1971 Renault 17 Roadtest

“Renault’s Rosé”. In this article which resembles a period review by Archie Vicar we get some insight on the famed 1971 Renault 17 TS.

1971 Renault 17 TL:frenchautos.fr
1971 Renault 17 TL:frenchautos.fr

Original photos by Douglas Land-Windymare (sic.). Due to unexpected and catastrophic birdstrike, affecting the originals, stock photos have been used.

Renault put on a very pleasant shindig in Rennes so as to launch their two new cars, the Renault 15 and Renault 17. The press and I had a chance to choose from an interesting menu: roasted quail, cucumber mousse, caper puree, grilled fish (hake or salmon, I think) and boiled horse tongue with a horseradish jelly.

They also fished out some of the best wines from the Regie cellar deep under Billancourt as part of their persuasive and unstinting hospitality. I particularly liked the Peyruchet dessert wine though some might judge it to be among the lesser Sauternes. I had to have a third glass to check if my first and second impressions were correct.

After a few hours eating and drinking and listening to Renault’s chief safety engineer regale us with stories of checking brake pressure calibrations, our hosts let us loose and out to the garage to fight over the cars. We were like cattle released into the fields at spring. At this point, what with the wine, cognac and Armagnac and other tipples, it became a tricky matter to remember which car was which.

The presentation literature showed the 15 TL in orange and the 17 TS in yellow but the actual cars were a 15 TS in yellow and a 17 TL in white with the 17 TS confusingly painted a kind of cheerful green usually seen on traffic lights.

1971 Renault 17 interiorEventually, I prised the keys for a 17 TS from Renault’s press man and waited for the smoke to clear before setting off directly into a parked 16. While awaiting a replacement car, I checked the brochure to confirm that the more costly 17 TS is distinguished from its lesser sibling by its four headlamps and marginally more exciting appearance.

Evidently the stylists charged with producing these cars had a hard time trying to distinguish them from the humdrum 12 upon which they are based. Both cars are three door jobs, fitted with a rear ‘hatch back’ much in the same style as the woefully dated Renault 16. I’ll leave further judgements to the reader but I for one consider the 17 to be rather a masterpiece, at least by the diminished standards of the times. You’ll have to like paper-sharp folds and blocky shapes to appreciate the Renault 15 and 17. That said, it will stand out in the car park.

The 17 TS is, as I said, is ‘top of the range’. It has, alas, front-wheel drive.  Don’t Renault have any other ideas in their little cupboard, one asks? The brakes are discs front and back unlike the rest of the range where a pot-pourri of discs and drums are intended to do stopping duties. The TS has a 1600 engine (the 15 has a 1300), five forward gears and electronic fuel injection so that sets it apart from some of the other entrants in what is a very competitive sector these days. You can see why Renault wanted to enter this field as the rest of their range is a little on the workaday side.

In comparison with BMW’s admittedly rather costly 2002 and Triumph’s splendid Dolomite, the 17 does quite well in many ways, not least its practical three-door arrangement. Other small luxuries abound on the cars: heated rear windows, a radio, radial-ply tyres, screen washers and the 17 TS even has electrically actuated front windows if you tick that box when ordering.

Setting off, one has to rev the engine to warm it up but one has a chance to notice the very comfortable seats, developed in what Renault calls their ‘physiology lab’. This makes one imagine cages of average families sitting on experimental seats simulating 12,000 mile annual commutes from Bainbridge to Epsom with children in the back screaming “have we arrived yet, father?”. Actually the lab is a prefabricated building located at Renault’s proving ground outside Paris and there are no chaps in white coats there, disappointingly.

The 17 has a quite smooth gear change but reverse is hard to overpower. The steering is somewhere between nearly too light and nearly too heavy depending on whether one is going too slowly or too quickly. The various buttons and switches operating the minor controls are set out with a typical Gallic focus on contrary logic applied with full force. The ashtray on my car was jammed closed but as this was a pre-production car (evidently!) I expect this is not a standard feature. I suppose the chaps in Renault’s smoking lab are working on the problem as I write.

There is a lot of room in the back, enough to give a lift to the chap from the Times and his two photographers (I ask you!) to Orly. I took the car on a few trips around the Peripherique where it managed to keep up with the DSs and 16s that were meandering at high speed, Brownian style. It allowed me to check the brakes quite often and they seem to work.

I decided to try the car on local roads and got a bit lost around Fontainebleau but discovered a very nice hotel in the area (Hotel de Londres) where you can get a good menu fixe for under 40 francs. The wine list was full of errors and for some reason I nabbed a few bottles of a ´68 Marsannay for the price of the inferior ‘67. Now I think of it, if Cotes de Nuits is more well-known for its reds than its rose wine, then the 15 and the 17 are Renault’s rose to its more usual fare of vin ordinaire rouge.

The 17 TS is fitted with a distinctive crash-resistant bumper (something borrowed from Yanks, I expect) but it wasn’t able to cope with a sharp prang in the hotel carpark after dinner. The whole apparatus got grandly tangled up with a Facel Vega and Peugeot 404 and no amount of reversing would extricate the car from the ensuing jumble. Luckily I spoke no French and the policeman shrugged and muttered something about “le biftecks”.

1971 Renault 15 TL: autoitalia.com
1971 Renault 15 TL: autoitalia.com

Time will tell but with the 15 and 17, two very distinctive cars, Renault have found an entree into a demanding market sector. In these increasingly competitive times, such a development will help Renault win new customers and re-assure existing ones that it’s not all farmer’s markets and turnips when it comes to French cars, but also a dash of elan and a bit of Gallic style.

Chrome-effect wheel covers will be made available in July.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

2 thoughts on “1971 Renault 17 Roadtest”

  1. So if it wasn’t Vicar who wrote this piece, who was it? Any idea?

  2. It’s a pity this item gets so little attention. It’s linked by WordPress to the R18 “American” article which reminded me of it. If this was printed in Top Gear I’d land a thousand quid a month.

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