Le Car

In France it was known as the Renault R5 – a benign hatchback designed to compete with the Volkswagen Golf/Rabbit. In the U.S. it was sold as Le Car. I test drove one in the early 80s and observed that it had worse-than-normal front-wheel-drive tendencies – understeer, which means the front end plows ahead despite your insistence on going around a corner. The Golf of that period was so much better, so that’s what I bought.

But Renault, determined not to relive the Maginot Line in rallying, retooled the car, putting the engine in the middle and making it rear-wheel-drive. But then the car had the Porsche 911 problem – severe snap oversteer because the weight of the engine/drivetrain was nearly hanging out the back. This meant the rear end would come ’round the driver’s side window and put you firmly into a ditch. Or over a cliff. At least you got to see a bit of your fancy sports car before plunging to your death. Similarly, the R5 Rallye:

Drove a mid-90s Porsche 911 once – it nearly handed me my ass. Much more so this car.


In our first trip to France, I rented a Renault 5 and drove it from Paris to Nice with my wife. It was my first experience driving on the continent. I didn’t know what I was getting into – literally or figuratively. It was a white knuckle drive every minute on that road.

I learned that in France, on that road, everyone drives at the top speed of their vehicle, whether it is a wildly underpowered Renault, a Porsche, or overpowered Mercedes. I learned that the left turn signal means something different on a highway in France than it does here. I learned that once you finally got the Renault up to highway speed, you could not let it slow down.

The vehicle had an overheating problem that killed the engine when hot, and an electrical problem that required a push start when it died. It also had a defective tire that grew a sidewall bubble the size of lemon which I discovered refueling shortly before a near certain catastrophic blowout.

Pulling into Nice I had to push it through the busiest intersection in the city. After coasting down the ramp with a dead engine to the underground parking for the hotel, I never got into that or any other Renault again. The next day I delivered the one and only, truly world class, Ugly American performance of my life at the rental agency.

After a pleasant stay in the south of France, we drove back to Paris in a replacement Mercedes in the left lane, at high speed, with the left turn signal on every minute on that road. And at the same rental rate as “Le Car”. It was a much more pleasant drive.

We had a couple of Renaults in London mid 70s. They were tote fabs… /dolly girls shaking hair while boys preen mustaches..on their way to buy curry’n’chips/

@libertarian tool: and yet you now have this story to tell, and you would not trade it for anything, much as I would not trade stories of my ownership of a Lancia Beta Scorpion or an MGB-GT (both of which caught on fire) for anything. It was side-of-the-road fixes that shaped us. But, as the Car Guys said – no one copies the French, and the French copy no one. So I shall report when I get my first CITROËN – and I will.



I forgot to mention the CITROËNs.

They never turned off their left turn signals.

@blogenfreude: I’m totally not snarking when I say, oh thank gawd you posted this, I forgot to post a hottie soccer player today. Work shit, such as. I can’t even deliver my promised story line to the Stinque God.

Your European cars are a nice palate cleanser. Tomorrow you could do a where-are-they-now post featuring our favorite ladybug/witch from Delaware…. I can regroup my soccer hotties on the weekend.

@libertarian tool: Hi sunshine! I wish you’d come out for more than sporting events.

@blogenfreude: Citroen Pallas is the most elegant car ever made. The old police-car Citroen made me car sick.

@SanFranLefty: no problem
@libertarian tool: I forgot – in many of them the turn signals didn’t self-cancel.
@Benedick: I loved the new C6, but then they stopped making it.

Long ago, I had one of these. Most fun I ever had in a car, setting aside sex and drugs.

@Dodgerblue: Setting aside sex and drugs what’s left? Disneyland?

My sister and her 1st hubby had one of these. I don’t think that they drove it this way. He had a 100 mile round trip commute every day and they thought that it would be economical. When the 2nd kid was in the oven they traded it in on a Ramcharger. Forget the economics, but my sister loved it.

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