Thursday December 20, 2018
‘It does get a lot of attention’, remarks Dan Adams of his father Richard’s ultra-rare classic. However, when out and about in Reading they find that ‘not a lot of people know what it is - a lot of the time we are asked if it’s a Datsun!’.
Of course, this is not a mistake that could be made by any true Renault enthusiast, especially where the 17 is concerned. Between 1971 and 1979 this was La Regie’s alternative to the Ford Capri, with the Gordini version as the coupe of choice for anyone who demanded a five-speed gearbox, Bosch electronic fuel injection and (a real talking point in the mid-1970s) powered front windows.
The 15/17 range was based on the 12 saloon and served as the belated successor to the Caravelle, with a range that initially extended from the 1.3 litre 15 TL to the 1.6 litre 17 TS. The latter gained a larger engine tinted glass and a laminated windshield and ‘Gordini” badging in 1974, the better to compete with the likes of the Opel Manta.
In the following year, Car magazine tested the Gordini opposite a Fiat 124 Sport and thought both cars served ‘the discerning driver well’, with the Renault as their GT of choice thanks to it being the better ‘all-round vehicle’.
For £2,650, you gained incredibly comfortable front seats, stylish if largely unreadable instruments, all-disc braking – plus a genuine sense of Gallic flair. For British motorists, there was also the comparative novelty of owning not just a FWD coupe but a three-door fastback; the Capri II would not debut until 1974 while the MGB GT and the Reliant Scimitar occupied different sectors of the market. The Renault’s image was also slightly less aggressive than many of its rivals; more the boulevard cruiser than transport for the “boy racer/fluffy dice” set.
Just to make the James Gordini seem even more suited for international chaps of mystery (think Tony Anholt from The Protectors and you will more or less have the Gordini image) it is equipped with one of the most desirable options available on any Renault.
If you could afford to invest an additional £200 plus (no small sum of money at that time), your 17 could be equipped with a full-length electric sliding roof, with a bolt-on hard top for the colder months. Now that is downright suave.
Even when it was new, the 17 was a car that was occasionally, rather than regularly, seen in the UK and after the end of production in August 1979 they began to vanish – by 1990 they were already an unusual sight.
Naturally, sourcing parts is a potential challenge, but Dan remarks that Richard has been a ‘panel beater and sprayer for 30 years so if anything was to happen to it (hopefully it doesn’t) he’d have to do a lot of the work himself. The only parts he can find for it are in France now I think’.
Richard James has long thought that the 17 is ‘one of the best-looking Renaults made’ and he had owned his extremely handsome example for over twenty years. The 1974 Gordini is now one of very few left on the road in this country and according to his son, ‘it is driven only in the summer’; James senior ‘wouldn’t ever take it out in the winter’.
And, come the better weather, anyone who sees this superbly elegant Renault-badged four-seater, three-door convertible is almost certain to cause amazement and envious glances. Even from those who think it is a Datsun.
WITH THANKS TO:
Richard and Dan James