You gotta be a man, so you must drive a real man’s car! Who needs frills like A/C, a radio, power steering or glass windows? Let wusses and nerds have those useless luxuries on their vehicle of choice. If you’re a real man, with facial hair and a sense of dignity, there’s only one car that will show to other road users who they’re dealing with. It’s not big. It’s not powerful. It’s hardly got a body at all. And that is the point. If you want others to know that you do not fear rain, snow, insects or other cars, this Renault quite clearly says all that.
We’ve seen one of the predecessors of this car before – the Rodéo 6. So just a brief reminder: based on the Renault 4 van chassis, this family of Renaults were blatant copies of the Citroën Méhari in almost every way. The body was made of plastic panels on a metal frame, with a canvas roof and plastic windows. The Rodéo 5 (which is what Renault originally called this revamped version, though it was badged as plain “Rodéo”) took the concept into the ‘80s by giving it a touch of style, if one may be so bold as to use that word in this context.
The Rodéo was the brainchild of Raoul Teilhol, whose ACL company built the cars for Renault since 1970. Initially, the Rodéo 4 and 6, based on the identically-numbered Renaults vans, were sold under the ACL marque, but Renault eventually put their logo on the grille and distributed them directly through their own dealerships. The cars had a reasonable amount of success, though less so than their Citroën muse, throughout the ‘70s.
In late 1981, Teihol launched the restyled Rodéo 5. Some of the most egregious traits of the predecessor cars were deleted: the highly amateurish styling and ineffectual two-model strategy gave way to a single Rodéo with a more cohesive design.
One novelty was the Rodéo 5’s colour scheme. These wasn’t any choice: if you wanted a different colour, you had to wait for the next model year. The 1982 cars were all orange, then came in green the next year, switching to ochre for ’84 and off-white in 1985. They stuck with that last colour for the final model year, probably to finish up the remaining stocks.
The 34 hp 1.1 litre Cléon engine and most of the dash came directly from the Renault F6 van, including the famous umbrella-handle gear lever. Our feature car seems to be missing a couple of panels under and/or to the right of the dash, but hey, it just makes the car that much lighter (and manlier, of course). If all that wasn’t enough though, you could fork out a substantial amount of Francs for the SINPAR 4×4 version of the Rodéo. Few people did – a couple hundred at most. The regular FWD Rodéo was doubtless enough car for most users.
On the rear side, we find the taillights of the Renault F6 van, which are more substantial-looking than the previous Rodéos’ puny two-Franc units. It’s the same story with the bumpers, which are fully integrated in this generation, as opposed to the model-train-set-rail they used in the ‘70s. Overall, the whole design is beefed up and seems put together a bit better, though the plastic panels hide a lot of the structural rot usually found underneath.
Teilhol made two versions of the Rodéo 5. The “Plein Air” had no doors at all; our feature car is of the “4 Saisons” variety – with doors and Plexiglas sliding windows. Unlike the previous generation, whose entire roof structure could be taken apart, the Rodéo 5 has solid black-plastic clad B- and C-pillars. I’m not sure why this was done, but surely not in the name of safety. A Rodéo rolling over would necessarily result in passenger mince, notwithstanding those flimsy pillars. Similarly, the windshield cannot be folded down, unlike the Rodéos 4 & 6. Health and safety gone mad.
Despite all this and a couple of limited editions, such as the 1984 Sologne above, the little plastic Renault’s sales never fulfilled expectations. The model was nixed in 1986, putting Teilhol’s business in jeopardy. He managed to get a contract with Citroën to make panels for their C15 vans and developed a sort of mélange of Méhari and Rodéo called the Tangara. Initially still 2CV-based, but later using the AX, it was produced from 1987 to 1990 but ultimately failed to find its market – less than 1700 were made. The company went into liquidation in 1990, having made about 60,000 Rodéos 4, 5 and 6 from 1970 to 1986. That’s about half of Citroën’s tally with the 1968-87 Méhari. Not one of Renault’s greatest hits, then.
But let’s get real here. With those hood straps and that overabundance of plastic cladding, there’s nothing more hairy-chested, gravelly-voiced and testosterone-filled than the Renault Rodéo 5. Because it’s not about the size of the car or the power of the engine (or the top speed, which Renault claimed was 115kph (almost 72mph!)). It’s all about the ruggedness, minimalism and the sense of freedom only an open-air FWD utility vehicle can provide. Isn’t it?