The Misunderstood Renault LeCar

merckxmerckx Member Posts: 565
edited March 2014 in Renault
Last month AUTOMOBILE mag mentioned the LeCar in the typical disparaging way. Why do all journalists now malign it? I almost bought one back in 1981. The long wheelbase gave it a fantastic ride-really very serene. And with the large canvas sunroof,it was really a very pleasant cruiser. Excellent interior space,too.I think it is now a whipping boy because of knee-jerk reactions. And by criticizing something,the auto press probably thinks it gives them cred.
When you consider the other econo-boxes back then,there's no reason to not like the Renault 5.


  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,554
    ...our neighbors down the street had a daughter with a LeCar. I don't remember much about it, except that it seemed to rust out awfully fast.

    I believe the LeCar also had one rear wheel set further back than the other. I think it had something to do with the narrow stance of the car, that they couldn't get the suspension components to line up symmetrically, so they offset the wheels by an inch or so. I think this gave it an improved ride over bumps, since both rear wheels wouldn't hit the bump at the same time.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    I think the car deserves all the criticism it got, and more. It was under-developed, had no service or parts network in the US, and left owners stranded with cars that no one could fix and no one could find parts for. Head gaskets were a major problem, and quality control about non-existent. The car was a total rip-off for the majority of Americans who bought them.

    The car was charming and cute and fun to drive and awfully clever, as most French cars are. But it was a pretty substandard car. You'll still see lots of R4s in France but not many R5s...even the French couldn't keep them on the road.

    Any journalist who slammed these cars and caused Renault to pack up and leave town did US drivers a great service in my opinion. Next time Renault comes here, and I hope they do, let's make sure they bring a fully developed and engineered car, and a parts and service network that doesn't leave us all screwed and tatooed by the side of the road.

    Best thing I can say is if you think they're great, well, go buy one and live with it and get back to us in 6 months. If you or it survive, I'll eat my words right online here.
  • merckxmerckx Member Posts: 565
    If that was the best thing you could say,I wish you had thought a little longer before you replied.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    I did think about it, and really, that was the best thing I could say, in all honesty.

    Of course, to anyone who wants one as a hobby, hey, have fun, but I'm not fond of revisionist history. The car's record and the public's disdain speak for itself I think, and I don't believe there is any rehabilitating its reputation at this point. You are certainly welcome to try , and post some facts or evidence or whatever to support the car. I'd be glad to listen and learn.

    Someday a Delorean or a Fiero might gain a little respect, but a LeCar? I just can't imagine it.

    Actually, I did think the Renault Shogun I saw once was pretty neat. It was an R5 with a Ford Taurus SHO engine stuffed in the rear. Also, Renault's factory turbo rallye car was interesting, but that of course was a purpose-built race car.
  • merckxmerckx Member Posts: 565
    Is this what you were thinking of?
    The differing wheelbase was,I think, a cheap way to have an anti-rollbar on a bottom-feeder.
    I'm not saying the LeCar is a forgotten classic.
    I just know that out of the box it had surperlative ride,outstanding space utilization,and interesting styling. I admit at the time I was totally into French cars( Peugeot 504 my favorite).
    I'm just a little surprised at the vehemience of your reply-you didn't have Renault stock,did you?
    or get rejected by a cheerleader in a Dauphine in 1962? :)
    I don't think popularity should ever be the yardstick for judging a car-will a Camry ever be but a Camry?
    And I'm just saying that any LeCar that has survived could at least be looked upon as a French Morris Minor,couldn't it?
  • isellhondasisellhondas Member Posts: 20,342
    Next to the Yugo, I can't think of a bigger piece of junk than a Le Car. Just ask any mechanic who ever worked on one. Replacing a clutch on a 2 year old Le Car cost much more than the car was worth at that time.

    But...this only go's to show...we are all different!
  • egkelly1egkelly1 Member Posts: 30
    Back around 1979, an entrepreneur in Marlboro, MA, started an electric car venture. he imprted R-5s, ripped out the engines and gas tanks, and replaced them with a DC motor and battery pack. He marketed this as the "Lectric Leopard". I actually saw a few on the road. As with any electric car (using lead/acid batteries), the thing had a very limited range-about 65 miles (at best).
    As for the R5; like most things from renault, it was a case of good design and bad execution!
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Oh, right! It was a Ford Festiva mistake. The Renault 5 Turbo was produced 1980-85 for public use at 160 hp, but factory rally cars put out 265 HP...that's 190 HP per liter! Only about 1,000 R5 turbos were sold in France. This car looked like LeCar (R5), but in fact was rear/ mid engined and mechanically unique. Also the R5 chassis was modified.

    I don't mean to sound vindicative or strident against the LeCar, but the facts are so totally damning and overwhelming, I don't see how the car could be defended with any sort of evidence. Sometimes you just have to point at the trash can and say "just put it in there, thanks".

    But I will give you a subjective opinion that cannot probably be proven:

    I think it is THE worst car ever built after World War II that came from a civilized industrial nation. Worse than Yugo, Edsel, Vega, you name it. #1 bad car for the latter part of the 20th Century.

    So in that sense, it's a "champ"!

    All kidding aside, the car was a disgrace to a once-proud company. Renault was not only the foremost automobile pioneer in the early 1900s, but made a very credible record for itself in racing in modern times. LeCar is not worthy of the name I don't think.

    Maybe it's cute and has some charm, but other French cars did that SO much better, and ran well, the Citroen 2CV or the very sturdy Peugeot 504...both cars I like and respect.
  • merckxmerckx Member Posts: 565
    I had no idea the R5 is now considered such a dog. I admit I haven't seen one on the road for years,and it is not THAT old. It obviously has not aged well,and was often just junked.
    I came very close to buying one as my first car purchase in 1981-I was really taken with the large canvas sunroof. But as I recall,you had to buy a deluxe package to get the 'roof,and it began to look like serious money for such a small car.
    The car's POE was a town away from me,as was what must have been one of the larger Peugeot/Renault dealers on the East Coast.So I used to see a lot of them.
    It's a shame,because I do remember that it had an unbelievabley cosseting ride,and was very roomy up frint(for a six-footer).
    Besides the Rabbit,what was there back then? Opel by Izuzu?
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Someone actually offered me a running LeCar for free about two years ago, but I turned them down. I was literally afraid of what would happen to it in the 2-3 days it would take me to sell it. It ended up being towed and junked, and amen to that. early 80s ( a dismal time for automakers) there weren't a whole lot of really interesting cars out there, in the "cheap and fun" category. MG was already dead. Oh, the VW GTI was a kick to drive, and the Scirocco was very nice looking.
  • merckxmerckx Member Posts: 565
    That's what I'm saying-what else was there? Datsun F10(Rodan),Toyota Corolla Answer model,Pinto,etc.
  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,554
    Reason I'm asking is to get a feel for what its real competitors were back then. In the late 70's/early 80's, the Honda Accord was probably one of the best subcompact cars, but in retrospect they really weren't cheap. By 1980, a nicely-loaded one probably would've run about $7-8,000. My mother bought a brand new Malibu coupe that year for under $7,000.

    This isn't saying much, but the best American small car around that time was probably the Plymouth Horizon/Dodge Omni. They weren't exactly cheap either, and according to an auto encyclopedia I have, actually base priced more than much larger cars like the Aspen/Volare.
  • speedshiftspeedshift Member Posts: 1,598
    Looks like you could get a base Mustang for under $6k, so maybe a GT was around $7k? Not a great car but lots of fun, more than the '93-up Mustang in my opinion--the early ones just feel quicker.
  • fezofezo Member Posts: 10,384
    In 1979 I almost bought an Acord for just about $6,000. The only reason I didn't is I wanted 4 doors and teh sedans which were brand new at the time went a bit more, so I ended up in (groan..) a 1980 built in Pennsylvania VW Rabbit. Ugh!

    That said, my cousin and her husband bought a LeCar at about that time. Almost everything that has been said about it so far here reflects my experience - both the nice clever design comments to the awful mechanics with no parts support.
    2015 Mazda 6 Grand Touring, 2014 Mazda 3 Sport Hatchback, 1999 Mazda Miata 2004 Toyota Camry LE, 1999.
  • ghuletghulet Member Posts: 2,564
    about the Rabbit, my parents in 1980 bought a brand new Fiat Brava ($8,000). Fiat pulled out of the American market in 81, so you can imagine what getting that thing fixed (frequently) was like. I think that car died in 85 or 86. Mom replaced it with a Camry, came to her senses.
  • im_brentwoodim_brentwood Member Posts: 4,883
    Right on Shifty.

    I have never heard a good thing said about Le Cars. OK, they may have rode well and been comfortable cars.

    There's a lot of terrible cars that I can think of that have those qualities.

  • fezofezo Member Posts: 10,384
    A Fiat around when I bought the Rabbit. Where the heck WAS my head anyway? What was that Fiat called - the one that was modeled after a RAbbit? I want to say Sonata but that's not quite it.... driving me nuts which of course teh Rabbit did... How would Fiat promote such a car? "Just like a Rabbit but without teh meticulous quality control?"
    2015 Mazda 6 Grand Touring, 2014 Mazda 3 Sport Hatchback, 1999 Mazda Miata 2004 Toyota Camry LE, 1999.
  • merckxmerckx Member Posts: 565
    I can see how you were tempted by Strada(Ritmo). The interior was a really brillant,very "arty' design. It was what really sold the car. Many still had fond memories of the Fiat 124 sedan,and to a slightly lesser extent,the 128. Who knew the Strada would turn out to be such a dog,or the Renault 5 too,for that matter? They had what no Japanese car had at the time,style(excluding 240Z,natch). The Strada LOOKED like a Rabbit with Italian flair.
  • jsylvesterjsylvester Member Posts: 572
    The Fiat hatchback was called the Strada. I always thought it looked nice, but growing up in my family no one ever had owned a European car, maybe they knew more than I realized at the time.

    The LeCar was a neat design, but poorly executed it seems.

    Another car I liked from that period was the Dodge Colt with the "dual range" manual transmission. Wonder why they did away with that feature.
  • fezofezo Member Posts: 10,384
    That was it! Would have come. Old brain.

    I suspect what kept me out of one was Fiat had lost whatever reputation they had on the reliability front at that point. Wasn't too much longer and tehy were gone from ouur shores.

    There's always someeone saying "Man, the Fiats in Europe are bulletproof!" Somehow I have a difficult time believing this.
    2015 Mazda 6 Grand Touring, 2014 Mazda 3 Sport Hatchback, 1999 Mazda Miata 2004 Toyota Camry LE, 1999.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Fiat is a major, major player in Europe, so they must be doing something right over there.
  • speedshiftspeedshift Member Posts: 1,598
    you don't see old Fiats in Europe. Or I should say, when I was in Italy in the mid-'80s I didn't see anything there that looked more than about five years old, Fiats included.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Well, they don't allow banged up rattle traps on the road like we do in the US. You can't even drive a dented car in Germany for very long or you won't pass inspection.
  • crossedrealitycrossedreality Member Posts: 72
    Yea, for some reason they don't agree that you have the right to drive a car until its engine uses as much oil as a two-stroke and you're sitting on a wooden box :)
  • lemkolemko Member Posts: 15,261
    The Trabant was virtually a wooden box with a two-stroke engine. There's a joke about the Trabant - "If it had another tailpipe it would make an excellent wheelbarrow." A friend of mine was in Berlin right after the Wall fell and saw a couple of guys lifting a Trabant and tossing it into a dumpster.
  • dpwestlakedpwestlake Member Posts: 207
    especially by Renault.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Cute only goes so far, and then the buying public wises up. These days you have to put out a good product to succeed, you aren't going to make it on charm alone like in the 50s.
  • fezofezo Member Posts: 10,384
    "Fiat is a major, major player in Europe, so they must be doing something right over there."

    See that? Exactly what I mean. My question is what is it they are doing and why the heck couldn't they translate it into the American market?
    2015 Mazda 6 Grand Touring, 2014 Mazda 3 Sport Hatchback, 1999 Mazda Miata 2004 Toyota Camry LE, 1999.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    I think they made the same mistake Renault did. They wanted a piece of the American market, but were not willing to employ American marketing experts and American managers, and were equally not willing to invest the huge sums in a parts and service network that actually networked! They wanted a fast profit for not a lot of investment and they were arrogant enough to think they could sell in a foreign country without knowing much about what people expected.
    Their products were totally unsuited to American driving conditions and American drivers. For one thing, they don't understand that the distance from Paris to Rome is what some Americans would drive to get a good taco.
  • fezofezo Member Posts: 10,384
    Yeah - that makes a lot of sense.

    I remember years ago a friend's brother-in-law had to spend some extended time in South Dakota. He was a "computer guy" before we knew about such folks. He was utterly amazed how folks there would thing nothing of driving 100 miles for a good bar. Imagine doing that in a Fiat!
    2015 Mazda 6 Grand Touring, 2014 Mazda 3 Sport Hatchback, 1999 Mazda Miata 2004 Toyota Camry LE, 1999.
  • lancerfixerlancerfixer Member Posts: 1,284
    That's wierd. From my time in South Dakota, I can say that bars are about the only things there's more than one of every hundred miles...
  • ghuletghulet Member Posts: 2,564
    imagine driving home 100 miles AFTER being at a bar you drove 100 miles to get to.......
  • jsylvesterjsylvester Member Posts: 572
    Of course, at 85 mph at 2:30 in the morning, it's less than a 75 minute drive.
  • seeburg222seeburg222 Member Posts: 24
    Hey, you guys sure are hard on the LeCar. My sister bought one new in '78 (forget what she paid for it) and had a great time with it for about 4 years until the head gasket went. The head had to be milled, wasn't done right or something and ended up having to replace the whole engine. She kept it until '86 and let me use it for a few monthes before I sold it for her. I found that if you unsnapped the black plastic visor that went around the dash gauges, at night, the illumination from the gauges reflected up on the windshield! You could actually read the speedo on windshield except it was a mirror image!
  • merckxmerckx Member Posts: 565
    Thanks for the favorable recollection.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    You sound tougher on it than we were.....:)
  • crossedrealitycrossedreality Member Posts: 72
    A favourable recollection? Don't worry, the rehab center has been called. You'll get the help you need.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Notice how just about every LeCar recollection has the words "head gasket" thrown in there somewhere?
  • speedshiftspeedshift Member Posts: 1,598
    Yes, and not in a good way.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    How could you say it in a good way. "Yep, that's one fine head gasket I got on my Renault".

    I may start a World's Worst Car" contest. This is an enviable award.

    If you think about it, it takes as much genius to make something totally bad as totally good, doesn't it? I mean, think of all the mistakes you have to make. You have to get everything wrong, as well as totally disregarding decades of automotive technology that was already proven to work. You even have to render the parts from your outside supplier to be made useless.

    I suspect that the folks who built the LeCar could probably screw up a Duraflame log.
  • a_l_hubcapsa_l_hubcaps Member Posts: 518
    There is actually a coffee-table-type book called "The World's Worst Cars." It includes the Corvair, Pinto, Vega, Rabbit, Volare/Aspen, Yugo, and plenty of others (actually, I don't think the LeCar is in there).

    The radio show Car Talk also did a "worst cars of the millennium" listener survey. Here are their top ten:

    10) Volkswagen Bus
    9) Renault Dauphine
    8) Cadillac Cimarron
    7) Plymouth Volare/Dodge Aspen
    6) Renault LeCar
    5) Chevrolet Chevette
    4) AMC Gremlin
    3) Ford Pinto
    2) Chevrolet Vega
    1) Yugo

    -Andrew L
  • speedshiftspeedshift Member Posts: 1,598
    Ways you can mention the words "head gasket" in a good way:

    "My TR-7 has gone 3000 miles without blowing a head gasket."

    "Thanks to constant practice it now takes me less than an hour to replace my Fiat 850's head gasket."
  • fezofezo Member Posts: 10,384
    Gotta love that.

    Of thos eworst cars the only one I had the misfortune to own didn't make the cartalk list - a 1980 VW Rabbit. The thing was a ball to drive when it worked. Unfortunately that didn't happen very often...
    2015 Mazda 6 Grand Touring, 2014 Mazda 3 Sport Hatchback, 1999 Mazda Miata 2004 Toyota Camry LE, 1999.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    I'd certainly substitute early Wabbits for the VW Bus, which wasn't all that bad a car. I don't think the bus belongs on that list....I mean, it wasn't GREAT but it was no worse than a VW Bug.

    They should have a World's Worst Car Endurance Race....something like "The 24 minutes of Lemans" would be fun. Hey, fun idea for a new discussion!
  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,554
    I have a distant relation to one of those "Worst Cars", a 1989 Gran Fury. Same design as the Aspen/Volare, but thankfully, most of the bugs worked out.

    As for using the phrase "head gasket in a nice way, how's about "Thank goodness that head gasket I have a reason to junk this piece of #$%!"
  • fezofezo Member Posts: 10,384
    Not so much head gasket talk around a former Windstall owner....
    2015 Mazda 6 Grand Touring, 2014 Mazda 3 Sport Hatchback, 1999 Mazda Miata 2004 Toyota Camry LE, 1999.
  • carphotocarphoto Member Posts: 37
    You HAD to say head gasket and TR7 in the SAME sentence! I lost the head gasket on my 80 TR7 Fuel Injected Spider two days before the regional meet! This on a car with 46k original miles. Oh well, I knew what I was getting into. Of course the big deal about that isn't so much blowing the head gasket as getting the head off. I will never figure out why anyone, especially someone supposedly as bright as Harry Ricardo who designed the engine, would design a head fastening system where the axis of the fasteners are not parallel to each other. If you know TR7s you know what I mean and if you don't, just be happy. I see lots of penetrating oil and skinned knuckles in my future!
  • dpwestlakedpwestlake Member Posts: 207
    Those angled head studs are just SOOOO much fun. If you're lucky you can get them out by double nutting them. Otherwise it's a stud extractor and a new set of studs. Victoria British may have a winter special on the head stud/bolt kit.
  • speedshiftspeedshift Member Posts: 1,598
    I had that head stud problem with a Fiat 128, something about dissimilar metals corroding and bonding. The studs are steel I guess and the head is aluminum. I went through the whole bag of tricks--double nutting, heating with a torch, trying to pop it off with compression and lots of penetrating oil--and ended up trying to cut the head off with a reciprocating saw (I think I had blood lust by that point).

    Fifteen years later Shifty tells me there's a special tool for this.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Well, you never call, you never write, that's what happens.
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