Classic Road Test: 1979 Renault 14

“Renault Revised!” was the headline in what might have been a period review of the R14 by veteran motor writer, Archie Vicar.

This article may have first appeared in Motoring & Driving, December 1979. The original photos were by Dooulgas Land-Windermere (sic) but due to fouling with the filing cabinet, stock photos have been used.

Ah, Renault, perpetually playing second fiddle to Ford, Peugeot, Opel and Austin in the dull-but-worthy stakes. Or second fiddle to Citroen and Alfa Romeo in the odd-but-strange stakes. Renault, somewhere in the middle of it all, with beret, Camembert and Gitanes ever at the ready but never sure whether it is a European firm or just a French one.

Example number one must surely be the Renault 14. If you want to consider it as French Escort, a Gallic “Golf” or a bleu-blanc-rouge Strada it seems to avoid direct comparison while all the while pointedly being Renault’s idea of what a middle-market mainstream medium-family hatch might be.

1979 Renaul 14: source

Quite apart from the lines of the car – more Hulot than Bardot – the Renault 14 has a welter of idiosyncratic features: the gearchange is like month’s old Brie, the nylon “Jersey” upholstery reminds me of the kind of tie worn by a French regional politician and the heating and ventilation is among the worst I have encountered apart from the Lotus Esprit (the worst car I have ever driven, to be fair).

And the price! £4,044 is what Renault ask for all of this. This being a TS with 1.4 litre engine, front-wheel drive and no-split rear seat back (unlike the Fiat Strada, the Talbot Sunbeam!). The engine is interesting enough: partly-developed with Peugeot, it seems Peugeot are reluctant to use it.

If you are interested, on the long tour from Dover to Dijon the R14 returned 35 mpg but then again, it was filled to the gunwales with photographic equipment and, eventually, cheese and wine. The photographer headed home early, his five snaps safely taken.

1979 Renault 14: source

So, is there anything about the R14 to write home about? The straight-line stability is fine if you have to drive in a straight line. The unwanted engine is fairly light on its feet and the acceleration is not too bad, really. There is a nice high sill to stop the chattels falling out and the ashtray is decent for the class of car but nothing a Ford driver would take a second look at.

Steering’s alright – odd in a way. It’s sudden or by turns rubberised and then it gets into action and the car sniffs off in a new direction like a bloodhound scenting a steak and kidney pie. The body roll is as bad as the fine ride quality would lead you to suspect. I thought it coped well with the rough pavements of Dijon, even with just two people on board.

I really think the cloth is frightful though. My twill trousers seemed to cling to the fabric and it was very vulnerable to cigarette burns.

So, all told, yes, the Renault 14 is pretty much as it was when we first tested it and the new engine revisions don’t make it much worse or much better either.

Author: richard herriott

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

11 thoughts on “Classic Road Test: 1979 Renault 14”

  1. Was the X engine used in the Renault 14 capable of being enlarged to 1587cc as was later the case on the distantly related PSA TU engine? Especially since both the X and TU engines appear to virtually feature the same 954-1360cc displacements?

    For a car that was supposed to challenge the Golf, the Renault 14 always seemed to be under-engined and have wondered whether other engines were considered for the 14.

    1. The TU engine was closely related to the X with which shared a number of components. An indicator is the externally visible horizontal split in the two piece crankcase, creating a weak point where you least want it – along the centre axis of the crankshaft. The 1,600cc TUs had cast iron blocks with integral cylinders that made possible a 77mm bore that could not be achieved with the wet liners of the smaller aluminium blocked versions.

  2. It’s still a mystery to me that the Renault 14 was something of a flop. It’s a lovely piece of design that still looks good even today. My brother-in-law’s brother had an early one back in the 1970’s. He was a vet, working in Galway and I regularly travelled with him across the country from Dublin to my summer job with a firm of builders. I recall the 14 as being exceptionally comfortable, with soft seats and compliant suspension that soaked up the dreadful Irish roads with ease. It was spacious inside and had an enormous deep boot. After a year and 30,000 miles, he traded it in and bought a 12 instead, because he needed the security* of a separate boot. In every respect, the 12 felt old fashioned and rather twee after the 14. He took quite a bit on the trade-in, partly because of the mileage but also because the 14 was already struggling to find buyers.

    * He returned to the 12 late one evening to find the boot lid open, the lock broken, but all his equipment and drugs untouched. We surmised out that another vehicle had simply reversed into it, forcing the push-button lock in and “popping: the botlid. So much for security: a well aimed hammer would have achieved the same thing in an instant!

  3. “Hit” not “bit” on the trade-in. Stupid autocorrect, hopeless proof-reader…

  4. In that far gentler time, Renault car security wasn’t the best. Round about 1981, I decided that i’d better make my R5 at least as lockfast as when it left the factory – driver’s door lock could be opened with anything, boot lid push button had dropped out through corrosion and fatigue. A complete set of three Neimann lock barrels cost £6.

    This was at at time when my principle for estimating what Renault parts would cost from a main dealer was to think what what was the most the part could possibly cost, double that number, and add 10%.

    1. Door locks that could be opened with screwdrivers or coins pushed in the slit were typical for French cars of that era. This was no problem because the cars had the best anti theft devices factory fitted to their boot lids: big logos telling ‘Peugeot’, ‘Renault’, ‘Simca’….

    2. I’m not sure BL’s efforts were any better, with their legendary FS series keys. I recall that I had one key that would fit all of the locks in more than one of my friends’ Minis……

  5. The relaxed locking attitude still lives on today, in the Dacia Logan/Sandero.
    The Neiman locks they use are the same as on R5/R9/R11, and, to add insult to injury, I have accidentally found out that you can unlock a random Dacia with a key from another one.

    This is one of the cutest & wittiest cost cutting methods I’ve seen in a while.

    Why bother, actually, when the thieves will anyway work their way inside any car…


  6. As for the R14, I am firmly in the camp of those who admire it as the most avantgarde hatchback design of the era, bar none.

    I am not wildly exaggerating when saying had it been released today, with
    a slightly updated trim, it would be a stormy breath of fresh air in the current state of C-segment styling affairs.

    The sheer consistency of the beltline tricky slope, and its harmonic rhyming with the DLO & C-pillar, makes for a pure, almost archetypal modern hatchback.

    And that’s even before one notices the sleek and very inimitable headlight/grille and the taillight clusters – which are architecturally proud of their simplistic opulence.

    It’s almost a tragedy that the R14 is virtually extinct and can mostly be seen in the photographic evidence.

  7. In the following English article on the Alpine A105 project (that was apparently intended to slot below the A310 and replace the A110), it is mentioned that many of the mechanical components of the Renault 14 (beyond the engine) came from the Peugeot 104 following the agreement that Renault and Peugeot had signed at the time.

    Would it then it accurate to say the Renault 14 was basically an upscaled Peugeot 104, since it would appear to partly explain why the Renault 14 was under-engined for its size / class (it should have featured a 1600cc engine)?

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