Curbside Classic: 1986 Renault Alliance – Patina Royale

It’s been transformative to bounce along the dusty byways of New Mexico this week and stumble upon well preserved “bucket list” cars that have long since been claimed by rust and neglect back home. I had another brush with automotive serendipity today when an empty lot next to MacDonalds in the town of Los Lunas became host for a car that I simply haven’t seen in person for years. I didn’t have to scan deep in the memory banks for this one. One glance told me that the owner of a Renault Alliance had finally gotten tired of its, um,“eccentricities” and put it up for sale – cheap. Before it’s snapped up by some unwary buyer, I had to get some pictures and maybe even a little background. This rig has what the boss likes to call “patina”. Duffel bags of patina.

First, the executive summary on the whole Alliance project for those of you joining us late: AMC was the very willing object of French auto giant Renault’s affections in the late 70’s. Bit by bit, the Frenchies bought controlling interest in America’s fourth largest automaker. They pretty much owned the place after 1983. Renault needed a marketing channel to peddle their quirky small cars and AMC had the dealers and service operations in place to do so. American Motors also needed lots of francs to compete with the Big Three. Its model lineup was ancient and gas thirsty, and Renault sold small cars that were at least up to date, if not exactly exciting.

When Franco-American lit the unity candle in 1980, the Gaullist side of the partnership told their new partners that the Nash 4X4’s and Hornet/Concord leftovers would have to go. To bring AMC into the 80’s (from the late 60’s) , the pair would produce a small family saloon and coupe that would make use of the Renault 9 architecture and be sold along side the soon-to-be updated Jeeps. The plan threw a lifeline to AMC’s endangered Kenosha assembly plant and the whole thing looked like a win-win.

With the weak dollar, the only hope of making money on the project was to build the cars here and sell them as Renaults. AMC’s internal marketing studies showed that buyers thought more of Renault’s reputation than their own. This should have been a blaring master alarm, but the scheme went ahead as planned.

The Alliance moniker was picked to symbolize the loveless marriage between the two erstwhile partners. The car was launched with high hopes as an ’83 model in the fall of 1982 and carried a temptingly low price of just under $6000. The base 1.4 L OHV engine from the late (and unloved) Renault LeCar was the standard mill, but smart buyers opted for the 1.7 L with either of two manual trannys on offer. If they wanted maddeningly slow gitty up, they could spec the car with a sloppy three speed automatic.You could finish a “Royale with Cheese” while waiting for 0-60 if you paired the smaller engine with the autobox.

Against all logic, the Alliance was a smash. High gas prices along with a Motor Trend “Car Of The Year” trophy meant that the little Alliance was in demand. Sales were an astonishing 142,000 in the first year. Reasoning that it was best to make a sandwich while the croissant was still fresh, AMC/Renault doubled their pleasure by trotting out the Encore for 1984. The Encore was just a hatchback version of the Alliance.

But the momentum that the Alliance built was short lived. After gas prices started a dramatic retreat in the fall of 1984, and word of the cars’ flimsy construction and nagging quality problems got around, it was all downhill. Sales sank disastrously for 1986 (to about 64,000) and to less than 35,000 in ’87. By the end of the model year, the Car Of The Year from ’83 was out of production.

Alliances are tough to find in running condition these days. Parts became hide and seek after Renault said au revoir in 1987, and it has never made great sense to spend $800 to repair a $500 car. Thus the attrition rate is astronomical. This example sports the 1.7 mated to a 4 speed stick. Repeated attempts to reach the owner by phone didn’t work out, so we can only wonder if the engine has the same “patina” as the sun baked body. With an asking price just a couple of hundred bucks more than crush value, maybe it will get a new owner that will keep it on the road for a few more years.