Bonjour, Autopians! Today’s Shitbox Showdown features two French cars, and I’ll explain why in just a minute. But first, yesterday we looked at two red-blooded American performance cars with five-speed manuals – let’s see which one you preferred:
SHO ’nuff. The factory hot-rod Taurus is the clear winner. I think you’re right; that Camaro just isn’t very special. I’d still love to have a 3rd generation F-body, but I think I’d be contrarian and look for an early one with the Iron Duke four-cylinder, just for the hell of it. Assuming any of them haven’t been swapped out by now, that is.
Now then: I have a programming note for you before we get started today. I’ll be gone next week, and the early part of the week after. My wife and I are taking a long-overdue vacation, and spending a week in Paris. Don’t worry; I’m leaving the Showdown in good hands. You can expect at least a couple of different guest hosts while I’m away. I’ll be keeping tabs, to make sure they adhere to the high standard of excellence I’ve so painstakingly established here, and posting any random cool car-related stuff I see in France to the Discord along the way. And if everything works out the way I plan, I’ll have a fun car story to report on when I get back.
It only seems fitting, then, that I leave you with a pair of French cars to discuss and vote on while I’m away. And here they are.
Engine/drivetrain: 1.7 liter overhead cam inline 4, three-speed automatic, FWD
Location: Bartonville, IL
Odometer reading: 34,000 miles
Runs/drives? Great, they say
Okay, you got me; this isn’t exactly a French car. It was built in Wisconsin. It’s a French design, and a French nameplate, and that will have to do. The Renault Alliance was AMC’s entry into the compact car market, an Americanized variant of the Renault 9. The basic body, chassis, and engine were Renault designs, but the interior was designed by legendary AMC designer Dick Teague, and it shows. It looks very much like other American Motors offerings inside. Those seats, by the way, are very comfortable, much nicer than most small cars at the time.
The Alliance launched with a 1.4 liter version of the same pushrod four-cylinder engine that Renault had been using since just after the French Revolution, but in 1985, the new overhead-cam 1.7 liter engine became available, and this car is so equipped. It’s a vast improvement in refinement and power to be sure, but it’s still not a miracle-worker, especially through a sleepy three-speed automatic. I’ve driven a manual-transmission Renault Encore (the Renault 11-based hatchback version of this car) and it was on par with most ’80s small cars, which means an automatic version is probably about as exciting as watching beige paint dry with C-SPAN on in the background. This one is said to run perfectly, at least, probably owing to its complete lack of miles.
A convertible top was also a new option for ’85, designed by fabled car-beheader ASC. I always thought the Alliance made a particularly handsome convertible; this car has those tidy mid-80s European lines to it, and it works well without a top. It may not be able to put much more than a stiff breeze in your hair, but at least it looks sharp doing it.
Unfortunately, perpetually-broke AMC was really operating on a shoestring budget by this time, slapping cars together with wood screws and baling wire just to get them out the door. That indifferent build quality, combined with just enough European strangeness to confound many mechanics, meant most Alliances met an early demise. They’ve nearly all been gone for decades now. This one may seem expensive, but just try finding another one for sale in this condition. It’s cheap for a car that will draw crowds at any car gathering.
Engine/drivetrain: 1.9 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD
Location: Yakima, WA
Odometer reading: 145,000 miles
Runs/drives? “She rips,” according to the seller
Peugeot wasn’t having a whole lot more luck in the US market in the ’80s. Its 505 model was an also-ran among European cars, as nice as it was, and Peugeot never saw fit to bring over any of its supposedly excellent small cars. In 1988, the front-wheel-drive Pininfarina-styled 405 was launched to great fanfare; it was a hit in Europe, and the American press raved about it – but nobody here bought it.
If you’re going to track down one of the few 405s that reached these shores, this is the model to get: the 150 horsepower twin-cam Mi16. We have exactly zero information on this car’s mechanical condition except for one effusive sentence from the seller, but you can tell a lot from that sentence: it runs and drives well, they’re aware of Peugeot’s distinguished rally heritage, and chances are it hasn’t led a particluarly easy life. But that rally heritage may help out in that regard; after all, Peugeots are famous for surviving not only rally stages, but also rural roads in Africa. A young enthusiastic American driver shouldn’t faze it.
It’s a little rough around the edges cosmetically, but not terrible. I wish we had better photos to judge by. Ordinarily, I would skip an ad with such a terse description and so few low-quality photos, but Peugeot 405s aren’t exactly for sale on every street corner. I had to work with what I could find. Still, I would like to have a look at the interior. I fear it’s trashed.
The biggest problem I can see with this car is that it’s an orphan. Peugeot is still around, part of the great Stellantis empire these days, but it hasn’t sold cars in the US since 1991. You won’t be able to walk into Autozone and pick up parts for this one. RockAuto seems to have some of the basics, but major repairs when it needs them might be a problem.
French cars have always been outliers in the US market, but those who know them seem to love them. Granted, one of these is only half-French, but I bet even the humble Alliance has its fans. Were you to add a little European flavor to your garage, which would you choose? Choose, discuss, debate – and I’ll see you all when I get back!
(Image credits: Renault – Craigslist seller; Peugeot – Facebook Marketplace seller)