Curbside Classique: Renault Estafette 1000 – Could Even Its Mother Love That Face?

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While driving around Antibes, France, looking for a parking spot after dropping the family off at the beach, I came across this interesting looking vehicle. Once I found a spot, I headed back on foot to explore my find a bit more.

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Some cars are so obviously French that the only thing left to find out is which manufacturer was responsible for it. The French have produced some gorgeous cars, but they’ve certainly gone the other way with plenty of others, this being one of those cases (in my opinion, of course).

The color of this example does it absolutely no favors either, it may well be the ugliest color I have ever seen on a car.

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Anyway, the badge on the front gave it away as a Renault Estafette 1000, which was built between 1965 and 1968, along with a long wheelbase version. It would have left the factory with a watercooled 1108cc engine producing 45hp which was also used in the Renault 8.

Payload capacity was 2205 pounds; I imagine fully loaded, it would have been glacially slow despite the van itself only weighing 2150lbs.

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Renault started production of the Estafette in May 1959 and variants were built all the way through June 1980 with very minor cosmetic updates along the way. The engine that was used at the beginning of production was the 845cc unit from the Dauphine, but mounted in the front and driving the front wheels. This helped to produce a very low floor, distinguishing it from its main competitor, the VW Transporter. The latest models used a 1289cc engine.

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I was thrilled (and amazed) to find the above picture.  As easy as it is to remove a VW Bus engine, this is just incredible.  Put it on jackstands, and you’re halfway there.

The name Estafette is derived from the Italian Staffetta, meaning Courier, which is an appropriate name for a van. Ours is the long wheelbase van version with the high roof option, but there was also a minibus version, a pickup, as well as a chassis cab.

Sizewise, they appeared to me to be somewhere between a VW Bus and a VW Vanagon, but with the high roof option, which allowed a person to stand up inside (a concept the US market is finally embracing with the latest batch of Euro-style delivery vans replacing the likes of the traditional Econoline, etc.)

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The wheels are the three-lug design that seems to be mostly a French thing and while all five tires were of different brands, they were in good condition, confirming this to be a van that regularly moves around.

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The back has an interesting door configuration, with the top being a hatch and the bottom hinged on the sides, just like the “dutch door” versions of the Chevy Astro and GMC Safari.

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Speaking of doors, while this van did not have it, many of these had a driver side pocket door, wherein the driver’s door actually slid into the interior of the van. The effect is like that of a USPS Jeep, but with the door on the inside rather than the outside.

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I tried taking about a half dozen dashboard shots, but between the glare and the dust on the window it just wasn’t working so this picture is from “Le Web.”

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The shot through the back window makes it clear that the interior is fairly spacious, but with a lot of stuff in it. Since I have no idea of French laws regarding snapping pictures of people’s vehicles and speak absolutely no French, I took the pictures as quickly as possible and then walked away.

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It appears that these were available in the US and Canada as well, as the Renault Hi-Boy and Renault Petit-Panel. I doubt they sold many over here and I’m guessing the VW Van and the Econoline had the market pretty much covered. Maybe they were more popular in Quebec or other areas that are more French in character.

However as I was researching this article, I noted that at the time I was in France taking these pictures, there was an Estafette being sold on Ebay less than an hour from my house in Colorado. Weird.

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I was hoping to come across one of the Citroen H-vans while in France but did not see any. I recall seeing them as a kid all the time, but they’ve pretty much disappeared. Conversely, I have absolutely no recollection of seeing the Estafette when younger but now here one is. It’s not often I see something built in my lifetime without knowing what it is, but it does happen.

Related reading:

Renault Estafette – Sold In The US As The “Hi Boy”

Citroen H Van – The French Tin Goose

1961 VW Transporter