Curbside Classic: 1963 Renault Caravelle S: A Francophile’s Underdog, Musty Smell and Regret Included in Purchase Price


(first posted 7/20/2015)    My father is, perhaps unwittingly, an enabler.  Therefore, when he called my house last Friday and told me we should ride up to see this “old Fiat or something” at a local dealer, he must have known that he was treading a dangerous path with his only son, a path we’ve been down many times before.  “I’ll pick you up in a minute,” I replied.


Well, it wasn’t a Fiat, but a sad, sad 1963 Renault Caravelle S with a removable hardtop.  I am a card carrying, bonafide sucker/idiot for an obscure underdog.  On the other hand, I’m closer to 40 than 30, which means that just enough maturity has set in (many would disagree) to know when I’m about to do something extremely ill-advised. Therefore, I decided to take pictures rather than to write a check.  Temptation, however, sometimes manages to walk through the front door unnoticed and uninvited.


Problem #1 manifested itself by way of the overpowering odor emanating from every seam and crevice.  The 1966 State Park sticker sealed the deal, as did the rotting weatherstrip and brake rotors of solid rust.  Time has its way with all things, but especially stationary automobiles.  The last time this little guy turned a wheel in, uh, anger?, was almost certainly before I was born.


And where does one find parts for such a thing?  I checked Rock Auto, and there is nothing, or as close as makes no difference.  But wait!  There’s a place in California called Jacques’ Rear Engined Renault Parts, or something like that.  Is that the light at the end of the tunnel I’m seeing?  Nope, it’s a train.  A fast moving train.


Oh yeah, did I mention the rust, forming like pus-filled cesspools, like dire warnings?  “Achtung!”  Oh wait…it’s French, not German…”Danger!”  Say that in a French accent, please.


Oh, Michigan cars are some of the worst for rust.  What a shame.  The state park sticker and the faded Central Michigan University sticker on the rear bumper finished the tale the rust began to tell.  Salt and Gallic sheetmetal, to me, are like being forced to listen to “Sussudio” and “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” at the same time for hours on end…unbearable torture!

Sorry to any Collins or Lightfoot fans for that digression (no, I’m not).  By the way, can anybody recognize the logo on the windshield?  It’s on the tip of my tongue, but I just can’t pull it.


At least this is the powerful “S” model.  For 1963, that meant, according to my literature, 51 glorious horsepower from the rear mounted, water-cooled four cylinder.  Can anything make a ’53 Buick Special seem powerful?  This, perhaps.


Some study somewhere asserted that beautiful objects tend to be symmetrical.  Why, then, does this car have a “Renault” badge on one side and a “Caravelle S” badge on the other?  According to the brochure, it’s factory original; did Picasso/Matisse fans occupy the Renault design studio?


All kidding aside, I was growing more attached to this sad sack by the minute.  Its caved in nose fairly cried out for help from someone, someone with body hammers and a welder, perhaps someone whose shadow can be seen overlapping the very dent of which the author speaks.


God, it’s just so weird, I can’t help but love it.  It’s downtrodden, beaten up, forgotten, almost certainly overpriced, and it has three lug nuts per wheel.  This is a motorized me: a mess, an oddball, an outcast, but still superficially charming to some extent.


The next day, I went so far as to look on eBay for Caravelles to get some idea of a going price for these things; and a very similar, but less rusty, example from Oregon was listed for the “Buy it Now” price of a heady 995 dollars, and there was a “Make Offer” option.


That’s bad news for this girl, as my boyish enthusiasm has been tempered by the dull thud of reality.  Even if I could get away with this car for the same 995 dollars (which is unlikely, as it’s sitting on a dealer lot), where would I even start?  I’m not especially wealthy, and even after all the money and credit card charges to Jacques, I’d still be stuck with a French anachronism; super cool to me, yes, but how much extra weird does a guy need in his life?


Therefore, I jumped into my own moderately intriguing rear-engined car and headed for home, dodging a bullet for now.  In life, however, nothing is certain, not even the air we breathe; and sometimes, that air is scented with a tinge of musty interior that has a way of sticking with a guy.



Another Caravelle found in the Midwest, by Jim Grey

CC Renault 10: When Being A Better VW Isn’t Good Enough  by Paul N.