COAL Twofer: Renault 8 And Peugeot 204 – Life In La Francophonie


Recent posts on the Renault 10 prompted me to search through my sister’s collection of slides from her years in Africa for pictures of her family’s Renault 8. My sister lived in Tunisia from 1968 to 1972, and in Rwanda from 1972 to 1974, with her (now ex-) husband and their two young children. They were in Africa with CIDA, the Canadian International Development Agency, and held various teaching positions during their stay.

The first photo shows their Renault 8 parked in the modern suburbs of Tunis. The larger building in the background is the École nationale d’administration de Tunis, where my BIL taught.  On the right is a large sign with pictures of Habib Bourguiba, the president of Tunisia from the time of its independence (from France) in 1956, until 1987. Bourguiba worked hard to modernize Tunisia, but his rule was authoritarian, and the ubiquitous photos are just a small manifestation of the cult of personality he promoted.


The R8 replaced the Dauphine in 1962, and was based on the same rear-engine architecture. (Our family had some previous experience with the Dauphine back in Canada, from 1960 to 1964.) The engine was new, and was used in various Renaults until the 1990s. The Renault R8 was built in France until 1973, and as late as 1977 in Spain. It was also built in Bulgaria, and under license in Romania as the Dacia 1100.


The R8 was the first Renault with disk brakes on all four wheels. In 1965, the R8 was joined by the slightly upmarket and longer R10, which shared its center section with the R8. The R8 and R10 were the last rear-engine Renaults (excluding the Alpine).


While the older part of Tunis is known for its ‘souks’, or traditional markets, modern supermarkets like this one can be found in the suburbs.  Parking here is a much simpler affair than in the souks. My sister remembers the ‘parking attendants’, groups of men who would, for a small fee, lift and move an entire row of cars a few centimeters each in order to open up a new parking spot!

The R8 is hiding behind the motorcycle, and flanked by cars that should be familiar to most of our readers, although it took a bit of research to identify the Fiat 1300, second from the left. I don’t recall ever seeing a Fiat 1300 in Canada. At first I thought it might have come from somewhere behind the Iron Curtain…

The ‘Olympic Drugstore’ is not, in fact, a drugstore – it’s a supermarket. Tunisia is mainly Arabic- and French-speaking, so the English spelling of Olympic is also a bit out of place (it’s olympique in French).


Tunis is right on the Mediterranean Sea, so the climate is generally quite pleasant. But it’s not immune from floods; even when you live just a few minutes from the Mediterranean, having a giant puddle of muddy water in your front yard is a source of endless amusement for the kids!

It’s never completely peaceful in this part of the world, but it was safe enough back then for my sister and her family to visit much of North Africa, and parts of the Middle East. Nonetheless, they were warned that in many remote areas, it was best to quickly drive away from the scene of a car accident, regardless of responsibility. Locals sometimes took it upon themselves to impose their form of justice on the spot.


The R8 can be seen here on a desert road in Algeria; the front of the R8 is covered in heavy grease, to prevent the paintwork from being sandblasted when driving through sandstorms.


Traffic is not usually a problem on these desert(ed) roads, but there can still be some roadblocks.  By the way, those are dromedaries–camels have two humps.


If sandstorms or floods don’t get you, how about this?  Where are those Tunis parking attendants when you need them? My sister had to walk to the cabin far in the background to get some help. Assistance was only provided after she rubbed her thumb and index finger together, the universally recognized gesture for money. Of course a snowstorm is most likely to occur at higher altitudes, such as the Atlas Mountains that span the northern tip of Africa


In Rwanda (1972-74), the family car was a Peugeot 204 ‘break’.  For those who don’t know, Rwanda is situated in the middle of Africa, just south of the equator, and was not an advanced country. The road network was limited, and of generally poor quality. Electricity supply was sporadic at best. Because they lived at a higher altitude, the tropical weather was truly wonderful, punctuated by a brief rainfall every day during the rainy season. The high altitude also meant no bugs to deal with – a good thing since my sister is terrified of spiders and such.

Rwanda-KigaliKigali cityscape

Rwanda was reasonably peaceful in the early 1970s, but ethnic tensions eventually led to the horrific genocide of 1994, as many of you recall. That 100-day event took the lives of 500,000 to 1,000,000 people. The wide ranging estimate is testimony to the total chaos that enveloped the country.


Peugeot launched the 204 in 1965, to compete with the Renault R8. The 204 was an additional model, not a direct replacement for an existing model, and allowed Peugeot to significantly increase its market share in France (moving from fourth to second place behind Renault, displacing Citroën and Simca). The 204 was the best-selling car in France in 1969, 70 and 71. The 204 was the first front-drive Peugeot, and the first Peugeot to be equipped with front disk brakes. The ‘break’ (wagon) version was introduced soon after the ‘berline’ (sedan), and accounted for almost one third of the 204s sold during its production run, which ended in 1976. Coupé, cabriolet and ‘fourgonette’ (van) versions were introduced in 1966.


Peugeots are reputed to be rugged vehicles, and the 204 was a good choice for my sister’s Rwandan adventures. Rwanda borders Lake Kivu, one of the African Great Lakes, which it shares with the Democratic Republic of Congo. But getting there is a bit of a challenge.


The ‘break’ provides additional space for the family, and the roof rack holds an extra spare tire or two. Given the road conditions, carrying extra wheels and tires is an essential precaution.

This is getting interesting…


I suspect it’s the same all over the world–plenty of free advice!


“Please don’t tell me you forgot the duct tape!”

That’s a Peugeot 304 on the so-called bridge.   When it rains, it pours!


And just when you think nothing else can go wrong, a passing truck flings a large stone into the windshield:


Luckily, no one was hurt, but finding and fitting a replacement windshield is another story.  Finally, after all that hard work and misadventure, it’s time for a ‘break’: