I prefer to avoid travelling too far and too often down memory lane for these articles. However, the 1983 Renault 18 “American” special edition has lured me to briefly wander along that path.
As is well documented here, the 80s in Ireland passed slowly and greyley. I imagine selling cars required patience and determination as fewer people were buying, struck by the fear of unemployment or numbed by the pervasive sense of despair. Imagine trying to sell a middle-rank car of limited apparent appeal. The Renault 18 had six years under its belt by the time 1983 had rolled around.
There were three more years to go before the almost equally dreary 21 would emerge. A combination of dismal economic conditions and an ageing platform meant Renault needed to be creative to attract attention to this car. They looked to the US of stateside for inspiration, coating the plain flanks of the R18 with not one but two colours: a black and silver or
sometimes bordeaux and silver or green and silver paintscheme with a coachline. There was so much more. A little black rubber spoiler perched on the boot; you had alloy wheels, blacked-out window frames (the standard car had those two though) chromed door handles (usually they were black) chrome inserts on the bumpers and natty chrome strips around the wheel arches. A little adhesive said “American” on the boot (not a proper 3D plastic badge, note).
Inside the car we find preparations for a radio, tinted glass, manual window, two speed wipers, a digital clock, a reading light, a leather gearlever gaiter, a four spoke sport steering wheel and among the extra nice touches, armrests front and back (but no rear head-restraints) and natty corduroy-esque upholstery. If I think about other Renault 18s in Ireland they always, but always had no armrest and no headrestraints. When did armrests become mandatory in C-D class saloons? I recently saw an early 90s Carina E with no armrest. It looked wrong.
Although only about 11,000 of the two series of Americans emerged from Renault’s factories, it seems lots and lots went to Ireland. If you ask me to visualise a Renault 18 I think of the American edition. With rust. For a spell they must have had a magnetic attraction for cash-starved Irish consumers. The 1.6 engine acted as another draw as it meant lower insurance (always a problem in Ireland as it is more dangerous to drive there than in a demolition derby running on a mined track in a war-zone during armed engagement) and lower fuel-consumption.
The more you think about it, the less the American makes sense. The basic 18 observed strictly rationalist design conventions and the car whose make-up it wore (see above) quite manifestly did not. American design motifs have their place and I quite like them; a lot of people in Europe do not which is why in the 80s American cars were so very different from European ones and vice versa. The question is, did people buy the “American” because it had jolly paint and corduroy seating or did they buy it because of the extra luxuries and the economical engine (overlooking the slightly tasteless maquillage?)
The American special has to be filed under “brougham”. I have to yet again nod to Curbside Classics for reifying this useful concept.