Friday December 14, 2018
‘The combination of looks, power and restrained design. And the rarity although certainly not the fuel economy’. These are just some of the reasons why Andrew Cleal owns one of the rarest post-war French cars, for if being a custodian of a Renault 12TLs was not enough, he is also restoring ‘what is believed to be the only 30TS Mk. I’ in the UK.
Even in the late 1970s the flagship Renaults was not often seen in your local high street. At that time, you might have encountered its cheaper stablemate the 20; the 1.6-Litre TL for the fleet market and the 2-litre 20TS as a very strong rival to the Saab 900.
But the 30TS was the sort of car for those suave types who would don a pair of aviator shades for a trip to the local newsagent. It was a natural guest star on The New Avengers, and certain jaded viewers thought the Renault gave a superior performance to certain human cast members.
The 30TS was also the first post-war car from Renault with a six-cylinder engine - the 2.7 litre PTV V6 unit that was jointly developed with Peugeot and Volvo – and boasted all-disc brakes. But shortly after its debut in March 1975 many Britons were less astonished by its technical specification than a list of standard fittings that included electric front windows and central doors locking.
Given that buying a colour television set was reputed to result in neighbours waving pitchforks outside the living room in certain parts of Wessex, the younger reader will appreciate the impact of this rather elegant five-door saloon. Indeed, 33 years ago, the 30’s only British direct rival was the still underrated Wolseley 2200 “Wedge”.
The previous large Renault was the 1950-1961 Frégate, a 2-Litre “Big Four” saloon and estate along the lines of the Standard Vanguard, but the 30 was a FWD hatchback that was designed for autoroute travel Motor Sport concluded their appraisal with ‘this gentleman's carriage is spoiled only by a screen-mounted stick-on mirror and body lean that could be enough to upset children brought up on the cart-sprung machinery that some of our manufacturers offer’.
But to anyone graduating from their 16TS or TX, this ride qualities would have been as familiar as the unorthodox method of folding the rear seat; i.e. suspending the backrest from the grab handles.
By 1976 an obvious competitor to the 30 was the Rover 3500 SD1. Their prices were almost the same – £4,774 for the Renault as opposed to £4,750 for the BL offering – but the image of the former was subtly different as it was more of a boulevard cruiser than a sports saloon.
The launch of the 20TS in late 1977 badly affected sales of its larger stablemate and when the range was succeeded by the 25 in 1983, the 30 was already a fairly unusual sight.
Andrew has owned his 30TS since November 2014 and he hopes to have it back on the road next year – and I can hardly wait. For my younger self, the big Renault was the equal of the Citroën CX in terms of overall sophistication, a car belonging to a realm far removed from the mundane routines of the VG store and the Hedge End branch of Fine Fare. And it still is.