Wednesday September 18, 2019
Many of us, over the years, compile a shortlist of cars that we read about in brochures but never encountered in the metal. For example, I cannot recall ever seeing the single-headlamp Vauxhall Cresta PC “Standard”, a Citroën LNA, a Lancia Prisma or a Mitsubishi Tredia on the road. Nor did I ever see the “Lonsdale” - aka an Australian-built Mitsubishi Sigma SG - outside of advertisements in the motoring press just as I only ever came across a Honda Quintet at the 1981 London Motor Fair.
But one of the truly mythological vehicles of my childhood was the ‘Very Acceptable Dacia Denem’, a sort of automotive Loch Ness Monster that was the subject of unconfirmed sightings in the Fareham shipping precinct car park. My recent tribute to the Renault 12 somewhat inevitably prompted memories of the ‘'new name in family cars’ from Romania. When the great British public was introduced to the Denem in 1982, Dacia’s interpretation of the 12 had already been in production for the previous 13 years - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2w_7xnv0QY.
The origins of Dacia date back to 1965, when Nicolae Ceausescu decreed that Romania should build its own car, albeit initially under licence from a Western manufacturer. Alfa Romeo, the Auto Union, BMC, Fiat, Peugeot and Renault were among the firms invited to tender for a car with an engine sized between 1-litre and 1.3-litres and a protected volume of 50,000 units per year. The contract was eventually awarded to La Regie.
The first aka Dacia 1100, aka the Renault 8, left the Pitesti factory in August of 1968, followed by the 1300 in the following year; the Dacia debuted nine days before the French-built 12. The facelifted 1310, with its quad headlamps and modified interior, debuted in 1979 and Renault had ceased building the parent model in 1980. Meanwhile, the Dacia saloon continued in production until as late as 2004.
As for the RHD export versions of the 1310, Peter Frost, the guru of Eastern Bloc classics, has received ‘conflicting information about their conversion to right-hand-drive; some say it was undertaken at the factory while others suggest the work took place in the UK’. The British motoring public was initially altered to the ‘Very Acceptable Dacia Denem’, as the 1310 was renamed for the UK, and it appeared to stand a reasonable prospect of commercial success as a low-priced four/five-seater saloon or estate. By the standards of early 1980s economy motoring the Denem looked conservative but not especially dated -and certainly more up-to-date than its Lada and FSO rivals.
The Denem was available in four levels of trim and while the basic model was equipped with not a lot, but the flagship GLX even came with electric front windows, alloy wheels, five-speed transmission, a radio-cassette player and a vinyl roof. The last-named fitting was already redolent of the previous decade, but it still added showroom appeal. However, the Dacia faced several challenges, the first of which was that it was hard to make an impression on the new car market in the year of the Audi 100 C3, Ford Sierra, and Rover SD1 Vitesse. 1982 also saw the revival of the Octagon badge in the form of the MG Metro, the E30-Series BMW 3-Series, the Citroën BX, the Lotus Excel and the Volvo 760.
In short, it was a year when a revived Renault 12 clone was inevitably going to battle for publicity, even if the potential Sierra Ghia customer was unlikely to consider a Denem L – and vice versa. A second problem was the reasonably dismal sales copy in the brochures and advertisements, but perhaps the major issue was the price. The Dacia went on sale in early 1983 but as Keith Adams points out in https://www.aronline.co.uk/facts-and-figures/in-memoriam/in-memoriam-dacia-denem/ entry-level version cost £3,190 while an FSO 1300 retailed at £2,599 and the Lada 1200 for £100 less.
Meanwhile, the GLX would have set you back £4,295 at a time when an Ital 1.3 SL retailed for £3,998. Of course, the Morris was not as well-appointed as the Denem, and its engineering was solidly traditional, but at least it was a known (and easily serviced) quantity. To make matters worse for any hard-pressed Dacia dealer the B11 series Datsun Sunny 1.5 GL retailed at £4,296, and the Hyundai Pony 1400GLS was available for just £3.849.
In short, the Denem had the misfortune to enter an extremely competitive sector of the British car market. Had its fortunes been kinder a L saloon might well have been a regular “Star Prize” in Sale of The Century with John Benson extolling its virtues. Alas, in Peter’s words ‘By October 1983 it was already all over for the Denem, just one year after they appeared at the motor show and probably only six months after they actually went on sale as “A New Name in Popular Cars”’. Some 99 unsold cars were ‘all block registered in October ’83 which may well have been the entire importer’s unsold stock, or there may be another block of registrations I’ve not found yet. There will have been a number of dealer demonstrator cars registered too’.
There are apparently no Denems left in use in the UK. https://www.howmanyleft.co.uk/?q=Dacia+Denem, while the most famous Dacia user of the 1980s was the Romanian Ambassador to London. It is unknown whether he used his official Denem for acquiring boxes of Ferrero Roche at the Knightsbridge branch of WHSmiths…
With thanks to: Peter Frost
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