car to get. Not fast by modern standards. But still a pretty brisk performer. Lovely revvy, willing all-alloy front mid-mounted engine. Great handling with loads of body roll and big luxurious seats.
The suspension layout of transverse torsion bars is what necessitates the variation in wheelbase from left to right. The same layout was used on the Renault 5. Another car with great handling combined with long travel suspension with lots of body roll.
What’s not to like?
If you are going to go through the trouble of getting an old obscure European car back on the road you might as well have a quirky and unique one when you are done. I am guessing you could get a pair of Renaults for $2,000 or so and try to make one decent one from there.
If I had room for more questionable Italians I’d adopt the Fiat. I’ve long wanted to start an orphanage for lost, unwanted, and wayward Italian shitboxes
Whoa, whoa, whoa there.
Is nobody going to mention the French elephant in the room that has ITS LEFT LEG THREE INCHES FURTHER AWAY THAN ITS RIGHT?!?! I mean, I’m actually half-French (mother’s side) so I can muster up a certain amount of Gallic shrug, but … what?!
When Pierre from suspension pointed out that THE REAR WHEELS ARE NOT ACTUALLY IN LINE, did Claude from bodywork just take a big drag on his Gauloises, rub out the right rear wheelarch line on the blueprint, bump it along 70mm and say “voila, pas de probleme”?
Ill take the Fiat for 1000, Alex.
“Just one more question, Ma’am, What car do I drive?” Lt. Columbo asked.
Eh? I thought Columbo drove a Peugeot 403 cabriolet?
404 as a recall
Let’s say you manage to get either the Fiat or one of the R16s working, which *should* be the end goal of any project car, the R16 would be miiiles better than the Fiat; like not even on the same planet.
Therefore, even as an italian car-nut, I have to vote french here.
Thank you for putting the shitbox back in this post!
I like how the rocker cover on the FIAT sticks out like a sore thumb. Must have been a lazy shortcut at FIAT not to spec a biodegradable material for that.
As for the 16s. Forget the spec race. I suggest Autopian buys them all, puts them in a field with time lapse cameras pointed at them. Then you start a betting series on which one will disappear into the earth first. You guys are looking for revenue streams, right? This would be perfect. Besides the EPA is too busy with other shit to notice…
David would probably turn the 6 into 4 mostly running cars
the six 16s every day of the week and 16 times on Sunday. Sure, it’s hopeless, but I love 16s and I find it hard to resist quirky and character-laden cars with absolutely no parts support.
“…I find it hard to resist quirky and character-laden cars with absolutely no parts support.”
You and me both, and that’s why I generally stay the hell off of Craigslist. Might as well save myself the heartache.
DANGIT, I just did exactly what I said I don’t do, and discovered there’s a Renault R8 (that claims to be running!) not far from LA for $6,500.
Quick, someone else buy it before I start doing the math on U-Haul trailering it halfway across the country.
Late last year there was an easy-looking-to-get running R16 on LA CL!
They’re like a backwards VW 411. I always have to do a double-take when I see the shape.
I voted Bunch-O-16s as well.
Ah, the old routine trans-continental parts-swap rebuild. Almost as common as an LS swap… where the LS is being taken out to be replaced with something else.
The pic with the whole gaggle of Renaults has just a little sliver showing of a yellow 4CV sitting over to the left.
THAT I need to know more about. I need parts!
Also, getting Renault parts in the U.S. is nightmarish. Just so you know.
I went Renault because the R16 is a very significant and interesting car and the big killer of these is rust. This creates an opportunity because you could buy several cars, sell the rust free shells in the UK and use that to finance the mechanical and trim parts, which are frequently salvageable from rusted out examples