THE MARKET / Buying Guide
Sold and selling; how to buy a Renault Twingo
One of the best things about spending time in France, particularly the South, is that you still regularly see old, humble hatchbacks in daily use. Aside from the occasional R4, it’s the utilitarian Renault’s spiritual successor, the original Mk1 Twingo, that stands out. Continental Europeans probably don’t understand our fascination, but this entry-level mini – inspired by the clever one-box Espace – was never officially sold in the UK. It was brilliantly space efficient, with an innovative sliding bench seat in the rear.
Few cars look as ‘happy’ as a Mk1 Twingo. Codenamed project X06, it was overseen by Yves Dubrei and intended to entice a more youthful demographic to the Renault brand. Launched in 1993 with a 55bhp 1.2-litre four-cylinder engine carried over from the 5, it came with a choice of four bright paint colours and only two optional extras: a full-length Webasto sunroof and climate control. It was simple, affordable and practical. Stylish, too, with an interior likened to a Fisher-Price toy.
Extra colours were added in 1994, along with minor spec improvements and the semi-automatic Twingo Easy model. In 1995 came a more advanced 59bhp 1.1-litre engine and a three-speed auto option. It was a hit with buyers, and not just young ones. Special editions such as the Twingo Benetton – with a fantastic multi-coloured interior – helped the Twingo become one of the most popular cars of its type in an increasingly fashion-conscious market.
A minor facelift in 1998 brought re-styled front and rear light clusters, body-coloured bumpers and revised suspension. The biggest change was inside: a re-profiled, more restrained dashboard. As the years went on, the Twingo lost much of its innocent charm, with less outlandish colours and trim and higher spec. It had grown up with many of its buyers. At this point the top-spec Initiale Paris was launched, with leather seats and alloy wheels.
A 74bhp 1.2-litre 16-valve engine arrived in 2000, and in 2004 came cosmetic changes that would see it into its final incarnation. These last cars are marked out by the tailgate-mounted Renault logo, door rubbing strips and a wider selection of colours. By that point it looked far more grown-up, but it had aged very well and remained a strong seller.
European sales ceased in 2007, coinciding with the end of French production. A new Twingo was introduced, its slightly more conventional supermini shape once again helping Renault to attract a younger audience. It wasn’t clever or characterful, but it did spawn a fantastic RenaultSport 133 model, thankfully offered in the UK. Today the Twingo lives on as a rear-engined Smart ForFour spin-off, although that has also now been quietly dropped from the UK market. Those early cars capture the spirit of Renault’s cheeky side best, and were instant classics. The great thing is that later examples can still be found in relatively good numbers in Europe, but the launchspec cars are an increasingly rare sight. If you’ve always wanted one, now is probably the best time to start looking, before they disappear completely.
What to pay
Although never sold in the UK officially, there are a surprising number of Mk1 Twingos here, occasionally coming up for sale within the tight-knit community. All are left-hand drive and realistically they shouldn’t cost any more than £1500-2000.
Slightly rougher cars, or those in need of work, can be picked up from £500. There’s greater choice in Europe, where prices are similarly low, but bear in mind the cost of importing. It’s the perfect low-maintenance car to leave at a holiday home.
What to look out for?
French examples tend to lead hard lives, so finding one in good cosmetic condition might be tough. A car that has lived in the UK must have correct right-hand-drive headlights. UK cars might have more corrosion than one bought from the Continent, but are more likely to have been enthusiast owned.
A lot of mechanical parts are shared with other Renaults, so UK supply isn’t a problem and dealers can help. If you’re looking for an early example, it’s worth making sure all of the trim is in good condition though, as this will prove harder to replace without a trip to a French scrapyard.