Renault R5 Revisited

imperial67imperial67 Member Posts: 4
edited March 2014 in Renault
I just ran across the now-expired thread about the Renault R-5. Having inherited a '76 R5 and putting 188,000 miles on it over 22 years, as well as having experience with dozens of other cars, from Fords to Lamborghinis, makes me qualified to comment ! The main problem with the Renault was a lack of competent mechanics in this country and a "couldn't care less" dealer network which didn't want to be bothered learning the car or the replacement parts system. It's French, and it required a whole new way of thinking about its repair. The R5 did not have head gasket problems. Nor did they have rust problems, at least in coastal California. Parts were scarce and expensive ($ 300 for a water pump !) but it was a reasonably well designed car. It used a timing chain, rather than a rubber band as its competition did. It had a number of minor bugs in the electrical system which were easily overcome. It required super grade fuel and even pinged on that, unless the timing was retarded more than factory specs. Yes, they were ugly, but there are even more hideous 2003 model cars by GM and the Japanese on the streets. At least my R5 didn't have the unbearable "LeCar" logo on the doors ! The Achilles' heel of the R-5 was the camshaft, which drove the accessory belts. Replacing the transaxle required removing the pulley from the end of the cam, and using an impact wrench would crack or shatter the camshaft hub at the pulley end(ever seen an engine running with the belts all stopped ?). Many a hapless mechanic finished off an R5 this way. All in all, the problems the R5 had were no more significant than modern cars costing twice as much (example-take a look at Ford Taurus 3.8L complaints on the web, or the Cadillac variable cylinder 8/6/4 engines, or the Oldsmobile diesel cars of the 1980's). The R-5 could carry more stuff than a full sized American sedan, and long items could stick out the sunroof. Would I want another one ? No way, but it was really just a car which got a lot of bad press and incompetent mechanical service from ignorant people.
Geoff Fors, Monterey CA


  • merckxmerckx Member Posts: 565
    Except I think it was a very attractive design-had a lot of charm. I espically liked the long wheelbase to short overall lenght ratio. It gave it a really fantastically commodious cabin-the back seats were quite reasonable. I almost bought a new 1981 as my first new car. My local dealer was also the East coast importer,so they were quite common in my town.
    But to get the huge canvas sunroof,you had to buy the deluxe model,which made it a little pricy,and at the time I was really against "loaded" cars back then. Bought a new Citation for about the same money and kept it for 12 years...
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,482
    I hardly think all the problems you mentioned are just "bad press". The car had many inherent engineering issues, as you say, the head gasket. It was a real pain to work on, and, as you say, parts were expensive.

    Certainly Renault, a company with many years experience, could have designed a better, stronger and more accessible automobile.

    Let's face it, it was a nuisance to own, and while there are other cars that are a nuisance, at least with most of them you got great performance or fabulous good looks. With an R5 all you got was the nuisance and a few " cute".

    On behalf of all the tortured R5 owners who suffered under this car, (not you, fortunately!) good riddance to it. The car even had a bad reputation in France. It's the R4 that everyone there respected.
  • imperial67imperial67 Member Posts: 4
    I am not sure where the headgasket issue is coming from. The R-5 did not have headgasket problems unless it was boiled over. What it did have was a wet sleeve cylinder design, i.e. pistons were in liners which sat in the block and were sealed at the bottom with a paper ring and by the headgasket on top (as in Caterpillar tractors.). The bottom paper rings could fail with age, and were torn if you removed the head vertically without rocking it sideways first to break the seal with the liners. Electrolysis also affected the liner seals. Hard to work on ? Yes, especially the starter, which required removal of the engine and transaxle. The R-5 was supposed to compete with the VW Rabbit, which is what most people bought instead. The Rabbit had some cheaper mechanical designs but certainly held up better. But as I said, there are plenty of other cars I have worked on which could give the Renault R-5 a run for its money in the bad-design department. Let's take the Lamborghini Countach carbureted version, for example. You cannot change the air filter elements without removing the entire, intact, intake manifold assemblies from the engine. But then the engine or the head-to-water jacket seals would usually fail long before the filters needed changing anyway... Or the Jaguary XJ-6 with its rocker arm mounts which fall out of the head with age, and Jag's ridiculous solution in the form of added metal fingers to keep everything pushed in place. Gads, what memories !
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,482
    Oh, you are so right about those other cars...they had some features that were diabolical. But at least you got something for your torment with a Lambo or an XJ6.

    This is why people today are restoring XJs and Lambos and why R5s have long been turned into lawn furniture on Taiwan.

    I'll probably get into big trouble for saying this, but I think Imperial is right about the head gasket issue. They gasked blew after the first overheat, and the reason so many were allowed to overheat was I believe (gulp) because the R5 was purchased and driven mostly by women who did not at the time have much car-consciousness as they do now, nor the instrumentation to help them. So the red zone in the temp gauge (or was it just one of those 50 lights across the dash that you were expected to memorize?) was merely the suggestion to "pull over sometime". Renault should have installed a factory whistle or air raid siren on the temp gauge to warn drivers, both men and women, that an overheat on an R5 was fatal----there was NO SLACK in these cars. A similar situation probably killed of the RX7 twin turbos ( I mean the "no slack" issue).

    The inboard rear brakes on the XJ6 were real fun, too, and on some mid-engine Ferraris of the time you have to remove the engine to service it.
  • merckxmerckx Member Posts: 565
    I'm not debating these problems,just suggesting that compared to the leaf-sprung Chevette or Datsun B210 the R5 had a lot going for it.
    as the Lambo or XJ6 cost so very much more,of course they offered the car entheuist a lot. But compared to the "Opel by Izuzu" or Pinto,the Renault,even if not as long lasting,was a good car,Mazda GLC(was that one really good?)notwithstanding.
  • imperial67imperial67 Member Posts: 4
    The Renault R-5 just had a red light which was shared by several functions and was called the "broken belt light" (!). If the alternator belt fell off, it lit. If you overheated, it lit. So you really didn't know what was happening unless you stopped. Another light was "EGR", and it was hooked to a taxi-meter-like clock in the speedometer cable and went off precisely every 30K miles (wasn't hooked up to anything else !). One problem I encountered was a water pump pulley which was just pressed onto the shaft. It would fall off at speed and there you were, stranded. But after re-engineering something for twenty years, it becomes like your child and you find it hard to find fault with it. One time I ordered a new R-5 camshaft and it came from Saudi Arabia. It was almost a foot longer than the whole engine and the box had all sorts of Arabic graffiti all over it. It took 2 months to get the right one. There is a website called Katriina's Renault World (Sweden) and they are nuts about Renaults, and you can see all the latest models there. I was giving tech advice there for awhile but just got worn out. You can buy a really nice collector car in the USA for what they are buying derelict Renaults for in Europe. Oh, on the suspension - the R-5 used torsion bar suspension with rear trailing arms, a very advanced design, however I always got the sensation I was going to fall over when making a high speed turn.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,482
    Yes, they could roll their bodies.

    Torsion bar suspension was developed by Packard in 1955. It's an old design. Chrysler products used it long before REnault as well.

    I can't imagine anyone restoring an R5 or paying more the $300 for one. I'm sure if there was a lucrative market for them in Europe someone in the US would be buying them up and shipping them over in container loads. I never have heard of such a thing from all my imported buddies, and I'm sure they'd be on it if it was a real market.

    Geez, choosing between a Chevette, a Datsun B210 or an R5. It sounds like some kind of hell that car lovers are cast into.
  • speedshiftspeedshift Member Posts: 1,598
    It sounds like the 1970s, and your description is apt.
  • imperial67imperial67 Member Posts: 4
    My comment about torsion bar suspension being advanced didn't refer to the time of use but rather the quality of the design. The first patent on torsion bar suspension was taken out in Germany in 1936 and then copied by all and sundry. There aren't very many cheap cars which feature it, to my knowledge.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,482
    Well the '55 Packard wasn't cheap that's true, but many of the 60s Chrysler products had them, and they do appear on many other inexpensive cars.

    I didn't know the idea went back as far as '36, that's interesting. Probably for the Citroen Traction Avant, right? I know Morris Minor had them in 1948, also the Citroen 2CV very early on, Porsche of course, Renault, DKW.

    Of course, torsion bars have many different designs and uses and some worked better than others.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Member Posts: 20,341
    That no matter how lousy the car, every make and model will always have a small group of diehard fans who will defend it.

    And I happen to think that's a good thing!
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,482
    Oh, I have no problem at all with them loving lousy cars, even restoring lousy cars, as long as they don't start revising history and start touting them as great cars. Don't put fake ears on your mutt and start asking for AKC papers is all I require :)
  • merckxmerckx Member Posts: 565
    The "Le Car" forum is back up!
  • prlamzprlamz Member Posts: 78
    To replace the starter on an R5, all you had to do is loosen the engine mount and jack up the engine (carefully). Despite the information provided by the host, the R5 has been hugely popular not just in France but everywhere. The first version sold 3.5 millions.

    I would not say it didn't have some problems. The drum brakes wore out and were not replaceable; this lead to hand brake problems. Concerning the head gaskets blowing, if you replaced your coolant every two years, it was not an issue. They were hard to work on, but were much more complicated here than elsewhere, because it's hard to bring a small, carburated engine to smog compliance. The R1228 (75 to 79) had a 1300cc engine while the R1229 was beefed up with a 1400cc. That engine was used in the R5 TS, the really sporty version in Europe, but here, after the addition of the antipollution devices, it was barely adequate. I never paid $300 for a water pump, they were available at any part store. I agree with the fact it was hard to find a good mechanic. The dilemma was that you had a very cheap car, with mechanics that commended BMW prices. Many an R5 was sent prematurely to the junkyard because the ownerbalked at the price of new clutch. The later edition, BTW, had a bearing at the end of the camshaft which required a special puller to remove.

    I sold our R5 3 months ago. The engine in it at 200000 miles and the car about 160000. It no longer was safe as a daily driver after being thrown against the sidewalk while parked. In addition, the machine shop botched the intake valve angles which had made idle problematic.

    There is another thing that this discussion completely missed about the R5: they were fun cars. Not powerful, but fun.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,482
    Maybe lots of people bought one, but not too many bought another one--at least not in the USA.

    The French are very chauvinistic about their native cars, so I'm not surprised they would be popular in France.
  • prlamzprlamz Member Posts: 78
    The R5 never sold huge numbers here, between 20 and 40,000 per year. It was part of a (mostly failed) strategy of reviving the brand that led the purchase of AMC.

    Far from me to deny that most people who bought them had problems. However, in my mind, it was due more to circumstances beyond the car design itself. The fact that they were available at a low prices made it a great car to have if you knew how to maintain it. As recently as 2 1/2 years ago I drove our R5 from LA to Gallup and back.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,482
    Well, hey, a clever person can keep any car running. I've owned plenty of verified "turkeys" and had good luck with them because I kept after them. I've driven MGBs cross country and used cars like a Peugeot 504 and Audi 100LS as everyday reliable drivers. Even a Triumph Herald if you can believe it.

    I must say, though, that an R5 would keep even a very good mechanic very busy, much less a clueless owner who bought an R5 because it was "cute". Had the R5 looked like a sports car, it might have fallen into more capable hands, but as it was, most cars went to young women, most of whom were not very good do it yourselfers, to be further preyed upon by unscroupulous or talentless Frenchmen and Italians with 25 scrapped R5s in the back 40.
  • prlamzprlamz Member Posts: 78
    I got away for years with nothing but regular maintenance. A friend of mine got her in 1984 (a 1982), she sold it a couple of years ago. I doubt she could have found another car that would have given her less trouble, especially in proportion of the expenses incurred.

    I am not saying that your comments about mechanics was unjustified, although a worse case scenario was your friendly corner gas station mechanic.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,482
    Every person I ever knew who had one had a disastrous experience with them, and I believe their experiences are probably more typical than yours or your friend's. The spectrum of ownership of every car has its extremes of positive and negative, which statistically we must disregard.

    Fact is, the car is despised in America and I don't think people are just making these stories up, so I'll have to respect public opinion in this case as the rule rather than the exception since the Nays are so overwhelmingly ahead of the Yeas.

    I don't always follow the herd regarding car opinions, by any means, but in this case I believe the R5 really was a pretty bad car for most owners and I'm going to continue to recommend that people stay away from them. (That's better for you, of course, because then you get your pick!)
  • prlamzprlamz Member Posts: 78
    I am not dissagreeing with your statement that the R5 really was a pretty bad car for most owners. What I am trying to tell you is that the car itself, which was a design breakthrough when introduced, was not necessarily to blame. There were flaws, which car does not have some, but it was also, for most of its career in the US, the cheapest car available.

    As for owning one now, getting parts is near impossible thanks to Chrysler. If you read what I wrote, we "sold" ours a few months ago to a collector.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,482
    You'll pardon me, I'm sure, because you seem to be a very nice calm person, but the idea of
    "collecting" R5s makes me want to smile. "Collecting" in the back yard seems more suitable.

    However, all kidding aside, the R5 was fun to drive and an efficiently designed package. But under no circumstance should an automaker allow their customers to take on the role of the R&D department. If a Renault can't hold a head gasket in the US, and it seems like few of them could, then the car is surely at fault for this.

    But I agree with you, things like parts distribution and lack of service facilities are not the car's fault, even though they contribute to the car's downfall and bad reputation.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Member Posts: 20,341
    Some people will collect anything!

    Now, I firmly believe this!
  • prlamzprlamz Member Posts: 78
    You are yet again postulating without knowing dear sir. I didn't write that the guy collected R5s, I just said he was a collector. He's interested in European daily drivers, not in sports cars.

    You also have the tendency to be very US-centric, he you forgive the expression. The R5 was sold pretty much worldwide, including, nearby, in Mexico. When it was introduced in the US, in 1975, the car already had several production years below its bumpers. Renault sold it here because it was its best selling model. By then R&D had long been over.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,482
    I'm not sure I understand the distinction, sorry.

    My point was that calling himself a "collector" seemed rather pretentious in the case of such a car as the R5. It just struck me as odd since I am used to the term being used as in "collecting fine things", that is, a connoiseur of something.

    But in reality that is true, one can "collect" whatever one wishes--Hummels, leaves, marbles, manhole covers etc. Like Isell says, "one can collect anything". I stand corrected!

    The LeCar did make the "Ten Worst Cars of the Milennium" List on a popular write-in vote-- but didn't win, so that's something: the Yugo took top honors.
  • prlamzprlamz Member Posts: 78
    I have a lot of respect for Tom & Ray, and try to listen to their show when I can. What does a list established by a comedy show prove?
  • isellhondasisellhondas Member Posts: 20,341
    I guess that no matter how bad a car, someone will like them.

    Personally, I can't think of too many worse cars, but that's only my opinion.

    What could be worse than a Renault? Yugos? Lancias?
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,482
    It's not Tom and RAy that "proved" anything. This was a survey.

    Anyway, I like Renaults. I even have a pair of genuine Dauphine cufflinks, which I may sell on Ebay once the Dauphine market picks up...maybe around the year 2050 or so.
  • prlamzprlamz Member Posts: 78
    To me this forum is a place where knowledge can be exchanged. I have learned a lot here, and it greatly helped me buy my current car. Silly, misinformed comments do not further anything. The reason I restarted this post is because it, as well as it predecessor, was full of errors and miss informations.

    The next time you buy a used car for $400 and put over 100,000 miles on it (only one major repair: head gasket on original engine at about 145,0000), before reselling it, then please tell me about it.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Member Posts: 20,341
    Were meant to be tongue in cheek...however...

    You have had incredible luck with a car that wasn't known for reliability.

    My point was...and I probably did a poor job of stating it is, no matter how bad a car's reputation, some people will still like these cars and will somehow avoid the normal problems associated with them.

    Kinda like walking in a rainstorm and not getting wet.
  • jrosasmcjrosasmc Member Posts: 1,711
    Do you still remember the Alliance/Encore line? What did you make of those cars when they were new?
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,482
    Point well taken, but did it occur to you WHY you got this car for $400? Because nobody else wanted it.

    Which is great, if you have the skills and patience to keep an R5 going. Most people are greatly disappointed when they buy an R5. You can't see that much "flak" about a car without something behind it that's true...where there's smoke, there's an R5.

    I buy cars all the time that nobody else wants or can't fix. I've owned just about every "bad" car you can name and gotten good service out of it. How many people you know drove an MGB cross-country without a "burp"?. But I have access to parts and information, a lift, and a very large toolbox. I didn't "avoid" the problems with these bad cars, I anticipated them and/or fixed them.

    I almost bought an R5 about two years ago for $200 for use as a "dock car" but it got towed away by the city of San Francisco same day I came to pick it up, and between the towing charges and parking tickets owed on it, it wasn't worth the $525 to me.

    One problem is that most surviving R5s are beaters.

    If you found a low mileage well-maintained R5, you might have a chance. I'd buy one if I saw a car like that and it was cheap.

    But quite frankly, if you encourage people to buy R5s on the premise that they are really great, trouble-free cars and that their reputation is spurious, I think you would be doing people a bad turn, IMO.
  • prlamzprlamz Member Posts: 78
    I absolutely would not advise anyone to buy one now, quite to the contrary. Parts are truly impossible to get, even exhaust pipes. The few surviving ones are on their last leg.

    What I said is that through the 80s and early 90s you could find one for very little money and get a reliable daily driver if you care to maintain it. My brother-in-law, before I knew him, did just that.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,482
    Well fair enough then!
  • jrosasmcjrosasmc Member Posts: 1,711
    Great, listen to this: There's a 1987 Renault Alliance two-door for sale on Ebay with, believe it or not, 2,400 original miles. I don't know what it looks like, since there are no pictures of the vehicle. But the ad says that it was owned by an elderly man since it was new. This is something strange and rare: A Renault with 2,400 miles. Now who's going to buy something like this?
  • merckxmerckx Member Posts: 565
    but I did think they had a rather utilitarian,pleasing squareness to them. Of course,they were no LeCar....
  • prlamzprlamz Member Posts: 78
    I saw the ad on e-bay. That car is probably in dire need of work. A lot of things must have dried up, and are either leaking or waiting to do so at the first chance. Parts availability is also likely to be an issue.
  • martianmartian Member Posts: 220
    I mean, France is a major indutrial country-they were pioneers in automotive engineering, and many innovations came from Renault, Peugeot, Citroen. Why did they blow it so bad in the USA? I know, maybe their parts distribution was deficient-but why were these cars so despised?
  • isellhondasisellhondas Member Posts: 20,341
    Because they were strange, crappy, troublesome, weird cars that few mechanics would work on.

    This comes from a guy (me) that owned two Peugeots!
  • jrosasmcjrosasmc Member Posts: 1,711
    What kind of Peugeots did you have? I bet you had all sorts of quirks to deal with!
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,482
    "The French don't copy anybody, and nobody copies the French".
  • isellhondasisellhondas Member Posts: 20,341
    I had a couple of 505 diesel wagons.

    These are TOUGH, rugged cars that hold a lot and they have seats that are the most comfortable you will ever sit in.

    But, yeah, strange, oddball cars. It took about a four step procedure just to turn the head lights on as I recall.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,482
    Yeah, I liked the Peugeots I had...certainly more reliable than any Saab I ever owned. But nobody, as in NOOOOO-Body....wants to help you work on them, and parts can be tough. Also stay away from the turbo 505s.

    The 504 was the best model they made, IMO. They ride great, run forever if cared for, and are quite comfortable, economical, and utterly worthless if you need to buy a parts car. Nothing rides as well, not even a Benz or BMW of that era.

    What you have to get used to with French cars is that odd combination of excellent handling but LOTS of body roll.
  • jrosasmcjrosasmc Member Posts: 1,711
    I do hate to ask this, but did you find the Peugeots to be more reliable or durable than Volvos from the same era?
  • isellhondasisellhondas Member Posts: 20,341
    Now that I think of it, one of my wagons was a 504. Thre was something about that car that I can't describe but it rode like a dream.

    You're right. The shops HATE working on them and very few (if any, anymore) will.

    Even the oil drain plug requred some bizarre wrench.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,482
    I really have no sound basis to judge reliability of a 504 Peugeot over a 142 or 242 Volvo, but I can say with total assurance that a Peugeot is far more comfortable and fun to drive and just as sturdy. Probably what might hurt Peugeot reliability is the lack of adequate parts and service, leading to postponed maintenance and botched repairs from incompetent people.

    I think in France a Peugeot would be just as reliable as a Volvo, as long as you stay away from a) turbos and b) the not-so-good models, like the...was it....604? Of course Volvo made bad cars, too, like their diesel and their own 164 and 264 series....

    So you know, it depends on what models you compare to what models. The newer compact and subcompact Peugeot turbo diesels are fabulous little cars to drive but I have no idea about how they hold up.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Member Posts: 20,341
    That was the problem. People would defer maintenance or take them to shops who didn't understand them. Those diesels were strong and long lasting but people who had no business owning one would just kill them.

    There was a guy around here who specialized in them and had a pretty captive market. He pulled no punches and he would give stern lectures to abusive owners. If the abuse or neglect was severe, we would simply refuse their business.

    I remember he once told me, that a well maintained Peugeot Diesel could easily go 300,000 miles an more but the average owner would "kill" them in about 150,000 miles.

    My buddy bought a 604 Turbo Diesel new and drove it withou major incident for something like 230,000 miles. he dumped it when the heater core started leaking...I think it called for 14 hours of miserable labor plus parts!
  • texasestexases Member Posts: 10,309
    Go to Buenos Aires and you'll see (and smell) hundreds of 504 diesel taxis. I imagine they're experts at maintenance. (sorry for the big pic)

  • british_roverbritish_rover Member Posts: 8,502
    My amsoil rep when I ran my shop had a Turbo Diesel wagon that ended up with the same fate as your friends. It went to about 275,000 miles before something broke that they couldn't get the part for.

    The guy next to me could fix any of those, "funny fogiun cars" as people in southern Virginia used to call them. He pronounced thew wagon DOA after he saw what part has failed. You just couldn't get them in the US anymore.
  • batman47batman47 Member Posts: 606
    Renault Samsumg Motors., the South Korean affiliate of French automaker Renault, unveiled Monday (Nov. 19) its first ever SUV, the QM5 which will go on sale in the domestic market from early December. The same car but with a different grille will also be available under the Renault brand as the Koleos in 2008. The QM5 is based on the underpinnings of the Nissan Qashqai crossover which has proven quite successful in Europe. This is the news.
    How can a company in the US import such a vehicle? It has supper off-road and on-road characteristics by the use of a switch (on/off). When it is ‘on’ all the AWD and front and rear suspension are affected electronically.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,482
    They can only import it by building it to USA Federal specification. I suppose they could sneak a few in as museum pieces or race cars.
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