Alexander Den Ouden posted this shot at the CC Cohort that he took just last week in Medellin, Colombia. The Renault 12, although it was sold in the US as well as in may parts of the world, has so far not been covered here with a proper CC. How about a mini-CC?
The R12 was a very important car for Renault, as it marked its transition from its long line of rear-engined low-mid market cars (4CV, Dauphine, R8 & R10) to FWD. And unlike Renault’s previous FWD cars (R16, R 4) which had their engines mounted longitudinally behind the front wheels, the R12 now adopted the same format as popularized by Audi (and VW), with the engine mounted longitudinally ahead of the front wheel center line.
Since this is turning into a mini-CC, I’ll also use this shot posted a few years ago at the Cohort, by Kurtzos, if I remember correctly. The R 12 was assembled in no less twelve countries around the world, including Colombia, which likely is where this heavily-loaded green on originated.
In Romania, the R12 was built by Dacia, and also called by that name. It was immortalized in the movie “Borat”, where it rolls off pulled by a horse.
Most R12s had more than one horsepower. The majority were powered by 1289 cc versions of the “Cleon” ohv four, which had been developed for the R8/10. The R12 Gordini used a version of the 1565 cc aluminum-block engine as used in the R16.
The US-bound version of the R12 had a 1647 cc version of that all-alloy engine, including a hemi-head and rated at 72 hp. it suffered from the typical “French car in the US” syndrome, and did nothing to boost Renault’s fortunes, despite the 12 being a quite advanced car for the times.
Somehow French cars seem to be practically immortal in Africa (and Colombia), yet highly fragile in the US. Were there two distinct versions? More likely two different levels of competency in fixing them.
It’s been a very long time since I saw one in the US. Has anyone else? If so, send us the pictures.
Very interesting. I have always wondered about why French cars have done so poorly in the States myself. Certainly the Peugoet 504 is legendary in Africa and conditions don’t get any tougher than that. I have toyed with a couple of theories – parts availability perhaps? There is nothing imaginable that would be more irritating than waiting for a part to be shipped in from France during the month of August. My other theory is that French cars are not mechanically designed for driving on American roads. I -speculate- that in Africa and South America (and France, obviously) most driving is fairly low speed and short distance, and heavily burdened. This would mean very low gearing for torque from their small displacement engines, characteristics not well suited to the American need to drive at 100 KPH or more for hours at a time. Finally, I speculate that there isn’t much salt used to clear ice from African or South American roads and thus rust is not the enemy that much of the U.S. faces.
This is just all guessing on my part. The last (only?) French car I have even ridden in was a Citroen DS somewhere around 1966. It belonged to our neighbors. I loved that car, but I also know why they never caught on in the U.S. After our neighbors had to have a mechanic flown in from Atlanta the third time, they sold it and bought an Imperial.
This would be true back then, but most cars in France end up driving on the motorways, doing speeds well over 100 kmh. But these still manage this quite well with 1.3 1.6 and 1.8 liter engines.
I think it’s mostly because of the lack of servicing available in the US, compared to at home in France, or in Africa/COlombia
…”characteristics not well suited to the American need to drive at 100 KPH or more for hours at a time”….(Lokki above, reply didn’t work)
For that reason I like the Bob Lutz-story about the Opel Diplomat V8 from the sixties with the Chevy 327. It had the “endurance racing” version of the 327 because the standard engine (as used in the Corvette) couldn’t deal with the harsh Autobahn-conditions. Hence the Opel got the hard-core endurance racing small-block that the Corvette didn’t have.
Quoting from an article:
“In order to replicate Autobahn conditions, they ran the cars at a sustained speed of 125 mph for hours on end, and in the process, destroyed quite a few engines”.
(125 mph = 200 km/h)
Link to the complete article here, an interesting read:
I suspect some of the problem comes down to whether most owners have first world problems or third world problems. If the question is how to get the load to market or the color of Biff and Buffy’s upholstery. Otoh the interstate system has rendered some cars less usable for the US.
I seem to have first world problems with the cars I take the wife around in and the car/truck that I get my work done with. Both are probably more capable of travel on the interstate than this 12 I suspect but I see a lot of vehicles like this that could do the job just fine.
This. The Peugeots are legendary in Africa because there’s enough of them there to make a critical mass of cars to be endlessly cannibalized for parts, in addition to being engineered well enough to be adaptable to crappy, on the spot repairs with whatever could be scrounged. The last time this happened in the US was in the days of the Model T.
Plenty of cars that don’t meet First World standards do well enough in the Third World, where expectations are lower and the needs more basic.
Confirmed ! We’ve always liked French cars very much, and we still do.
As a matter of fact, since the models often discussed here went out of production -which is at least 25 to 30 years ago- we’re buying them more and more.
Oh boy, they sure meet our standards and needs well enough. So well enough that the Japanese were driven out of the continent in the past decade.
I live in the USA. In 1984, I bought a brand-new Renault Alliance (R9). It was a comfortable and economical car, and unlike previous Renaults, quite stylish, especially in comparison to other cars in its class. But it was in the shop almost every month for service. After being parked, it would refuse to start. I’d call a tow truck and take a taxi cab back home. The tow truck would come, at which point, it would start right up. Other times, it would start up at the dealership after being towed. Repeatedly, I took it to two Renault dealerships to diagnose the cause of this problem. Neither could not find the cause. There were other problems, too, so I traded it in on a Ford Escort after nine months of ownership. Now, my wife and I drive Toyotas and Hondas and we have no more problems with cars.
Bought one of these 2nd hand with the family money back in 1976.
A death trap. Understeered like the SS Titantic.
As has already been mentioned, these cars were manufactured in many parts of the world; they were also made here in Mexico. Twenty years ago, the roads around here were still full of these as they survived the rough roads and steep mountain passes quite well. They did not have a reputation for being fragile, but parts (from France) were considered expensive. They had very nicely-formed and cushioned seats as well as an extremely comfortable ride. No other car in this country could absorb the horrid bumps, potholes, and the occasional ill-placed big rock in the road, as well as these cars.
I remember that, in the US, they were considered fragile even (especially?) by people who knew nothing about them just because they had only three lug bolts on each wheel. Plus, they were awkward-looking. It seemed to be a car that folks loved to hate just on sight. I think that contributed to their reputation.
It is easy to imagine, as has also been mentioned, that dealer service and other mechanical support might well have been second-string, at best.
There was a well (ab)used one round the corner from me which was brush painted in the dark green colour so popular on British park benches.I last saw it with the roof rack hanging off and the driver swearing at it
Someone (maybe it was Bob Lutz) once said, “Nothing runs bad better than a RWD American sedan.” I would include pickup trucks in that sentiment too. When I do see a 20-30 year-old heap wheezing down a Houston freeway it is most often a GM B- or C-body or a Ford-Mercury-Lincoln panther. Perhaps French cars (especially Renaults, Citroens, and Simcas – not so much Peugeots) required more fastidious maintenance though why they might be better maintained in Africa or South America than in the U. S. is a concept that eludes me.
I know many European countries have safety (and sometimes emissions) inspections that force adequate maintenance (most safety inspections in the U. S. are a joke). These stringent requirements could explain why older French (and low to middle-priced Italian cars) are still seen roads there. I doubt most African and South American countries have such requirements though.
I have to believe it was just frustration on the part of owners of French cars in the U. S. over getting parts or finding mechanics who could do repairs properly (many elemets – engine transaxle arrangements, hydro-pneumatic suspension – were quirky too) that killed the breed here.
This might be the most drab-looking modern car ever. Honestly, it looks like it was designed by Communists and copied by the French, not the other way around.
I remember seeing lots of these (and Dacias, too) in Israel when I visited as a kid. Even back then, they reminded me of exhausted donkeys.
Speaking of French cars, Renaults, in particular, I had an R5 Le Car in the early ’80’s in the U.S., and remember it fondly. It was fun to drive, had great seats, a great ride, decent handling, except for the body-roll, and that great HUGE vinyl sunroof. The day-in-day out issues were pretty unusual: master cylinder issues a couple of times (didn’t stop as well with only front brakes), A/C condenser problems twice (it was dealer installed), a bad turn signal/horn/dimmer stalk. My favorite was when the gas tank vent valve closed when it should’ve opened and the fuel tank sucked up to about half its size, before it quit running (somewhere in Missouri on U.S. 67). Lots of little problems with plastic dashboard parts falling off, upholstery not durable, etc. All of this happened in about 3 years and it was under warranty much of the time and was repaired and maintained by the dealer. By standards of Japanese small cars of the time, it was way more trouble than Hondas, Toyotas, and Datsuns presented. It seemed to me that the French were very innovative in their engineering, but much of it was expended making the car as flimsy as possible: Why have 4 or 5 lug nuts when 3 might hold the wheel on, or 2 or 3 spokes on the steering wheel, when one might do?
I will say that the engine and transaxle were great (maybe, a little slow), no issues there. The clutch went out at about 85,000, but (duh) it was driven by a male in his 20s. The engine was sleeved, which made a rebuild look pretty viable if it ever needed one. Looking back 30 years later, I’m glad I bought it because I have way more interesting stories to tell than if I had bought a Mitsubishi/Dodge Colt!
I too am always puzzled when I see Europeans milk long lives out of Fiats, Renaults, etc., when Americans can’t. I’m thinking part of it is that most of us are not going to spend every Saturday afternoon doing preventive maintenance and repairs. I think it takes that kind of regular attention to keep these things going.
Speaking of French cars, Renaults, in particular, I had an R5 Le Car in the early ’80’s in the U.S., and remember it fondly. It was fun to drive, had great seats, a great ride, decent handling, except for the body-roll, and that great HUGE vinyl sunroof. The day-in-day out issues were pretty unusual: master cylinder issues a couple of times (didn’t stop as well with only front brakes),
I also had a LeCar, an 80. Also had to replace the master cylinder, somewhere around 25,000 miles, and the proportioning valve before that. The proportioning valve was great, when it wasn’t leaking, as it was tied into the rear suspension and varied braking according to load. The LeCar never locked up the rears and got sideways like the POS 78 Zephyr did, repeatedly.
Also replaced the alternator as the voltage regulator would go nuts and the lights would blaze like a supernova. The motor for the wiper on the hatch quit.
And repaired a leaking radiator.
You could tell that the Renault is built for an environment where parts are expensive and labor is cheap. The voltage regulator was mounted on the back of the alternator, where it and the alternator brushes were designed to be user replaceable with no tool more exotic than a screwdriver. The sleeved iron block engine can probably be rebuilt to infinity. I don’t know, but would not be surprised to learn that the leaking master cylinder and proportioning valve were also designed to be repairable in the field. But noone repairs or rebuilds anything in the US. They just shove in a new one.
Of course, the fact that these parts all failed in a LeCar with less than 35,000 miles on it, all were factory installed and none had been due for any service, means the credit goes to Renault’s home factory, not the AMC plant or the dealer.
But I still like Renaults. When functioning properly, an interesting, innovative and fun car.
I’m 50 and reasonably car aware in the U.S. Over my time observing cars, the words associated with French cars usually involve scarce, rare, weird and unreliable (fair or not). At no time in my life have French cars been associated with the words popular and reliable.
And, I think a lot of French cars are kind of cool.
The French developed some sort of market in the U.S. before my time. I believe from my CC reading that the VW pretty much killed that off in the 1960s.
Early adopters of higher end European cars rarely had Citroen to even consider, Peugeot surfaced to some extent in the 1980s, but had to fight Mercedes, BMW, Volvo, Audi and even Saab for attention.
And then in 1983 came the most significant reappearance of the Renault name, under a cloudy banner of association with a dying AMC, named a “Car of the Year,” only to be associated with, not a hopeless car, but one not built well and not particularly reliable. A lot of simply better Japanese cars, and even new American cars such as the Chrysler K cars and Ford Escort were also competing in roughly the same market space. After 1983, all smaller economy cars once again had to compete in a market that was moving back to larger cars. Something had to give and cars branded Renault were mostly shut out of the market.
No French car has had a breakout “hey I’m viable” moment in the U.S. since probably before 1960.
In markets where French cars sold in some numbers, they have probably been better supported. In some countries there are a predominance of economically disadvantaged owners that have no other real choice than to patiently keep them going, even if parts have to be fabricated from thin air. Not much different than the legendary 1950s American cars in Cuba.
Agree. Probably the only French car that ever sold in substantial numbers in the U.S. (except for the first year or so Alliance/Encore) was the Dauphine, and its reputation pretty much killed it for the rest of them.
I recall alliances and encores being fairly common in the 90s, although I don’t recall ever knowing anyone that drove a french car.
Have had a high mileage Alliance, high milelage Medallions, Peugeots. If you can find the rare ace mechanic no problem with any issue. Especially Renault Chrysler dealerships, Mechanics baffled by maintence 101 and could they screw up an aluminum engine fast. Their “judgement “. was they are throwaway cars. I guess the Lord Fountleroys arrived at work in their Imperial LeBarons!
Being a fan of French cars, back in the early 80’s when looking for a used second car to add to the garage, I just had to have a Renault Le Car (R5). Found a nice used ’81 at the local Volkswagen dealer, and the salesman and I took it out for a test ride.
It caught fire.
Five miles from the shop, heading up the local expressway, I suddenly smell smoke and pull over. Sure enough, the paint on the left side of the hood was starting to bubble from the heat underneath. The salesman cuts across the road to get to a house and beg the use of their phone (no cell phones back then), while a passing motorist grabbed the fire extinguisher out of his truck and takes care of the fire.
By the time the salesman got back, a co-worker had come out to pick us up, and talk about a quiet, ashamed salesman. Didn’t try to interest me in anything else, just apologized and let me drive off the lot.
At which point, I figured that God had decided that I really didn’t want a Renault after all. A pity, because I still love them.
I always thought the R12 must’ve been designed as a wagon first, and then they just whacked away the cargo section of the clay model with a huge knife to make the sedan.
Where Renault really started getting it’s styling act together was when they reskinned the 12 as the 18, particularly the wagon.
Maybe these are countries where every mechanic is “the guy who knows Renault!”
My uncle had one of these in the mid 70s. Only two memories – him cursing the French-style yellow headlights as being like glowworms when we drove in the mountains and the huge ‘el carro colombiano’ sticker in the rear window.
I like these – my grandfather drove an R12 Break in Barranquilla when I was a kid in the 70s and early 80s.
I have worked on cars from all the main car producing countries and my observation is that French cars need some unique knowledge to keep alive, simply because of the method in which everything is built. There is much more in common between US, English and Japanese made cars, perhaps because all of them were developed with (some) common ancestry. The French developed their cars on a parallel universe and thus used their “own” machanical “philosophy” (to an extent, so too did the Germans but they always had a more common sense to them). If you understand them, all is well. In particular old school Peugeots (the 403, 404, 504 and 504) are capable of biblical mileages. Of course in the US you had the double curse of spare parts not being available at the Pep Boys or some such business. Not the issue in many of the countries in which French cars were sold in Europe, the ME or Africa. Lastly – and that plagued many other European manufacturers (who, unlike the Japanese, did not depend on the US market to survive) – initially engineering to meet US emission rules left a lot to be desired, and that added to general issues.
Hola, en Medellín tambien amamos los Renault 12 y los cuidamos.
Tengo uno preciosos modelo 1977 Renault 12 TL “Break”
Ojaá puedan publicar esta fotografía y darme los créditos.
Agradezco su atención.