Renault updated the Dauphine with a shape surprisingly similar to Alfa Romeo’s abortive Tipo 103 – a front-drive small car that was shelved because it was building Dauphines under licence instead. Mechanically, of course, the R8 was quite different and Renault’s experience with rear engines ensured that it was remarkably quiet, refined and spacious. The new model developed a keen following and, in Gordini form, achieved considerable success in racing and rallying. It also donated many components to the Matra Djet and Alpine sports cars.
Built in France, Spain, Bulgaria and Romania (as the Dacia) and assembled as far afield as Venezuela, Mexico, Algeria, Morocco, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (but ironically not by Alfa in Italy), the 8 and 10 enjoyed a 14-year life and were made in big numbers, but survivors are rare and interest is only beginning to grow in their home country. Investigate the origin of cars for sale, because not all had the same spec; for example, Spanish-built 8s had rear drums.
All-disc brakes were a rare luxury on such a small saloon, but helped to give it an edge in competition – allied to its rear-drive traction.
The new Cléon-Fonte engine family went on to power Renault’s front-drive saloons for decades; later 5 and 5 Gordini 1397cc units are sometimes found in surviving 8s and 10s. When the 1100 R8 was launched in ’1964, testers eulogised over its brilliant combination of performance and economy and that carried through to later models.
The shape must have been more aerodynamic than it looks, but one of the secrets was the gauge of steel used – the cars were lighter than most rivals. The disadvantage was that when rust took hold, it wasn’t long before it had eaten straight through the thin steel. Corrosion was invariably worse under the surface than on top, affecting the inner wings, bulkhead and floors – as well as the more obvious sills and outer panels.
Almost all survivors will already have had extensive repairs – check that all are sound and competently done, and protected for the future. Few have been restored as comprehensively as Steve Cole’s R10 pictured here; membership of the Renault Classic Car Club is vital.
Gordinis are highly collectable and correct engine parts can fetch thousands of pounds. Inevitably, replicas are common and you need to carefully confirm that a car said to be original has the evidence and pedigree to back up its claims.
Early production models with Dauphines and 4s in 1962. Jean Ragnotti shows how to do it on the Monte Historique.
1 Front panel
2 Front wings, inner and outer
9 Rear wings, inner and outer
10 Rear panel
Chrome work is particularly hard to find because jumble supplies are gradually drying up and demand doesn’t justify New production: a good, full set is a bonus.
Cooling can be marginal due to silting From alloy head corrosion and to modern fuels. It’s worth while re-coring rad with extra-capacity; it’s vital to use inhibitor.
Gear-change was never great and gets Worse with wear. Synchromesh on first came with 1100 engine; confirm that it works and none jump out of gear.
Swing-axle rear end is well controlled; inspect for rot and for weak dampers. Rear disc brakes were great while they worked; lack of use causes seizure.
Always exceptionally comfortable, seats were mostly hard-wearing vinyl; fully reclining was a later option. Cloth can be sourced in France to retrim, as here.
Dash/switchgear had many production changes and much use of new plastics. The often weak components are hard to track down: check presence and function.
A new engine family arrived with the 8 that continued to be built up to 2004. They’re robust and powerful, but the alloy head can corrode, so inspect the oil-filler cap for emulsion. Rattles from timing gear and rumbles from the bottom end, plus excess oil blowing, indicate the unit is nearing the end of its useful life. Clutch kit costs c£280.
On the road
Launching a new wet-liner engine with aluminium head in the R8 gave Renault a power advantage over rivals, aided by low overall weight. Check the engine starts easily from cold, because the automatic choke can be unreliable; carb specialists can help. The ‘sealed’ cooling system was an innovation shared with the R4, featuring a separate expansion tank for top-up hidden under a removable grommet. It certainly needs checking for level and signs of oil getting in or overheating. Confirm the specification of the unit fitted: later transplants are common and likely to give more performance, though sacrificing originality. Gordini engine parts are more highly strung – check for condition and spec.
The rare automatic, with an electro-magnetic clutch operating an all-synchro three-speed ’box, is jerky in operation with quite slow changes. Light weight meant little self-centring on the steering, so Renault added springs to help, which takes acclimatisation. Inspect the rack for wear, and dampers for weakness. Cars showing negative camber at the back may not have been lowered: the gearbox mountings are in shear and the wheels splay out when they fail.
Both brakes and clutch were quite heavy when new and, even with the limiting valve operating correctly, the overly powerful front discs can lock – beware a faulty or missing valve, or poor tyres. New Michelins are available, but Cinturatos were preferred in period; fitting 13in alloys widens tyre choice. The handbrake linkage is prone to seizing, as are the Bendix calipers (£200 exchange), though rebuild kits are available.
Late-model 1300 feels nippy and rides well, like any Renault from the ’60s; the R10 handles better than its smaller sibling.
Minimalist cabin, with simple dash and supportive seats.
OWNER’S VIEW Steve Cole
Cole has worked hard to make his late 1300 as refined as possible, and it shows. “I had 8s in the ’70s and always wanted a 10,” he recalls. “I was in China when this one came up for sale in Belfast, and my sister trailered it home for me! The chrome had been redone but the body was far worse than advertised. It’s amazing what you can find: I bought panels from Greece and Holland as well as France. Barkston did a superb job of the rebuild. Mechanically it was good: its one lady owner had done only 13,000 miles. It’s up to 30,000 now, in four years I’ve covered more than she did. I’ve done a lot of work on the exhaust, and added soundproofing to make it quieter – the body was thin. It’s so reliable now that I’d go anywhere in it!”
WHAT TO PAY 8/10/Gordini
Fuel pump £35
Water pump £45
Rear dampers pair £150
Cardan joint (exchange) £75
Driveshaft (used) £110
Renault CCC www.renaultclassiccarclub.com
Renault OC www.renaultownersclub.com
Le Guide de la Renault 8 Berthonnet Renault 8
Gordini: le rêve bleu/Histoires inédites Lecesne, both Éditions Techniques Renault 8 & 10
Owners’ Workshop Manual Haynes (1973)
Alpine Renault Restoration http://alpinerenaultrestoration.com
Barkston Refinishing www.barkstonrefinishing.co.uk
Arnaud Ventoux www.piece-alpine-r8.fr
Neo Retro www.neoretrofrance.com
Station 50 www.station50.fr
One to buy €7490
Year of manufacture 1964
Recorded mileage 64,120 km
Vendor Jo Szumny, near Périgueux, France; tel: 0033 5 53 46 60 72/0033 6 84 54 55 85 (mob)
For Drives well
Against Shabby; price
This 1108cc R8 Major looks scruffy but drives respectably. Performance is peppy, and you’re soon hitting an easy 50mph. The four-speed ’box has synchro that can’t be beaten, and the lever slots in sweetly every time, while the clutch bites sharply. The car brakes well, too, albeit pulling to one side, something the vendor attributes to incorrect pressures on the adequately treaded Nankang tyres. The steering is well weighted and smooth, and the ride buoyantly comfortable – aided, no doubt, by the recent new dampers.
That’s where the good news stops. The car sports a well-matured and somewhat approximate respray in dulled metallic bronze, and the way a magnet skitters across the body’s nether regions suggests a good skim of filler. The odd bubble indicates corrosion under the paint. The only hole that we could find was in one inner A-post; the floorpan, otherwise apparently sound, looks dodgy at the same spot.
Inside, the vinyl seats are intact but the original floor covering is missing, as are certain trim panels. The dashboard crash-rails are cracked and gaffer-taped and the headlining is holed. Szumny, selling on behalf of his son, knows nothing of the car’s history, and it was not possible to see the pass certificate for the contrôle technique, the French MoT; this would highlight faults needing attention. The verdict? Better can be found for the price, so haggle. Jon Pressnell
Paint would doubtless polish up; trim is biffed and pitted. Interior lacks various trim panels; fuel gauge not working. Unit grubby but oil-tight; welded exhaust repair cracking.
Oblong headlamps, fitted to the R10 from ’1968, neatly updated its appearance.
1962 May Renault R8 launched (UK Sept)
1963 Oct R8 automatic available worldwide: Jaeger electro-mech operation, 0-60mph 27.5 secs. Standard R8 added: cloth seats, less chrome
1964 Feb R8 1100: torque boost, higher final drive, new all-synchro gearbox; 44bhp, 61lb ft, 0-60mph 18.2 secs, 86mph. R8 de luxe auto only
1964 Sep R8 Gordini introduced: crossflow hemi head, two twin-choke Solex carbs, four-branch exhaust manifold, servo brakes, twin rear dampers, 2in lower suspension, 8in headlights, twin stripes (optional in UK); 0-60mph 13.6 secs, 103mph
1965 Jan Spanish R8 production begins: drum brakes
1965 Jul 1100 lengthened front and rear and launched as a standalone model, which later becomes the R10
1967 Jan Gordini gets 1255cc, 5-speed gearbox, twin headlights, twin Webers; R8 now has 1100 engine
1968 Jan 60bhp 8S added, with twin headlamps, Weber: 0-60mph 15.4 secs, 91mph
1969 Oct R10 gets 48bhp, 72lb ft 1300 unit
1970 Feb Final Gordini versions built
1971 Aug French manufacture stops
1976 Dec End of Spanish production
TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS FACT FILE
Sold/number built 1962-’1976/2 million-plus+
Construction steel monocoque
Engine iron-block, alloy-head, overhead-valve 956/1108/1255/1289cc ‘four’, with single Solex/ Zenith/Weber, or twin Solex/Weber carburettors;
Power 42bhp @ 5200rpm-99bhp @ 6750rpm / DIN
Torque 52lb ft @ 2500rpm-86lb ft @ 5000rpm / DIN
Transmission 4-speed, 3/4-synchro manual or 3-speed electro-mechanical auto, RWD
Suspension: front wishbones, anti-roll bar rear swing axles, radius arms; coils, telescopics f/r
Steering rack and pinion, 3.6 turns lock-to-lock (3.2 Gordini)
Brakes 10.2in (260mm) discs all round
Length 13ft 1 ¾ in / 13ft 9in (4007/4190mm)
Width 4ft 11in (1500mm)
Height 4ft 7 ¼ in / 4ft 6in (1403mm/1372mm)
Wheelbase 7ft 6in (2286mm)
Weight 1568-1758lb (711-797kg)
0-60mph 27.5-10.9 secs
Top speed 85-108mph
Price new £706-778 (1968 UK)
£98.03, for a Londoner, 30, with full no claims and a clean licence on a ’1968 R8S as a garaged second car, value £10,000, 5000 ltd miles. RH: 01277 206911.
Smaller but scarcely lighter than an R8, the Imp’s alloy ohc 875cc
Engine made it fun but unreliable and it lacked the Renault’s expandability (998cc unit was special-order). Rot claimed most.
Sold/no built 1963-’1976/440,032
0-60mph 22.1-14.9 secs
Top speed 75-92mph
Price new £626-785 (’1968 UK)
Price now £3-12,000 (2018 UK)
With an air-cooled ohc ‘four’ and hot versions, the NSU was an interesting choice and lighter than the Imp, but base models had all-drum brakes and all were two-door. Economy poor.
Sold/no built 1964-’1973/492,379
0-60mph 20.5-12.8 secs
Top speed 80-95mph
Price new £679-840 (’1968 UK)
Price now £4-20,000 (2018 UK)
The ultimate exponent of Renault’s rear-engined small car experience, combined with a sprightly new engine, produced a surprisingly refined, spacious, comfortable and lively little saloon that is a pleasure to drive and own now. But only if you find a really good one, or are prepared to devote a few years to sourcing parts and restoring a poor example.
- Comfortable and economical
- Lively and practical
- Good sporting pedigree
- Beginning to be appreciated
- Severely rot-prone
- Parts have to be sourced across Europe
- Rear weight bias is apparent in crosswinds and during hard cornering