Friday January 5, 2018
Back in the mists of time, when The Goodies on BBC2 represented a highlight of the week, our family car was a very second-hand 1964 Renault R8. I can still remember the strange aroma of the red plastic upholstery, the stiff white plastic rocker switch that controlled the lights – and the way in which the front passenger door once fell off shortly after we pulled into the post office car park.
Today, you are more likely to find an example of the high-performance Gordini version – more of which anon - than the basic 8 at a car show, yet even in the 1970s they were still a familiar sight in the UK. In the words of Autocar, this was a ‘thoroughly mature and well-planned little car with good manners and a friendly character’. The R8 was devised as an eventual replacement for the 1956 Renault Dauphine. The two cars shared the same wheelbase but the new model sported coachwork that brought a new dimension to the term ‘boxy’ plus a new 956cc engine.
When the R8 was launched in June of 1962 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UKmoIUF4O4 - Renault was already producing the FWD R4 but this did not mean that they were about to immediately abandon their other formats. Their latest car was one of the last generation of popular rear engine small saloons of the early 1960s, including the Simca 1000, the NSU Prinz 4, the Hillman Imp and the Fiat 850. Import duties inflated the British price to £764 which was considerably more than the cost of a Ford Anglia 105E De Luxe but then few small saloons could offer all independent suspension and disc brakes fore & aft, plus such comfortable seats. There was also the cachet of owning a ‘foreign car’; some R8 drivers were rumoured to affect black roll neck pullovers and wear sunglasses at night.
In 1964, the R8 was offered as the ‘R8 Major” with an all-synchromesh gearbox, a 1,108cc engine and – a very pleasant touch – adjustable backrests for the front seats. By the end of the year, the 8 had lost its “R” suffix and the Major was replaced by the long-nosed 10 Major, known as the “1100” in the UK - the Renault that ‘looks and performs like a thoroughbred’. In France its image was slightly different while the US market versions had to suffer from television advertisements as terrible as this one.
Meanwhile, for enthusiast drivers whose overdraft would not quite run to a Gordini, there was the less powerful but still very agreeable 1968 8S/. For just £795 – only £22 more than the standard model – you gained four headlamps, a Weber carburettor and a top speed of 90 mph. Renault modesty described it as their ‘most brazen effort to date’ and the mustard yellow paint finish was certainly ‘distinctive’.
French production of the 10 ceased in 1971 and the 8 in 1973, although Spanish manufacture continued until as recently as 1976 and between 1968 and 1972 they were built in Romania as the “Dacia 1100” - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySlxkrFOh2I. Back in the UK, it is somewhat depressing to read on https://www.howmanyleft.co.uk/ that only 25 8s are licenced or SORN. My own memories of this delightful Renault are almost entirely positive – and as for the door-related shenanigans, this was more of a reflection on the perils of enthusiastic but overambitious home mechanics than on the build quality per se…