DTW concludes its brief history of the post-WW2 rear-engined Renaults.
By 1960 the Renault Dauphine, while still popular, was beginning to look somewhat dated. The front-wheel-drive Renault 4 was at an advanced stage of development and would be launched in 1961. This would be the first of four identically formatted models, with engines mounted longitudinally behind the front axle, the gearbox placed in front, necessitating a gear lever mounted high on the dashboard, with the linkage passing over the engine.
The 4 would be followed by the large 16 in 1965, the mid-size 6 in 1968, and the supermini 5 in 1972. All would be hatchback designs with five doors, apart from the 5, which would initially be available only as a three-door.
Notwithstanding these plans, Renault still believed there was life in the rear-engined saloon layout and set about to design a successor. The new car would conform to Renault’s numeric model designation(1) and be called the 8. It was launched in June 1962 and was fundamentally a rebodying of the Dauphine. The wheelbase was just 3mm longer at 2,270mm (89½”) but the overall length grew by 63mm to exactly 4m (157½”). The 8 eschewed the Dauphine’s curves in favour of a more contemporary square-cut style. Certain quirks of the Dauphine were carried over, such as the unusual spare wheel storage compartment and the sliding rear door windows.
There were, however, significant mechanical improvements, the most important of which was a new engine, the 956cc 43bhp ‘Cléon-Fonte’ unit. This was named after the factory where it was manufactured, Cléon, while fonte simply means ‘cast-iron’ in French. This engine would prove to be a mainstay of Renault (and Dacia’s) small and medium cars for over four decades and would remain in production until 2004. It was an OHV unit with an aluminium cylinder head, five-bearing crankshaft and a sealed cooling system.
The 8 also came with four-wheel disc brakes as standard, an unusual innovation for a small car. It had a four-speed manual gearbox or, as an option from 1963, a three-speed automated manual with an electromagnetic clutch operated by buttons on the dashboard, essentially a development of the unit fitted to the Dauphine.
The new engine was designed with the facility for it to be enlarged and tuned. In 1964 a 1,108cc 49bhp version was introduced in a model called the 8 Major. This was followed by a Gordini sporting model which had a radically upgraded version of the same capacity engine. It now had a crossflow head with hemispherical combustion chambers and twin Solex carburettors, and produced a barely believable 95bhp. The transmission was a close-ratio four-speed manual gearbox. The Gordini had a top speed of 171km/h (106mph) and a 0 to 96km/h (60mph) time of 12.3 seconds(2). The handling was kept in check by uprated springs and dual rear shock absorbers, but it was still a car that demanded respect from its driver.
In 1966 the Gordini’s engine capacity was bored out to 1,255cc and twin-choke Weber carburettors replaced the Solex equipment. This increased the power output to 103bhp and the engine revved freely up to 7,500rpm. A new five-speed gearbox was fitted and the engine’s 13% increase in torque allowed the final drive ratio to be raised, which made high-speed driving less frenetic. External modifications were limited to two additional driving lights, although the car was immediately recognisable in its distinctive Gordini blue.
Autocar magazine tested this version of the 8 Gordini in April 1967. The testers recorded a maximum speed of 174km/h (108mph) and a 0 to 96km/h (60mph) time of 10.9 seconds. The price paid for this performance was that the car now weighed 865kg (1,907lbs) and fuel consumption on test averaged 12.6 litres/100km (22.5mpg). The standard 38 litre (8½ gallon) fuel tank was supplemented with an additional 26 litre (5¾ gallon) tank in the front boot. The tanks were controlled by a fuel tap positioned next to the gear lever, although it seemed better simply to empty the rear tank first, as a full front tank improved the weight distribution somewhat.
The testers noted that the “nervous twitchiness” of the previous 1,108cc version had been replaced with neutral handling and much greater stability at speed. The competition-tuned suspension gave a firm and flat ride through bends with minimal body-roll. Only under extreme provocation in the wet could the rear end be forced to break away and this was easily corrected by applying some opposite lock. Despite the firmness of the suspension, the ride was remarkably good, aided by comfortable, well upholstered seats in the Renault tradition.
Autocar was hugely impressed with the 8 Gordini. It was very much the Golf GTI of its day and had the additional kudos of a number of wins in European rallying.
Renault also sought to extend the appeal of the regular 8 model by building a larger variant, the 10. This model was launched in September 1965 and utilised the body of the 8 aft of the A-pillar (with different rear end styling) but had a front end extended by 200mm (8”) all ahead of the front axle. This increased luggage capacity from 240 to 315 litres but gave the 10 a somewhat ungainly appearance with a front overhang that was nearly as long as the rear. The 10 was launched with the 1,108cc engine from the 8 Major and replaced that model in Renault’s range.
The first 10 had circular headlamps with outboard indicators and sidelamps, but the model was facelifted after two years and given rectangular headlamps to try and differentiate it further from the 8. In 1970 the 10 was given a detuned version of the 1,289cc engine from the front-wheel-drive 12, which had been launched in the previous year. The 12, however, proved to be a much more popular car and cannibalised sales of the 10, production of which ended in June 1971.
French production of the 8 ceased in late 1973 although FASA-Renault, the company’s Spanish subsidiary, continued production for its domestic market until 1976. The 8 was also built by Dacia in Romania from 1968 to 1971, where it was sold as the Dacia 1100.
The 1969 Renault 12 that effectively replaced the 10 (and, ultimately, the 8) marked the completion of the company’s wholesale switch to front-wheel-drive. The transformation was not, however, complete: Renault had yet to settle on a definitive mechanical layout. Unlike the 4, 5, 6 and 16 models, the 12 had its engine mounted longitudinally ahead of the front axle with the gearbox behind, giving it a long front overhang (not unlike the 10, oddly enough!) It would not be long before the packaging advantages of transverse engines, at least in small and medium cars, would overtake the previous FWD designs, although this further revolution would start inauspiciously with the 1976 Renault 14.
That should have been the end of Renault’s association with rear-engined cars, but the company’s tie-up with Mercedes-Benz would provide a (mid) rear-engined platform for the Mk3 Twingo. Renault and Mercedes-Benz agreed in 2010 to co-develop the third generation Smart Fortwo, second generation Smart Forfour and the third generation Twingo. The Forfour and Twingo, both launched in 2014, are manufactured in the same factory in Slovenia.
The current Twingo certainly has not recaptured the cheeky appeal of the original model and its unusual mechanical layout seems to bring rather more compromises than benefits. Autocar magazine concluded that it has “sanitised handling, disappointing refinement…flawed cabin packaging…sluggish performance, mediocre real-world economy and [offers] unexceptional value for money”. It seems unlikely that we will see another rear-engined Renault in future, and certainly none as charismatic as the brilliant Renault 8 Gordini.
(1) The numbers were initially prefixed with the letter ‘R’ for Renault, but this was later regarded as superfluous and dropped.
(2) Performance data from http://www.ultimatespecs.com
28 thoughts on “One Last Push (Part Two)”
That Gordini model is very, very cool.
The 3rd gen Twingo always seemed like a missed opportunity, but I wonder if after market tuners are trying to turn it into the car it could have been.
i had internet for a few months so I couldn’t read my favourite website. I look forward to read all the articles I missed and hope everyone is well
I meant I had NO internet, sorry.
Welcome back, NRJ. We missed you! Lots of good stuff to catch up on, so hope you enjoy.
Did you enjoy your digital detox?
The last Twingo is a missed opportunity indeed. It could have been a pocket rocket like the first Ka. Instead it is simply a small car with an odd drivetrain. Like the VW Up, it has been left without a properly hot version. I wonder how that came about.
There was a “GT”-version of the Twingo with 109 PS and the Up! ha a “GTi”-version with 115 PS – I don´t know if they are still avaiable.
But compared to the Renault 8 Gordini, with which you could possibly have a lot of fun, you probably can only drive fast with the newer vehicles.
What Car? said this about the Up GTi.
“It’s hard not to be entertained by the cheeky little Up GTI. It’s chirpy little three-cylinder engine serves up just enough performance to be interesting, while its slick gearbox and precise, meaty steering allow you to make the most of its grippy chassis. A bargain price and low running costs appeal, although there are sharper, more involving hot hatches out there.”
No wonder I had not noticed it. For it to be remarkable, it´d need at least a 2.0 litre engine in my books.
And this is AutoExpress on the Twingo GT. “The Renault Twingo GT is nippy rather than fast, and isn’t as much fun to drive as its rivals”. They think the Up! is better and it´s not even that good.
Just could be it’s no longer socially responsibile!
Whilst I have no experience yet of the GTi version, the standard 60hp Up is a terrific little driver’s car: Not much power but a willing, tractable engine and a chassis with really excellent ‘pointy’ handling. I enjoy driving them every time.
The 2007 VW Up! Concept was described as (mid) rear-engined and had the rear axle pushed further back than on the production car:
I believe VW ultimately decided that it wasn’t worth the effort to engineer a whole new platform and mechanical package for the marginal (if any) advantages of a rear-engined layout, so reverted to FWD. The relative lack of success of the current Twingo suggests that it was the right call.
While understanding the Cleon-Fonte motor was completely new, was under the impression it still followed the Billancourt motor in many respects to almost be considered an enlarged linear progression of the formula?
Also appears some managed to produce kits for the Billancourt motor that increased the capacity from 845cc to 904cc (wonder if any tuners / kits were able to crack the 1-litre barrier?). – https://www.autoweek.com/car-life/classic-cars/a2156721/1971-piston-kit-gets-your-renaults-engine-whopping-09-liter/
Never really got the point of the Renault 10 and do not know how it could have been salvaged, while of the view the Renault 6 deserved to do significantly better than it managed to achieve over its production life due to being under-engined amongst other things. Surely the 6 would have benefited from the 1289cc engine at minimum to align it more as a miniature Renault 16 it visually resembled (that began with a 1500 engine) without cannibalizing sales of the Renault 5 and Renault 12?
Speaking of the Renault 12, aside from its unusual longitudinal FWD layout am fascinated by the idea the company briefly considered a 1300 version of the Cleon-Alu motor in the Renault 16 only to reject it on cost grounds. Guess it is unsurprising what with Cleon-Alu motor’s origins as a 2.2-litre six (others claim 2-litre six) in the Frégate-replacing front-engined RWD Renault 114 Project that preceded the Renault 16.
Agree with the others on the mk3 Renault Twingo / mk2 Smart FourFour having such wasted potential in terms of both performance (GT instead of RS) and handling, along with the platform not even forming the basis of a suitable successor to the Smart Roadster (and perhaps even a Renault version as a sort of indirect A106-inspired mini-Alpine) without the dreadful gearbox.
So much has been said that I’ll only note that Renault got their money’s worth out of the facelift 10’s headlights, also used on the 12, 15, 16 and various Saviems and Berliets.
Here is another variation of the Renault 8 design
That’s an interesting looking Alfa, Dave. What model is it?
Alfa Romeo also built the Dauphine under licence between 1959 and 1964.
It is the Alfa Romeo Tipo 103. It never went into Production. One of the innumerable opportunities that were missed at Alfa Romeo.
Here’s an R8 Gordini in action, driven by French rally driver, Jean-François Piot, in 1968 (1:15 onwards). Those rear tyres really can smoke.
What a fabulous film! Thank you.
That is remarkable footage. Is that heel-and-toeing we see in at the pedals? Evidently there´s a touch of Porsche 911 behaviour in the Gordini. There´s some considerable opposite lockery going on on some of the corners -the body is going one way and the wheels angled the other way to balance it all. Wow.
My first car was an R10. With lots of unsealed roads nearby, it spent quite a lot of time going sideways! It was super reliable, by the time I sold it it had more than 300.000km on the clock and was still going strong. When it first arrived in the family it was shod with cross-ply tyres which meant wet weather handling and grip were “sub optimal” shall we say… Punctures were a regular occurrence and directional stability in our infamous wind wasn’t too good (improved by leaving a bag of sand in the front boot). Fitting decent Michelin radials made a huge improvement, though it was still not wise to chicken out half way round a corner. The four wheel disc brakes were superb.
Yes, all that heel-and-toeing just to get the pig round corners in such skinny tyres.
A Speedwell A40 Farina was a doddle by comparison.
A short road test between an R10, Herald, NSU and a Beetle. I don’t know what I would’ve chosen in this segment, at the time. A SAAB 96, or perhaps a BMC 1300?
It is interesting that the most alarming-looking car there is the sole front-engined one! I don’t really have any experience with rear-engined Renaults, just Imps.
With reference to the current Twingo, it is disappointing that the handling has been sanitised (lobotimised?), although I think that now a rear-engined platform is a poor choice simply because of packaging. Even in a larger car with a ‘frunk’ I’d expect there is also the potential for the crumple zone to be compromised if something very rigid is stored inside.
Ideally Alpine would build a sports car off the Smart/Twingo platform though – it would be much better than the original Smart Roadster that was so compromised by the automated gearbox.
Hi John. You’re right, the Herald really was shockingly bad. The car in the feature is a later model, so it doesn’t look like there were any serious attempts to improve it. Was the more powerful Vitesse similarly afflicted? I wonder if there was a higher incidence of accidents with these models?
Time for a DTW investigation, I think.
The R10 is working its rear tyre very hard there, isn’t it? I wonder how many times they performed that manoeuvre before it blew?
My Wife has a Twingo, she’s a “District Nurse” in the wilds of east Lincolnshire. It isn’t a bad car. Nothing like as good as the early (left hand drive only) smart car(s) we had, but not bad at all. The only way to drive it is flat out. Don’t pause for a moment on the accelerator pedal, the “acceleration” just isn’t there! Once it is up to speed, keep it there, chuck it into the corners with gusto and it’s a fun drive. It’s happy to be driven slowly, it’s just dull. There is enough room to get all the bandages, syringes and so on that are needed for a day’s work and it’s been fault free for over four years. You couldn’t ask for more.
Hi MkStevo. Thanks for sharing your experience of the Twingo and glad to hear it’s serving you and your wife well. They’re still pretty rare in the UK. I think I’ve only ever seen a couple of them around my area.
Daniel, I look forward to your Herald/Vitesse investigation (and the similarly based Spitfire/GT6 & Bond Equipe) but be warned that I have a long experience of owning and using these vehicles, having back in the day passed my driving test in a British School of Motoring Herald and am currently re-commissioning a Vitesse.
But I have, of course, every faith in your ability to see beyond the juvenile silliness of the period Clarksons who managed to produce those alarming spectacles for the photographers…..
Rest assured, JTC, I’ll be seeking your insights for the piece!