Curbside Classic: 1988 Renault Medallion (R21) – These Two Guys Are Determined To Keep What May Be The Last Of Its Kind Running

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(first posted 5/23/2013.  I have no idea what happened to this Medallion, but I’d like to think it’s still running)

Is this the very last running 1988 Renault Medallion? I can’t really say for sure, but these two guys – John (left) and Jacob (right) – are my heroes, for being determined to keep this one going. And what a noble cause, one that’s not likely to make them rich, but possibly a wee bit famous today. Of course, “running” is a matter of degrees; it currently has a misfire in one cylinder that they’re having a hard time pinning down and fixing. Well, it somehow wouldn’t be quite right if this Medallion were purring like a kitten, eh?

Renault Medallion 1988 adimage: njsimca

I haven’t seen a Medallion – in either Renault or Eagle guise –  in many a year, and some of you younger readers may have never laid eyes on one. So let’s do a bit of history before we catch up with our intrepid mechanics. Like so many French cars, there’s more to the  Medallion than meet the eye, or the usual Renault stereotypes. Its stats are certainly pretty impressive.

The Medallion is a federalized Renault 21, part of Renault’s last-ditch efforts to inject some fresh French blood into AMC’s dying passenger car line. It essentially replaced both the lame-ented R18 and the obsolete Concord in the line-up, slotting between the compact Alliance and the full-size Premier. Which – in theory – gave AMC a pretty comprehensive and competitive line-up of modern FWD cars. But then theories don’t always pan out.

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The Renault 21 was new in France one year earlier, designed to be a competitor to the popular VW Passat and such. Its clean design was by the top designer of the period, Giorgetto Giugiaro. It was roomy, had that famous French ride, and not surprisingly, had a few quirks.  One of the more unusual aspecones is that it was built in four wheelbase lengths (six, strictly speaking), and with both transverse and longitudinal engines.

Renault R21 wagons

These two pictures (by Hooniverse commenter Vavon), explain the four different wheelbase lengths perfectly. First off, the R21/Medallion station wagon (“Nevada”, in Europe), had a substantial wheelbase extension in the rear, reflecting the common and comprehensive French approach to turning a sedan into a very roomy seven-seater (like the famous Peugeot wagons). But take a close look at the front wheels of these two: the top one has its wheels further forward than the bottom one.

Renault used the R9/11’s (Alliance) transverse engine/transaxle in the smaller-engined R21s (1.4 and 1.7 L), but didn’t have a transmission strong enough for the bigger engines (1.9 through 2,2L). So it kept the same longitudinal ahead-of-the-axle-line power trains from its R18 and other older Renault predecessors, and as also used in the larger 25/30 cars for the bigger engined versions. That required setting the wheels further back, as in the lower wagon pictured. Strictly speaking, the all-wheel drive versions had a few millimeter different wheelbase, so technically there were six wheelbase variants. Let’s not keep it simple.

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Here’s a graphic picture (also posted by Vavon) of just how roomy these wagons were. Try that in a Hornet Sportabout! Since there were no wagon versions of the big Renault 25/30, the 21 Nevada was the biggest wagon in the line-up, and explains its role as a pre-minivan family hauler. Actually, the Renault Espace came out in 1984, but it took a while for vans to really catch on in Europe.

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The US-bound Medallion-badged cars all came with the 2.2 L SOHC gas four (no diesels), rated at 103 hp. This is the same engine also found in US-bound Fuegos as well as the gas-powered version of the LeSharo motorhome.

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Speaking of badging, the Medallion started out as a Renault in the US, but mid-year in 1988, it became an Eagle, as it’s perhaps better known as (or not). So there’s both Renault and Eagle 1988 Medallions. Gets a bit complicated, eh?

This ad is for the Eagle Medallion, so it must have been from later in the year.

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The Medallion had a short life in the US; after Chrysler’s buy-out of AMC, it had no choice but to keep the bigger Premier in production. Maintaining adequate production volume on that was a challenge, and Chrysler resorted to a Dodge-branded version, the Monaco, to try to keep the lines running, until it finished development of the Premier-based new LH cars. But the Medallion was shown the door, in favor of Mitsubishi products for the Eagle line-up. 1989 was the final year, and I suspect there’s none too many of those left either.

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This had been Jacob’s dad’s car, and ended up sitting in his driveway for five years with a broken water pump. But it only has 69,000 miles, which probably motivated John in the first place to adopt it, and fix that issue. It probably also explains the excellent condition of the upholstery; actually, these cars had quite a nice interior to go along with lots of room. And call me a Franco-phile, but I rather like that dashboard quite a lot. As is obvious, this one is an automatic. A five speed stick was also available.

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John and Jacob have been hard at work re-doing the cooling/heating system hoses, having to make up replacements with short sections of straight hose, connectors and clamps, as original replacement hoses are NOT readily available. Walk into an auto parts store and say “1988 Renault Medallion”, and you will be assumed delusional. They had to order that nice new white overflow tank from France. One of the guys asked me if a Nissan dealer might be able to help them out, since the Renault/Nissan alliance. I don’t think so.

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You don’t adopt an old orphan French car because it’s going to be easy; it’s like going on a pilgrimage, a higher calling. They were able to find an engine gasket kit, which was needed when they pulled the cylinder head in order to fix the front camshaft seal. That’s no joke.

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But the engine has what they say is a misfire in one cylinder. They’re currently hunting down the vacuum system, checking for leaks. But I wonder if that would cause a misfire in just one cylinder? Hmmm. Anyone got any good ideas?

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Any 1988 Medallion experts out there that can help diagnose this one’s misfire? I’d sure like to see it back on the road, purring as smoothly as the day it left its AMC/Renault dealer’s lot. It would make me proud to know that my home town has what may well be the last 1988 Renault Medallion plying its streets, thanks to these home-town CC heroes!