The Lane Museum Finally Got A Renault Twingo So Let’s Take A Look

Lane Twingo

I didn’t intend for this to be Renault Appreciation Month here at The Autopian, between my previous look at Lane Motor Museum’s Renault Megane, and Mercedes’s love for the Renault Sport Spider, but I’m quite enamored with the museum’s newest acquisition, a 1993 Twingo.

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One of Lane Motor Museum’s biggest assets is Jeff Lane’s good friend and our man-in-France Claude Gueniffey. In addition to translating and helping me pronounce things correctly, Claude also seeks out cars. Of the museum’s 550 cars, French manufacturers make up the majority of the collection. For this delightful Twingo, he didn’t have to look far; this was his mother-in-law’s car.

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This Twingo is a first-year model. It debuted at the 1992 Paris Motor Show as Renault’s newest city car, the smallest passenger car class defined by the European Commission. The name Twingo is a portmanteau of twist, swing, and tango, which are all dance styles that did not originate in France. I suppose Renault Cancan didn’t sound as marketable.

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At its launch in April 1993, the Twingo was fitted with a 57hp, 1.2 liter overhead valve four-cylinder, coupled to a five-speed manual.  An automated manual came a few months later under the “Easy” trim level (how delightful!)

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The Twingo has arguably one of the friendliest faces of the 1990s, right up there with the first generation Dodge/Plymouth Neon. The rear of the car is a simple affair, with one rear backup light in the upper right taillight cluster, and an unusual-to-me bumper-mounted license plate light that shines up onto the plate, as opposed to down from above.

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I also like the exterior’s boxy yet rounded-off look.

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If you’ve read my past articles, you’ll notice that automotive interior design is my jam. I get excited about smart, clever, and functional interiors that don’t look like a gray-scale office cubicle. This Twingo has all of these characteristics in spades.

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I love the contrast of the austere dash arrangement with the rad multi-color *looks closer* mathematics symbols on the seats? I guess the upholstery designers had to put something on there to dress things up a bit, but I think it’s funny to imagine that one of them was a calculus enthusiast.

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Speaking of those front seats, they are very comfortable; both cushy and supportive with mild bolstering. This is also where the Twingo’s main party trick is revealed: once you remove the headrests, the front seat reclines flat. The rear seat slides fore and aft, and can slide all the way forward to meet the front seat, effectively making a bed. Could you go camping in a Twingo? Sure! Would it be comfortable? Who knows?! It mainly shows off what you can do with the incredible amount of interior space in this very small car.

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Maybe I’m just partial to teal, but why can’t accents like hood latches and HVAC controls be a bright colored plastic? Even the friggin’ window cranks and door handles look like they should glow in the dark, but sadly do not.

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Back to the dash, you get a minimal, center-mount digital arrangement with fuel, a clock, and the speedometer. There is another bar atop the steering column for basic warning lights and turn signals.

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Notice on the HVAC controls this a model with no A/C, so fresh air was fed through those distinctive intakes on the hood, which bypassed the engine compartment and fed air directly into the cabin.

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On the simplicity front, why have two wipers when one will do? I love how the radio antennae (although this car has a blank-out plate for the radio) is integrated into the driver’s side view mirror housing. No need to create another hole in the door, roof, or fender.

I’ll write a driving review of this car one of these days (or, you know, someone else from this website could drive it and possibly shoot a video, just a suggestion, whatever.)

[Editor’s Note: (Waves arm and raises hand so high I dislocate my shoulder) – JT]

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Over 2.6 million of the first generation Twingos were made, which stayed in production until 2007 (!), with a few minor refreshes along the way. With the introduction of the third generation Twingo in 2014, the engine moved to a rear-mid engine layout [Editor’s Note: I think it’s pretty rear, but it may be on/just fore of that axle – JT], and gained an extra set of doors. The Twingo just ended its production run last year, and is slated to be replaced by a new model based on the very serious-looking Renault 5 prototype.

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75 Responses

  1. While I was in Germany last week, I saw one of these. In this color no less.
    With German plates. It had passed TUV. Repeatedly. Since 1996 at least, because it had an airbag. And it was definitely a ’93-’98, because it had the amber turn signals.

    1. Here in Portugal you still see a shitload of them, and many are still looking great after almost 30 years. A few years ago I missed out on a few sub-€500 deals for early Twingos in near-mint condition. Prices have gone up a bit, and anything below €700 these days doesn’t usually look so great, apart from the occasional unbelievable deal every now and then (last year some lucky bastard scored a one owner, mint condition, garage-kept ’94 with something like 60.000km that popped up for sale on Facebook Marketplace for €400; the ad was up for a couple of hours).

  2. I was a really optimistic 5-year-old kid when this car came out.
    What a fresh breath of air this was in a boring, grey sea of Ladas, Wartburgs, Trabants, Skodas of 1990s Eastern Europe!
    Really, it was like a UFO from another universe, odd shape, vibrant colors, digital dash, etc.
    Anyway, the local Renault dealer had a drawing competition for kids my age.
    And I drew one as best I could, hoping to win a Twingo, I still remember hand-delivering my drawing to the dealership.
    Naturally, I did not win one.
    But years later, I still wanted one very much when my parents were shopping for a new car, tried everything to persuade them to buy a Renault Twingo.
    And we got a butt-ugly Renault Thalia (Clio sedan, Clio Symbol, basically the predecessor of the then-new Dacia Logan) instead.
    Now all these years later these passed the 25-year mark and I still want to import one to the US.
    I’m not a huge fan of other Renaults, but the Twingo will always be on my wishlist.

    1. As I understand it, perfectly good (by US standards) Twingos are dirt cheap in Germany right now because of the difficulty of getting them to pass TÜV. They’re not considered roadworthy in Germany so they’re practically worthless, but in reality they’re just old, with normal old-car issues.

        1. At least if they are perfectly good, as mentioned by you, you won’t have problems with passing the TÜV. Even my ugly one passed it last year and will do so again next year.
          As I said, the ones from 2001 and in are solid cars. Sold one last year that had 200000km on the clock. Just sold it because we needed a bigger car and wanted to have AC.

          My preferred TÜV engineer always said: Twingos are fascinating and many are way better than lots of other and even younger cars.

  3. “Camping”…sure, riiiiiight 🙂

    French ( and Italian for that matter ) cars have seats that make a bed since privacy is very scarce and young love will find a way no matter what.

    Newspapers covering the windows, seats folded down and l’ amour is the order of the night 😛

  4. When I did not see a comment from JT about the tail light cluster I thought we might have to call for a welfare check on him. Happily I see that he was just too busy waving his arms to volunteer to do a driving review. And I second that nomination.

  5. Useless info I know but I’m also fascinated by license plates. The Twingo is old enough to use the Fichier National des Immatriculations (FNI) style, so it looks like it was registered in départment 37 (Indre-et-Loire). The garage shown on the plate surround (Azay-le-Rideau) is in Indre-et-Loire.

    1. Does France no longer put the département on plates? Or are you referring to the style (in a blue box)?

      2003, I remember crossing the Swiss border in Bâle (Basel) and the border agent asking me where I was coming from, looking at my license plate (red temp plate) that indicated Paris dept and I answered him Canada. I will always remember his puzzled look (that lasted till I handed him my passport…)

      1. I apologize — I thought the département went away after they replaced FNI with SIV (Système d’Immatriculation des Véhicules), but I was mistaken.

        There was a lot of hue and cry about not have the département identity on the plates so it was added to the SIV system. So… I went back and read the regs and the Twingo does have a SIV plate as its format is letter letter – number number number – letter letter, with the département in the blue box.

        Again, apologies to all the people who are fascinated by license plates.

    1. I feel the same way about it. And the McCandless Chrysler collection/museum (which among more conventionally desirable Mopars includes an aftermarket-stretch crew cab Plymouth Arrow pickup and Twin-Stick Plymouth Champ) for being in the wrong Burlington (NC not VT, although since they’re just down the road from Torch…)

      1. I had not heard of this collection, and I live less than an hour from Burlington, NC, so upon reading your comment I went searching. According to their website the collection/museum seems focused on ’50s-’60s Exner-era Chrysler products, with an emphasis on motorsports. It also doesn’t appear to be currently open to the public.

  6. Greenpeace re-designed the 1996 Renault Twingo, calling it the Renault Twingo SMILE. They were able to double the fuel economy over the stock Twingo by downsizing the engine to a 3-cylinder 360cc design running a 10:1 compression ratio making 55 horsepower, cutting the drag coefficient of the car to 0.25, reducing mass to 650 kg, and implementing some gearing changes. The result was 69 mpg US, a reduction of fuel consumption by 50% versus the stock Twingo. Performance also improved, with a 0-62 mph time dropping to 10 seconds and a top speed increase to 107 mph.

      1. The car was a one-off, so hard to say. According to Greenpeace, I recall reading that after they sold the removed/unneeded components, the added materials cost of the more efficient version of the car would have broken even with the stock version. This did not include labor and engineering.

        The car did have partial rear-wheel farings.

        Greenpeace claimed to have built this car to demonstrate that the auto industry wasn’t even trying to improve efficiency to the degree that technology allowed, that the industry could have been doing a lot more, and that it could be done without the consumer compromising on anything or paying more in the process.

        I’d say for the most part, the car made their point.

    1. rented one of these in Greece, drove it around the island (Evia) with that giant roof open and two small boys sticking their heads out gleefully.. loved that car, wished I could get one here..

  7. That interior is delightful. The airport-carpet flat-folding seats are brilliant, and as of today I’ve decided more cars need random interior parts in ’50s-bathroom-fixture colors that clash with the paint. Even the lighter. Especially the lighter. Why not?

    I had to look up where the odometer display is. The middle four characters double as the clock! Is there a button you press to switch from one to the other?

    1. That’s the little round button at the end of the right-hand stalk (visible on the picture showing the vents’ control knobs). If my memory serves me well (had a 94 metallic green myself), you would run through 3 pieces of info: clock, odo and trip. A long press would reset the trip…
      Also, surprisingly, the gas gauge (those little dots below) was very accurate.

      1. The dots were later changed to bars and from that moment on, it was not very accurate anymore. The last the bars… don’t mean much. Sometimes just a few kilometers, sometimes many kilometers…

        And they had many issues with this system in the beginning. We bought our first Twingo new in 1998. The system was changed at least 4 times in the first half year.

      1. Renault still uses that system. The first Renault (Dacia, but ours came from the Russian market imported into Kyrgyzstan) Duster I bought in 2016 from the dealership took me quite a few minutes of hunting around and experimenting before I found that button. But once you are used to using it, it’s great, very effective and easy to access from the steering wheel. Just bought a late 2021 production a couple of months ago. It’s the top trim package and is the first Renault I’ve been in to not use the right stalk end button. They’ve moved it to a conventional steering wheel mounted system. But honestly, when I get in my Ford Rangers or any of our other cars with a trip computer, I always tap the end of the stalk first. Unusual, but good placement.

    2. I agree about more 1950s colors…and why can’t the lighter/power outlet be different? I was just looking at this on our Twingo and it doesn’t seem to have one. I’ll take a look at the French language owner’s manual.

  8. Those Twingo versions show the natural evolution of every car (with the marvelous exception of the ND Miata).

    Make a pure car that does its purpose perfectly
    – everybody loves it, sells like hotcakes
    Focus group to make a successor
    – everyone has a pet peeve desire – more room, more power, more options
    Successor is bigger, more powerful, less quirky, more luxurious, costlier
    – people like it but it mysteriously sells less
    Third generation doubles down – even bigger, more powerful, more expensive
    – sells like crap. discontinued.

    1. Same thing kinda happening with MINI – each generation of the Hatch/hardtop seems to sell worse than the one before, but the assumption is that that’s only because it hasn’t been made big enough, heavy enough, or ugly enough yet

  9. Best car ever. Ever since 1998 we had Twingos of the first gen in the family. There were times when we had three at a time.
    Right now there’s just one 75hp Twingo left that’s running.

    Usually they did not have severe problems with the TÜV. The early ones had rust issues with the frame under the engine. The later ones were far better. Our last one passed the safety check without issues even though it was neglected by its previous owners

    1. But guys, if you want to sometimes drive it: please do yourselves the favor and Change the timing belt!
      If there’s one big flaw about the Twingos, it’s the timing belt. You have to be very strict concerning the allowed Miles or years for the belt…trust me!
      The very early ones had the 1.3 liter with the timing chain, but they changed it rather early to the 1.2 with the magical belt.

  10. The engine move ( from front to back ) in the last generation Twingo was caused by a cooperation between Renault and Smart.
    The modern Smarts and the 3rd Gen Twingo were built on the same base and engines.

    Aslo a mechanical advice ( for early first gen Twingo ) : don’t turn the wheel to the max on the left while moving. You’ll end up displacing a bit of of the transmission eventually… It happened to a friend almost everytime he came to see me and used my parking place. Renault knew about it and every time it was repaired for free as the repair was easy ( put back the displaced bit where it belongs ) , after the 4th time, though, they welded a piece of metal somewhere in the direction or the transmission so that things couldn’t be displaced anymore.

  11. I haven’t tried it myself, but I’m told the 2nd gen Prius can also do that fold-flat seat trick. It can also run the AC off the battery and only have to start the engine periodically to recharge, which makes it a great car-camping option.

    1. I’ve forgotten if I’d tried reclining the seat that far on the Prius Gen2, but can say in my experience the P Gen3 was better at seat-reclining than the Gen4. The Gen4 is not as comfortable to nap in.

      Yes, the A/C does keep running off battery power and will restart the ICE as needed, however the Gen4 added a automatic hybrid shut off system that will turn the car off from Ready mode after an hour. This was an unpleasant surprise at the drive-in, ended up flashing the moviegoers behind us since you can’t turn the car fully back on without hitting the brake.

      Good news though, it seems you can disable the auto-shut off if you manually lock the car doors from the inside (which you’d be doing when napping away from home anyway, right?), so there’s that.

  12. Fun fact about these antennae: they are actually there to save ok the cable length between it and the radio.

    Also mark my words: the Twingo will become the next stupidly priced classic French car of the people. I’m pretty sure they’ll end up costing as much as a dang 2CV at some point.

  13. A few years ago I entertained the idea of trying to convince my wife we should get an early Twingo (a ’93 in Vert coriandre or Jaune indien would be *chef’s kiss* just wonderful) to replace our rapidly ageing ’98 Polo. The Polo’s interior is in such bad shape and the paint job is so faded, even a moderately nice looking Twingo would be un upgrade. But the damn Volkswagen just refuses to die and is so damn reliable (yeah, it surprises me too, every single day), it’s really hard to justify letting it go in favour on the leap into the unknown that is buying a 30-year old entry-level car, no matter how good it looks.

    Now I’m angling for a 30+ year old station wagon, preferably an early Volvo 945. That I can justify. I secretly want a Renault 21 Nevada but my wife’s not stupid.

  14. The first gen ones were so good, a surprisingly large number of people imported them to the UK (afaik only 2nd gen onwards were officially sold here). I pass one on my way to work that’s still on the road.
    They have much more interior space than you’d think from the outside.

    1. all the small cars at that time had indecent interior space for their size.

      I managed to tuck 5 adults with large backpacks ( alpinism sized so 50liter or more , with tents and rope ) in an AX.
      ( ok two bags ended up on the lap of the backseaters, and one between the front passenger leg… but that was 5 adults & 5 large bags… thankfully we only had 20km of alpine road to go through, I wouldn’t have done that for hundred of kms. [ and I did weird things with that AX ] )

      Strangely since then the injterior space shrank to a miser and the external sized gained 30%… and I’m not even talking about hte weight and the fuel economy tied to it. ( I’d really like to see a 1991 AX with a modern engine fuel economy )

  15. Aww my friend in german high school had one. It was a proper hoopty, the antenna was help together by normal Tesa tape. Some interior parts fell off but I didnt stop us hitting more than top speed on a downhill in the Kassel Hills – if you can believe the speedo we managed to get 112 mph or 180 kph out of it and it was terrifying because everything wobbled, shook and vibrated, the steering seemed like suggestion and every semi truck we passed did seem to suck us more to the right (because yes, at that time, 180 wasnt enough to be on the left lane so we had to be on the center lane) but fortunately the occasional Passat going over 200 sucked us back a little to the left. Fun times! And this example is unbelievably clean, never seen such cream puff Twingo from that generation before.

  16. And for today’s odd piece of trivia….

    Back in the day, a Spanish magazine released a piece called ‘the cars of love’, in which they tested several small car models to see which one was the most comfortable to, ehmm, get intimate in.

    One of the cars tested (I wonder about the methodology, though) was the Twingo, and it won outright.

  17. As a student I arrived in Grenoble France in the spring of 1993, and the local Carrefour hyper-marché had la nouvelle Twingo on display in the courtyard. Welcome to France! It was an odd looking thing but I liked it, and they were all over the place before long. I got a ride in one from a friend and thought it was fun. A few years later on a trip back, I had a Twingo as a rental car. Fun in the city but not great on a long country wide tour on the autoroute. No cruise control and very jumpy handling at 130/kph. From Paris to Normandie to Nice and back to Paris, I was glad to be done with it.

    That said, I’d love to take a spin in one again.


  18. The Twingo is so very French; Being a socialist country where all but the government employees are broke, the state subsidized “people’s enterprise”, exudes a car. The citizens can save up their food stamps, clothing vouchers, and allotted phone-minute rations, and purchase one. Yes, it doesn’t go very fast (as the proletariat doesn’t have actually anywhere to go that fast). They usually take subsidized mass-transit anyway. Also, it is so small you can park it in that closet under the stairs, in your state-owned Paris “Kvartira”. What do we do to move these things off the lot? We give them the only smiley faces you will ever see in France(besides drunk American Tourists), and dress them up with neon colored “Swatch-Phone” controls.
    The problem is: What happens when you lose money on every car, and they are selling like hot-cakes?
    You stop making them, call Citroen, and tell them it’s their turn again to build the people’s car.

    1. Indeed they had and it is one of the few cloth roofs of production cars that lasts forever. Never had issues with water getting into the vehicle due to the roof (but because of the windshield sealing getting bad…).

      It was an option, in 1998 I guess you had to order a package including the roof, electric mirrors and something else I forgot. All extras were part of strange packages…

    1. It’s VERY similar, but different. The Sport Spider has an odometer where the Twingo’s clock is. Also, it appears on the Sport Spider to be black on orange, as opposed to the teal/green color on the Twingo.

      1. Put the obscure references in regardless. Don’t forget, some of your congregation are international and don’t get quite a lot of the references anyway! I Google any I don’t get, often learning America is even more weird than I thought.

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