The Fuego has become almost mythical in the US. It seems to typify all of the issues that plagued Renault in its final years in the US: attractive if quirky designs that didn’t stand up to the (brutal) test of time that typical American buyers subjected their cars to. Sold in the US between 1982 and 1985, they went up against the Japanese coupes like the Celica that were built more like a Toyota Hilux pickup, and simply wilted in the face of them.
I’ve been hoping to find one for years, but no luck so far. But the Fuego had a somewhat different image in Europe, and was quite successful, becoming the number one selling sports coupe for several years (1980-1982). Monsieur Burns shot this fine example in its home country of France, where it undoubtedly enjoyed a different fate.
The Fuego was based on the R18 platform, with front suspension components borrowed from the larger R20/30. It has several bragging rights, one of them being its very slippery body, with a Cd as low as 0.32, very impressive for the time (1979). With a turbo-diesel, it was the world’s fastets diesel production car in 1982, with a top speed of 180km/h (110 mph). It also had the first remote keyless system with central locking, based on the invention of Paul Lipschultz (PLIP system).
This pristine example does seem to be missing its grille.
The Fuego arrived in the US in 1982, in both conventional and then also as a turbo model. The naturally-aspirated 1647 cc SOHC four made 81 hp; the 1566 cc turbo version cranked out a mighty 107 hp.
The Fuego’s advertising invited one to enter “the turbo zone” and share the same technology that made Renault’s F1 turbocharged racers so renowned at the time. Needless to say, not enough buyers took up the invitation, and by its third and final year, Fuegos had a lot of cash on their hoods to clear out the AMC dealer lots. Good luck finding one today.
Look at those bumpers and headlights. I think this is a USA market Fuego!
Dave, I had the same thought – plus, the California plates!
Those aren’t California plates. Those are French plate numbers printed on faux California plates.
I thought that the overdone pinstriping was also a North American thing. After a couple of years they got a nice new dashboard and a new 2.2 engine. The original engine (also in Alliances) probably dated to the Renault 16 wet sleeve engine or further back.
I really wanted one. A couple years later I was looking for a recent used one but the only one I found was overpriced and for sale for months. Maybe the owner gave up and kept it. I probably dodged a bullet. I’ve read that they had problems like multiple failing electrical connectors that probably an expert in France would know all about and no one here would. Alliances and Encores certainly seemed to disappear quickly.
Hi. I currently own a couple of Fuegos and I have to say that everything on the car mechanically, electrically, trim, build quality etc is actually pretty good. I’ve never heard of failing connectors and any old auto electrician can work on them (a Haynes manual is useful! lol). I treat my cars with care and after 30 years of ownership I can say reliability has been really good,
I wonder how, and why, a French Fuego has got US market bumpers and headlamps?
Because it’s a reverse import, not an uncommon thing. Europeans have been buying back their cars from the US, especially from CA, for many years.
More of them, less rust than European models. Go to Portugal and you will see a few US model Mercedes 123 series 240and 300Ds. Driven around as daily drivers still. Imported or driven up from US Forces basis in Germany. How knows?.
The early 80s was an apex for the introduction of interesting sporty hatchbacks. I thought the Fuego was among the most creative, and beautifully-styled. The styling has aged well. It could have been introduced years later, and remained current. Design was not tied to the era, like several competitors.
I liked the detailing. The black plastic upper body ribbing worked. Lending an air of advanced design. The gorgeously smooth sheet metal surrounding the wheel arches, no doubt aiding in its excellent aerodynamics. Shame, they weren’t sold with flush headlights in the US. The unique door handles, looked great. This was a very modern design.
The clean and elegant wheel design complimented the exterior perfectly. Though larger wheels/tires, would have gave the design more presence. And a lower stance, would have been an improvement.
The Fuego reminds me of some songs from that era. A promising song, that is popular, but never reaches the top of the charts. And soon fades away. And thus remains a snapshot and timepiece, and a forgotten throwback, to that brief moment in time. Such high hopes for Renault in the US, for a few months at least.
Well, I guess I don’t need to leave my comment, because it’s basically what you’ve said! Aesthetically, still one of my favorite cars, ever. Mindblowing that this shape came out in ’79. Even compared against, say, an aero-shaped ’88 Chevy Beretta, the Fuego easily looks like its contemporary.
Like the later Maserati Biturbo, the Fuego was an attractively styled car done in by myriad engineering issues (with the exception of the ground-breaking remote lock/unlock fob) that made it a nightmare to try and keep operational, sort of like a poor-man’s exotic.
IOW, you really had to love one to make the Herculean effort to keep it going. For that reason, as stated in the text, it’s yet another CC unicorn that I can’t imagine ever seeing parked somewhere on the street, let alone moving under its own power.
Like the R18 it was based on, the styling was advanced for 1978; perhaps too much when you look at the much boxier R9 & R11 that were introduced three years later. Having said that the latter pair quickly looked dated once the ‘aero’ designs like Ford’s Sierra came along.
Perhaps more than any other specific exterior element, I was impressed by the overall ovoid aerodynamic shape of the bodywork. With the expanded bodysides and rear hatch area.
Looked great from any angle, and modern, decades later. Though larger wheels/tires would have provided a more masculine appearance. If only the mechanicals were more robust, and supported the great design.
Looks more mature, and luxurious, in dark paintwork.
It could easily have been a sister car to the Toyota Previa, in terms of design. With Toyota ruggedness and longevity, the Fuego would have been legend.
Also, interesting to note the Fuego got a longer life in Argentina being built there until 1992 with some facelifts from what I read on that French website.
One of those French cars that I always wanted to own, but the chance never arrived, as the closest I ever got was test driving a Renault Le Car which caught fire on the test drive. Yes, the quirkiness is what I find attractive as I’ve always had fascination for Renault and Citroen, and a complete disinterest in Peugeot.
Rare? I can easily understand why, when the Erie, PA Renault dealer was housed in a backwater garage with junked cars on the property and the Johnstown, PA dealership, having started out strongly in the late 50’s housed in the Oldsmobile franchise, was edged out by Datusn/Nissan by the late 70’s. Officially, the dealership kept the franchise, but maybe had one car tucked away in the back corner of the side showroom.
Would still love to have one, if I only had the garage space.
In the early 80’s I worked with a lady that owned a new Fuego in the same color as this one. She said once a month she had to get something repaired and likened it to the monthly cycle of women. She traded it in one week before the warranty expired.
Photos show this vehicle has a California license plate, this explains why it has US pumper and headlights. Still amazing all these years it still hold up in such good shape. Other thing is this car is front-wheel drive while Ceilca and 200sx are rear drive type.
My friend from had a 1984 Turbo with fully open roof type, brought a used in 1988 was quite problematic when he owned it. Finally he trade for $400 to get a 1995 Ceilca GTS. One weird feature is the cooling fan stay on after engine shutdown. And Turbo is selectable if I remember correctly. Radiator is made of composite materials. Anyway, the most desirable sport coupe was Honda Prelude.
Just a clarifying point re: California plate references…
The license plates on this car are cosmetic versions. They do not have the proper number/letter sequence (2xxxnnn), image or text for this style plate.
And…no registration stickers pretty much confirms it…
Good point. But it does appear to be a US version, with those headlights.
What puzzles me about the Fuego and 18 is why they were initially brought to the US with the ancient, pushrod 1.6. The J series “Douvrin” engines came out in 77.
Fuegos are around. One kept showing up on various old-car-for-sale sites around Columbus, Ohio, for a while. There is a quite active Renault FB group. Several members of that group bring their Renaults to the Import meet at Carlisle, PA each year.
Nick is one of the members of the FB group. He has several Renaults stashed around his property. So many that he had to part with his Fuego a few years ago. His was one of the more desirable phase 2 models, with the 2.2 and updated instrument panel. He took a pic of his Fuego as it departed for it’s new home.
This Fuego, in Wisconsin, was listed on FB Marketplace a couple months ago.
This post Paul previously made is of that exact Fuego that I uploaded to the Cohort after I spotted it in Saint Paul back in May 2021. Said Fuego hadn’t been issued a current plate (ran?) since March 1990:
A Unicorn found in Minnesota
These were actually fairly common in Wisconsin, back in the day, due to their Kenosha connection. Heck, Renault vehicles in general (and Alliances in particular) were pretty thick on the ground as they were selected to be in the State of Wisconsin motor pool.
I should have read more comments before posting mine above! Anyway, I guess I was right about the original engine. Reminds me – the one that got away had that sunroof too. Good thing I didn’t know about this one.
Drove a Turbo once- it was easy to see why they didn’t sell. The engine had no power in city traffic until the boost came on (usually right before the next red light). Bogggg, vroom, stop, repeat.
Bogggg, vroom, stop, repeat.
That seemed to be the case with a lot of 80s turbos. I recall hearing the turbocharged Merc Capri referred to as “turbo-debris”.
I test drove an 18 with the 1.6 and automatic. Slow, even for the early 80s. The cars would have been so much more satisfying with the 2.2, but Renault didn’t make that move until the train to success had left the station.
Sorry, I don’t want to be a party pooper or the sad guy who offends a true enthusiast… but I was a teenager in France when Renault was selling those cars. And kids of my age were dreaming of anything GTI (the genuine Golf GTI first, and the Peugeot 205 GTI later on. Like the Opel Manta in Germany, te Fuego had a “mullet” image, I’m afraid. And the fact that they had used the venerable pushrod engine of the R16 as the basis for their Turbo version did nothing to increase its prestige among the enthusiasts.
FWIW, that’s also the engine used in the legendary R5 Turbo. It was a very tough engine able to withstand the stresses of forced induction better than the new “Douvrin”, which was never turbocharged, IIRC.
But your point from being there at the time is very relevant.
And the fact that they had used the venerable pushrod engine of the R16 as the basis for their Turbo version did nothing to increase its prestige among the enthusiasts.
Wiki lists a turbo version of the Douvrin 2L, available from 87-93. The engine was also beefed up with iron cylinder liners and new head, for a 2.1 diesel version.
Found an advert for the R21 2L turbo.
Right, a fuel injected and turbocharged 2.0 SOHC 8v engine. I caught the real thing back in 2016.
Paul and Steve, I’m surprised by how much I remember about those mid eighties Renaults- I checked my facts in Wikipedia and in Losangemagazine.com and I’m pretty sure I got it right
The Fuego Turbo had the “Cleon-alu” engine (the “modern”, 1600cc pushrod engine of the R16). It was fuel injected in the US and in Switzerland, and I assume it was carbureted in France. After they stopped selling the Turbo version in the US, Renault US sold the Fuego with a 2.2L 4cyl engine (a co-development with Peugeot).
The R5 Turbos (the front wheel drive Alpine Turbo and the mid engine Turbo) were graced by a turbocharged version of the “cleon-fonte”, with a displacement of 1.4L.
Interesting. I was 14 when the Fuego was introduced. But unlike the Opel Manta, the Fuego didn’t have that mullet image. It was considered quite “chique” here.
Agreed, the VW Golf GTI was the Real McCoy, back in 1980. Soon forgotten once the Peugeot 205 GTI arrived, later on. The little fast Peugeot, with its perfect stance, was the one all youngsters lusted for.
The Fuego Turbo had the “Cleon-alu” engine (the “modern”, 1600cc pushrod engine of the R16).
There were two versions around that displacement. There was a 1565cc version that was offered in the R12 and 15, and, in modified “Gordini” spec in the 17. The 18 and normally aspirated Fuego had the 1647cc version, but, iirc, the turbocharged Fuego had the 1565. I could double check, if I had picked up a brochure back in the day, but I didn’t.
Amusing how little Renault seemed to spend on powertrain development. The aluminum and iron block pushrods both dated from the early 60s. The powertrain in my 1980 R5, with the trans in front, and the engine half under the instrument panel, was clearly lifted from the rear drive Renaults. I can see cheaping out that way on the R4 and R16, but, by 72, when the R5 came out, the trend to transverse powertrain was evident at Austin, Simca, and Fiat. But no, they waited until the R9 came out a decade later to put the Iron engine in sideways. Then they dragged their feet getting around to the F series engine that the US models should have had from the start. Rabbits and Omnirizons were running around with a modern 1.7, but Renault brings a 1.4 to validate it’s investment in AMC?
Sticks in my mind that, around 1980, Renault was the largest automaker in Europe. The CR dot charts in the 1978 issue show the R12 decent, other than some funky electrics, and the R5 “better than average”. They could be flukes, due to a small sample size, but compared to the bath of black for the Alliance and Encore, a decade later makes you wonder if Renault succumbed to “professional management” the way GM did under Roger Smith. or was it a combination of indifferent owners and indifferent dealers? They stumbled in Europe too, falling from #1, to #4 now, with the Renault brand at 5.8% market share vs 10.9% for the VW brand, in 21.
Genuinely rare here, Ive not seen one in a very long time like most early turbo efforts longevity wasnt their strong suit, Mitsubishis Cordia turbo wasnt much good either but they were fast for the era and used as patrol cars temporarily.
Some 20 years ago, Car & Driver entered a Fuego in a “winter beater” challenge. After they breathed life into the engine, it promptly seized it’s turbo. Marvin, the President of the US Renault club, and one of the admins of the FB group these days, came up with a used turbo, that worked, and C&D was back in business.
My uncle had a Fuego – non-turbo – which I was allowed to drive from time to time.
I liked the car.
It was not a sports car, more like a Grand Tourismo, comfortable, big boot and fast enough for all situations.
Above all, the light interior was a pleasant alternative to all the competitors who tried very hard to make it look like a racing car with their black-on-black interiors.
The sales figures were probably not overwhelming, especially in Germany, which is why it didn’t get a successor. (The Laguna Coupe years later could be seen as a successor.) The Fuego simply screamed “My owner can’t afford a 924” too loudly.
And the 924 simply screamed “My owner can’t afford a real Porsche (911) “
Reposting comment from 2017: Still miss my Canadian-spec 1984 Fuego, with its smooth and efficient Bosch injected 2165 cc engine. Comfy seats, fine handling, and a working electric, canvas sunroof! Except for some wonky taillight wiring, totally reliable. Bought from original owner after she couldn’t find a blower motor.
Found one through the Renault Owners Club of North America.
One last bit of Renault love: 1985 AMC full line ad, showing the Fuego, 18 wagon and Alliance, finally getting the engines they should have had all along, after the train to success had left the station.
Sadly, only one “Pointer Sister” still alive.
Nice to see the Fuego get its deserved moment in the sun – a nice French take on what Ford could have done for the Capri based on FWD Mk3 Escort rather than persist with the 1960s car to 1987. Ford would point you to the Escort XR3 I guess, but VW had the Scirocco and the Golf GTi….
And in front of the Fuego is an Alfasud saloon, and a tidy looking one at that. Talk of unicorns!
This is my 1984 Fuego Turbo done an original 21009 miles which I have in Australia
Cette Fuego Turbo 1565 cm³ est une version fabriquée pour les États Unis
( Sauf Californie ) Cette voiture n’a surement jamais été exportée en Amérique car
elle porte des marques de Francisation : compteur Américain, mais indiquant des
kilomètres; phares jaunes; carte grise française. La mécanique est récente et d’origine dans son ensemble, y compris le pot catalytique qui nous indique qu’il faut utiliser du super vert ( en 1982 ). La couleur était au catalogue Renault pour les phases 1, cette teinte a été repris ensuite pour la présentation des Fuego turbo Diesel en 83.
L’injection est une Boch L-Jectronic, montée aussi sur les 205 Gti, 505 et sur certaines Alfa Roméo, enfin, cela reste à être vérifié. Les roues en aluminium de séries sont montées en Michelin TRX. Telle que vous la voyez, elle est strictement d’origine sortie d’usine, à l’exception du petit béquet de coffre qui n’est pas Renault mais destiné aux Fuego pour un aspect plus sportif.
Malgré que nos Fuego étaient souvent atteintes de points de rouille, celle-ci n’en n’a pas, à aucun endroit.
Les plaques numéralogiques ne sont pas conformes au plaques américaines et ne correspondent pas au véhicule sauf l’immatriculation française. C’est un point à remettre en ordre.
Sorties à 226 000 exemplaires en cinq ans, les Fuego, quoi que l’on en dise sont, tout de même un beau succès commercial en regard des autres coupés de toutes marques en vente à cette époque. Il est vrai que le 1 300 cm³ Cléon fonte amélioré, faisait pâle figure pour un coupé, mais il suffisait largement aux automobilistes qui avaient l’occasion de rouler en coupé pour un prix acceptable, sans avoir besoin d’ aller chez porche ou jaguar. Par ailleurs on peut constater que les Gtx ont été délaissées pour leur consommation excessive : (10 litres aux 100 ) ce que l’on ne reprochait pas aux coupés concurrents. Les Gtx avaient un très bon moteur alu, moderne, silencieux, coupleux, avec distribution à courroies.
Les exigences US entres autres exigeaient, des numéros de séries sur le tableau de bord, et sur le montant de porte chauffeur, un rétroviseur central à cardans, freins renforcés, pares chocs déformables, coupure de la pompe à essence en cas d’accident, dépollution avec vanne EGR, signalisation veilleuse sur les ailes arrières etc..
La climatisation, l’intérieur cuir, les fermetures centralisées faisaient partie des équipement de série sur la phase 1.
Pour mémoire, ce bloc moteur 1565 cm³ a été monté sur de nombreux modèles
Renault : Renault 18 turbo, Alpine, Fuego, Renault 16, Renault 15/17. j’en passe
peut-être.. Il est robuste, pourvu que l’on lui apporte le soin indispensable à toute mécanique.
Je ne trouve pas honnête de la part des journalistes qui adorent mettre à bas l’industrie automobile française, d’avoir cité ou cite encore la Fuego comme des voiture d’ HLM, voiture de coiffeurs ou simplement de voiture de pauvres. Ces quolibets fussent encore aujourd’hui et les font sourire par moquerie. Je le regrette car cela ne les élèvent pas à un grand niveau en regard de leurs compétences journalistiques.